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Bacolod City, Philippines Monday, January 7, 2019
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with Matè Espina

Off to a bad start

Rock & Refuge

Ushering in the year is supposed to be on a positive note. Yet one can’t help but be pessimistic reading through the stories that have been coming out since the year started, and that’s just a week ago.

On Friday night the body of 10-year-old Marchela Sayo was found hogtied under a sink with her face covered with plastic. The alleged perpetrators are brothers, one still a minor who has been serving as caretaker of the house where the body was found.

On the other side of the island, three treasure hunters died in a tunnel they dug 50-feet down in search of buried treasures - a story that has been a source of many deaths for many years now in the belief that the Japanese left behind gold bars when they invaded and fled the island during the war.

Over the holidays, we’ve seen many deaths and injuries, too, not from pyrotechnics that we used to read about in the past, but from road accidents and police raids.

Scions of a wealthy family figured in road mishaps that left two killed. These stories never made it to the news and posts from social media were taken down due to the graphic ending of one of the victims but the social circles were abuzz about the stories.

And then there were the six killed in Guihulngan, Negros Oriental, after a simultaneous police raid for loose firearms and illegal drugs, with some even involving village officials.

Not to mention the tragic death of EfrenPalmares after an ambush directed against lawyer Erfe Del Castillo who believes that cops are behind the incident. Erfe is a good friend and I met Efren fleetingly during the Metro Inn takeover. She told me that Efren is not just a driver-companion as earlier reported but her husband to whom she owes her life now, knowing that she, not him, was the target of that assassination.

What have we become?

Up to now, police have yet to solve the ambush on Councilor Cano Tan and wife, Nita, as well. What is unfair are speculations that the incident was allegedly an “ambush-me.” But knowing Cano, he wouldn’t put Nita in harm’s way and whoever is spreading those rumors may actually have something to hide.

On the national level, the death toll from tropical storm “Usman” has climbed to 126 with 26 still missing and damage to agriculture and infrastructure has been estimated at more than P2 billion.

Yet that is not the one hogging the headlines but the alleged involvement of Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno’s family in bagging huge government contracts which he denied of course. Claims from a house committee investigating the matter say Diokno’s in-laws got P551 million worth of projects and there will be more revelations in the coming days as promised.

First it was Dominguez, now it’s Diokno and some camps are saying these are staged to ease them out in order for former President Gloria Arroyo to allegedly take whichever Cabinetpost is to her pleasing when her term ends this June.

It’s ironic to see names of key Cabinet members being dragged in alleged corruption cases, one after another, under an administration that ran under a promise to rid government of corruption and eradicate illegal drugs.

Speaking of which, we once again hear the President bragging how he would slit the throats of big time drug lords before his term expires. Haven’t we heard this before? The promise is the same, the timeline has been stretched.

And while we’re on the DBM, I got hold of documents from their regional office sent to the province to answer their query about the P504 million excess in personnel services payment that DBM has disallowed.

In a communication signed by Mae Chua, OIC Regional Director, she cited that the province has exceeded its cap on personnel expenditures since 2015 amounting to P106M, increasing several millions since then and ballooned to P504,457,935.55in 2018.

This puts in question the legality of creating the Human Resource and Management Office and the Organic Farming Division which was established in 2017 but which was only funded under the 2018 budget.

Chua said though that the law states clearly that if the local government has exceeded its Personnel Services limitation, they may no longer incur additional PS costs and if the excess is due to the creation of new positions, such creation will not be allowed.

What will happen to the HR department now and the numerous employees under it? Is this department necessary in the first place because if you really look at it, each department actually has the right to hire or fire people based on need and actions, then referred to a committee before the final decision from the governor.

Perhaps the creation of the Organic Farming Division can be justified as the provincial government is really bent and on track in making us the organic bowl of the country. This agency needs expertise that may not be present in the current crop of employees under the OPA, but the fact that this too may be disallowed may be a headache for the incoming administration who will be saddled in explaining how to return the half a billion to the general fund that has been disallowed by DBM.*

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