Mute Parables

by Juan L. Mercado

“At  any street corner, the feeling of absurdity strikes any man in the face.” Nobel  Laureate Albert Camus said  that of the  turmoil  lacerating his  native  Algeria. That  barb  applies to  1,928 lightless  street lamps  mouldering  on  Metro Cebu  street corners.

Those lamps lit up the 12th  Asean Summit.But they flickered out  as delegates left. Only 41 light up now —  if overdue electricity bills  are paid. Vandals  tore  down 165.  Scavengers  peddled to scrap dealers  much of the wire in  1,722.

Mayor Arturo Radaza didn’t shove lamps under  bushels. He lined  Lapu-Lapu city streets with  139 “single-arm” and  60 “double-arm” lights. Then mayor Thadeo Ouano festooned  Mandaue  city’s streets  with  89  lampposts, plus  78“single-arm” lights. Total tab:  P365 million.

Taxpayers were bilked P72,500 for a “single-arm” post,  an earlier Ombudsman-Visayas report reveals.  Double-arm posts price tags bolted  to P85,000. Similar lamps, installed in Naga town, Cebu, cost less  than  P15,000.

Stow those lightless lamps, embarrassed Cebuanos  urged. But they  are evidence in criminal proceedings. So, they moulder in the dark.  Cases  against Radaza, Ouano and  public works officials  haven’t  gone to trial.  Why?

In  an Ombudsman, overseen by Merceditas Gutierrez, “case just lie there, and  they die there,” says  “Philippine   Human  Development  Report  2009”.

Of 9,826 criminal cases lodged with  the  Ombudsman, over  12 years, almost  58 percent remain unresolved, Of   9,033 administrative cases, over 61 percent   gather dust.

PHDR is a biennial study crafted by Filipino scientists.. United Nations Development Programme and New Zealand co-sponsored this latest edition. It analyzes institutions, politics and their impact of  human development.

Ombudsman Gutierrez undid reforms instituted by her predecessor,  the respected Simeon Marcelo, the study says.  She  re-centralized decisions in herself. She shut out the Commission on  Audit and  Civil Service Commission.

Cases  were  refrigerated in the process.  These include  the P1.4  billion Mega Pacific  election  computer scam, the P728 million fertilizer scandal and $328 million  ZTE broadband scheme. Add to that  Asean street lamps.

Ombudsman  conviction rates plummeted from  55 percent in 2007 to zero in June 2008. Ms Guiterrez’s  credibility  plunged in tanderm, .  Public perception of  the Ombudsman’s sincerity in battling corruption last year scraped  at +4 precent, Social Weather Stations found. This was  a nosedive from the  high of  +24 percent  Marcelo set.

Now, Sandiganbayan’ prosecutors  claim: evidence against Asean  lamp suppliers  Fabmik  Construction & Supply Co. “is weak.  This is a 180-degree turn.

“It reeks of  collusion by multiple parties,” former Central Bank  governor Jose Cuisia Jr told the Conference of Independent Business Clubs. “How is it possible  that  an office that  found probable cause, filed…the criminal information with Sandiganbayan would  later say it has no case?”

Rules were “brushed aside just to achieve the illegal  purpose of purchasing  items at prices the suppliers pegged,”  Ombudsman-Visayas  reported  earlier. “Not one qualified Bids and Awards Committee observer was present during the entire procurement process.” Commission on Audit  was shut out. Signatures scrawled  on program of works and estimates are “footprints of their participation in the project”,

Cuisia  is  president of the giant PhilAm Life Insurance company.  He wears the Coalition against Corruption chair’s hat.. This civil society has, for members, Bishops-Businessmen’s Conference, Ateneo School of Government, Baurg Pilipino Cebu  and other cause-oriented organizations.

“Every Filipino must know what goes on in Malacañang”, Cuisia  told Cebu  and Makati business clubs. “But  it is essential  he knows what goes on in his backyard first.” Watch  how tax pesos are spent by local governments – and hold them to account.

Sleaze  does not emerge overnight.  Earlier infractions that go unpunished  spur  it’s spread. Like cancer, graft  metastasizes from impunity.

Re-read  the 2007 Mactan Island Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MICCI) survey Twelve  respondents, in Lapu-Lapu city,  claimed  The mayor himself made the demand for money…And  15 respondents asserted  “one of the mayor’s assistants” demanded the grease for release of license, permit or clearance.

Radaza & Co. bought P23.4 million worth of  Pentium 4 computer clones from a fly-by-night shop.  At  P49,900 each, they were  double the cost in legit  shops.  There’s been  no sanction. Neither have Lapu-Lapu figures, involved in funneling Girl Scout funds into a congresswoman’s private account, been held accountable..

Local governments, steeped in sleaze, rarely deliver basic services.” A quarter of Lapu-Lapu homes, for example, have no toilets. It is water short. And garbage is poorly collected.

“Fundamental  change is needed  but has not occurred”,  PHDR notes. “Deeper than policies and larger than individuals, it is the institutions that structure behavior that matter deeply”. This is specially relevant for a “soft state” like the Philippines. Here,  rules and enforcement  are for sale.

Like Camus  “street corner absurdities” , those lightless lamps make corruption visible. So, did  Imelda’s 1,080 shoes, Erap’s’ “Jose  Velarde  secret bank account or Gloria’s “Hello Garci” tapes. The  lamps  are 1,928 parables that instruct  without words.

(Email: juanlmercado@gmail.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it )

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