Spending it right

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Unscrupulous people still dipping their dirty hands into government coffers was the obvious conclusion of last week’s media buzz on how and where government monies have been ending up.

Disgust over this latest slew of corruption stories naturally led to the sinking feeling nothing has changed much when it came to stamping out corruption.

Yet, amid the gloom that still needed to be done, many found it good enough to cheer the dramatic orders for law enforcers to go after corruptors of the public treasury.

But the cheering felt premature, even misplaced, in the face of the fact that government is still struggling against corruption. And worse, it had shown it was still an abject failure in the fight.

So, what were the cheers for then? At best, the cheers were merely a transient show of solidarity by supporters, meant to prop up government’s faltering efforts against the ancient problem of the unscrupulous being fast and loose with government funds.

Solidarity, however, could not mask the irony of it all. Some of those loudly cheering were the exact same people who faced indictment over the loose spending of government monies.

It is ironic, too, that this same people, who promised that private demands should play second fiddle to the universal value that public money is sacrosanct, were doing exactly the opposite of their promises, openly mocking it.

Evidence of this mockery can be made from the thoughtful reading of the stories of dead soldiers still receiving their pensions, doctors performing bogus dialysis treatments, hangers-on of presidential entourages having their travel expenses paid for by government, and pilgrims to Mecca fulfilling life-long dreams at government expense.

Still, all the stories were but the latest manifestations of mockery. Much earlier, the very public intimidation of the Commission on Audit (CoA), the one government body constitutionally mandated to examine closely where and how government funds had been spent, represents the first unalloyed mockery.

So much so that instead of government functionaries seriously taking CoA’s audit reports as guides to improve money disbursement systems or stop illegal practices, CoA’s reports were now being disparaged as nothing but efforts to place government in a bad light.

In fact, this disparaging can be seen over CoA’s recent call-out of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) for using P5 million of its budget to finance the pilgrimage to Mecca of 27 Marawi City evacuees.

The CoA call-out did not sit well with the HUDCC and Mr. Duterte, who, strangely for a lawyer, said the CoA findings meant more violence in Mindanao. Both argued the taxpayer-funded pilgrimage was needed for ‘’social healing.”

Yet, even if it was for a noble purpose, funding for the pilgrimage was still illegal. As one senator persuasively argued, the trip had nothing to do at all with religion, but had all to do with using funds earmarked for one activity but used in another activity. And that meant technical malversation.

CoA, therefore, had no choice but to implement the law.

In another front, but still all about travel, were criticisms hurled against the use of taxpayer’s money for the travel of hangers-on during the foreign trips of Mr. Duterte.

The other week, speculations about government paying the travel expenses of celebrities joining the President’s recent four-day Tokyo trip were rife. Palace officials denied the reports.
But has-been comedian Bayani Agbayani admitted government did pay for his Japan travel.

Though Agbayani was honest enough, he, nonetheless, managed to add: “The more important thing here is I flew economy and I paid for my wife’s trip.”

His quip left a bad taste in the mouth. It sounded as if the Filipino taxpayer should be grateful he flew economy instead of business or first class. Hallelujah.

Nevertheless, the important question for the taxpayer was still unanswered: Was Agbayani’s presence, and that of the other celebrities, in Tokyo really that important in fostering Japanese-Philippine relations?

From where I sit, government spending for the travel of hangers-on is not only a useless expense but, if allowed to continue, is as offensive as government officially paying for the services of prostitutes.

At any rate, the offense caused by celebrity hangers-on definitely paled by another sort of obscenity – the government treasury was being raided by some the country’s well-heeled citizens.

This is the meaning of the scandalous scheme by a couple of medical practitioners in Quezon City who were allegedly defrauding government’s health insurance body with ghost dialysis treatments.

The celebrated fraud case, with Mr. Duterte’s outright intervention, is now on its way to an explosive criminal complaint.

As a result of the case, however, one significant fact stood out – government admitted it had lost P145 billion to fraud and overpayments to crooked doctors.

The massive losses came, PhilHealth officials admitted, from medical practitioners practicing ‘’upcasing.’’ The scheme is about doctors declaring minor illnesses of patients as more serious illnesses, which then allowed them to cash in on higher reimbursements from government’s health insurance body.

Such fraudulent activity from some of the country’s more upright citizens is truly shocking.

Anyway, all these should be enough to appall us of the certain futility of fighting against corruption. Yet we cannot just wring our hands in despair. We cannot surrender the fight. We must still challenge government to do more.

Reach me at email: nevqjr@yahoo.com.ph

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