Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Reverse bumper harvest

Reverse bumper harvest

Posted 10:52pm (Mla time) Feb 07, 2005
By Juan Mercado
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A14 of the February 8, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

THERE are awards, and awards. But for sheer brazenness, hand it to Cebu City's Mayor Tomas Osmeña.

For the Charter Day rites on Feb. 24, Osmeña has handpicked 18 awardees. He included his controversial close-in security guard, SPO1 Adonis Dumpit, necklaced with three killing cases before the Ombudsman.

Dumpit will get a P50,000 prize in taxpayers' money, too.

"I'll accept it, as I need the cash for my cases," said the man who has been unfairly dubbed, Osmeña protests, as a “salvage” [summary killing] cop.

The mayor sprang Dumpit from jail to "train police in marksmanship." He'll be cited alongside President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, NGOs, a university, a producer of Visayan films, plus a clutch of Osmeña loyalists.

The city will honor the President for her concern for Cebu, Osmeña explained, but she'll not get "a cash incentive." Instead, they'll go to police officials who haven't solved 21 summary executions, by shadowy “escuadrones de la muerte” [death squads].

The P50,000 is the least of Ms Arroyo's concerns. But will the President agree to stand, cheek-by-jowl, alongside Osmeña's gunslinger in the controversy over vigilante rub-outs?

Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and other groups have protested against the “salvaging.” The most searing indictment came from the Philippine Jesuit Prison Service Foundation, which has opened a farm and livelihood center for former prisoners.

"Crime committed to stop crime makes no sense," said Fr. Victor Labao, SJ, who founded the multi-purpose cooperative. "Nobody was born a criminal. It is a sick society that breeds criminals."

Osmeña endorsed the ex-prisoners' farm and washed his hands of death squads. "I may have inspired them," he shrugs. Nonetheless, he allocated P20,000 for every criminal "neutralized" or "permanently disabled."

The known body count is 21. So, has he disbursed P420,000 for scalp bounties? Who received the blood money? Did that come from the P3-million intelligence fund that the President authorized? Or did businessmen, as Cebu Daily News' Raymond Fernandez fears, chip in secretly.

"Time was when Charter Day awards were cherished by recipients," wrote Sun-Star's Bong Wenceslao. Today, they've "acquired the sheen of plaques sold on the sidewalks." One-man choices, they reflect Osmeña's "eccentricities."

Complaints over the depreciation of the awards are of long standing. "Values that transcend narrow frontiers and selfless service to others characterize honors by the Magsaysay Foundation, Silliman University or Mother Teresa awards," the Cebu Daily News noted in Aug. 29, 2001. But "raw politics underpins the Osmeña trophies." This year's "murder-with-a-wink" exacerbated the decay.

Awards from the Nobel or Ramon Magsaysay Foundation, in contrast, follow established criteria. They're applied by a non-partisan board of eminent persons. That establishes credibility.

To see the difference, scan the list of awardees. Nobel Laureates include Rudyard Kipling, Ireland's George Bernard Shaw; Doctors without Frontiers, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Burma's Aung San Su Kyi and Kenyan environmentalist Wangrai Maathai.

On the home front, the over 239 Asians and institutions honored with Magsaysay Awards include Supreme Court Chief Justice Hilario Davide, graft buster Haydee Yorac, the Bayanihan Folk Arts Center and Thailand's Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.

Osmeña also tickled the public with his attempt to clone Harvard University's Lampoon. He dumped his “kalabasa” [squash] awards on unpopular agencies like Philippine Airlines for late flights, telecom companies for text-messaging charges, etc.

Founded in 1876 by seven Harvard undergraduates, Lampoon modeled itself on Punch, the British humor magazine. Its parodies of Playboy, New Yorker and J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" won a following. Osmeña initially did too with his squashes.

Mocking praise is legal. Filipinos are gluttons for the spoof. Remember those wisecracks about Jose Velarde, Jose Pidal and now Generals Garcia and Ligot? Satire is a legitimate tool in a democracy. It can wring accountability from officials. "Parody is a game but satire is a lesson," Vladimir Nabokov said.

"Osmeña inflicts his trophy on those who the mayor, by his lonesome, claims don't serve Cebu well," Cebu Daily News noted in its "Pot to the kettle" editorial. "They pander to what is popular at the moment-and thereby boost his sagging political stock."

But scandals and crass misgovernance have sapped the regime's credibility. His imploding yen loans strapped constituents with the country's heftiest foreign IOU. Every man, woman and child within the city must repay P60,654 each. He window-dressed a P4.3-billion debt by P1.52 billion, the Commission on Audit complained.

This merits a jumbo “kalabasa” award. So does his buying of secondhand dump trucks disguised as brand-new. His city is over-pumping, by over 150,000 cubic meters daily, its strained aquifers. And 29 percent of children, in the city, suffer from iodine deficiency while 34 percent lack Vitamin A.

Osmeña has "policy black holes" on food security, sewerage, nutrition, transport, pollution, migration, schools, out of school youth, Cebu Daily News noted in its commentary, "Makalusot governance." "This vacuum provides temporary sanctuary from accountability -- but a reverse bumper harvest of kalabasa."

Vigilantes running riot will add one more squash.


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