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Cicero meets Diogenes at the Senate

(Article published in the Dec 15, 2010 issue of Manila Standard Today)   

How could he have been so unmindful? “Brazen” is the more appropriate label for the behaviour, or better still, the more visceral colloquialism, “k---l-m-ks”; but Christmas dawn masses begin tonight and neither adjective is consistent with the clearly made-up opening stories of Matthew and Luke

Hence, I settle for the least understandable of the three to describe how the otherwise deliberate Senator Edgardo Angara heedlessly transformed himself, chameleon-like, as the need arises.    

That show of true colors occurred occurred at the hearing of the Subcommittee “B” hearing of the Senate Committee on Finance held on the 11th of last November. The first resource person to talk was Deputy Administrator Ramon Fernando of the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone (‘APECO”), who made a presentation, obviously prepared for the occasion, “to present the progress of the development of the ecozone.” He was the first to be called because, according to the Senator Angara who was the presiding Chairman of the subcommittee, “Kaming mga taga-Aurora alam naming ang development niyan pero maraming hindi pa nakakaalam.”  Translated roughly, the expression of condescending superiority says “We from Aurora are familiar with the economic development at APECO; but there are many who up to now do not know.”
 










     

If I may hazard a guess, among those whom Senator Angara could have referred to as still  ignorant was his fellow Senator Serge Osmeña who had asked for this hearing (the second on the subject) to clarify certain issues which were not asked during the first 

Indeed Senator Serge Osmeña seemed not to know, or more accurately, needed to know too many things about APECO.  For instance, about thirty minutes from the start of the hearing that was recorded at 9:50 in the morning, the good deputy administrator Fernando explained the good works that they at the APECO were doing for the Dumagats in the area. He proclaimed that they had trained 12 Dumagats with the DENR and “hired them as forest rangers to make sure that there is no poaching of the resources within the peninsula.” What they did with the rest of the Dumagats, who might have lived in the area, was left unanswered.

Fernando at a certain point said, “So, this peninsula [San Ildefonso Peninsula] is about 12,000 hectares worth of rights, ΄no, [roughly equivalent to “You know”] 43 percent of the rights had been paid for and we are hoping that with the passing of the budget, we could get another - ”  Senator Osmeña, the unknowing one, interrupted with a question.  He asked:

“How much did you pay for the Dumagats per hectare? You are talking about 43 percent of San Ildefonso.  That is Phase II.”  At this point, Senator Angara let the cat out of the bag.  He became both chairman, whose duty was to preside and determine who got to speak and how long, and, without relinquishing his chair, also a resource person.

Probably worried that the good deputy administrator would not give a good enough answer, Senator Angara, as the record reflects, said “Maybe I will intervene.  What we bought--”

Before Senator Angara could complete his sentence, Senator Osmeña, the searcher, remarked, “The true chief executive officer of APECO is about to speak.”  In an earlier era of delicadeza, that would have been considered an insult and would have triggered a challenge to a duel at dawn.  But, this is the Philippine Senate 2010 and what is done at dawn often has nothing to do with honor.  Senator Angara responded, “That’s correct.”  No attempt to even feign offense; surely, casually and simply, an admission.

And not just a mere admission.  It was coupled with justification.  Senator Angara continued, “Because that is why the progress is fast.  What we paid for and the board paid for is the surface rights of the forest concessionaire because this is a forest concessionaire in the entire peninsula on the theory that if it is brought under the jurisdiction of APECO, there is a better chance of protecting it because APECO is going to be a continuing entity with one of the principal mandates being to preserve and conserve, the natural environment.  So, we did pay for the Dumagats because we will, in fact, preserve their settlements in San Ildefonso, but we paid for the surface rights of the timber concessionaire.”

But Senator Osmeña is incorrigible, not to say very dense.  Didn’t he just then hear Senator Angara, who had only seconds ago confessed to be the “true executive officer of APECO”, say that they had paid for the Dumagats?  Obviously, Senator Osmena was had hearing problems.

He asked the good deputy administrator to confirm that APECO paid for the surface rights of the timber concessioner, whose name apparently was Joselito Ong.  Still hard of hearing, Senator Osmeña asked him, “So, you paid Joselito Ong, you did not pay the Dumagats.”

Mr. Ramon Fernando had to admit, “No, your honor.”  Senator Osmeña was still slow to understand.  He asked, obviously, to give the good administrator a chance to retract, “You paid Joselito Ong.”  Meekly, the good deputy administrator had to confirm, and say “Joselito Ong.”

Senator Osmeña then became a bit curious. He continued asking, “How much did you pay Joselito Ong?”  The good administrator, who had to look at his records, was back stopped by Mr. Valencia who supplied the acquisition cost of the 12,000 hectares at P120 million payable in three years. Mr. Valencia, apparently to control the damage, quickly added “we only paid about 50 million as of 2010.”

What came out clearly from Senator Osmeñas questioning was that under Senator Angara, the admitted true executive officer of APECO, the government got itself indebted to Joselito Ong for Php 120 million less the Php 50 million paid for 2010.  For what? Before his subordinates could mess things up, Senator Angara declared again “No. Let me again intervene…”

 A number of eyebrows have been raised by the way Senator Angara blithely moved from chairman to resource person.  But in this season of ham, suffice it to conclude, for now, that APECO, really, has a lot to be thankful for.  Amongst them is that it has is a Senator Edgardo Angara who, as its true chief executive officer, is a most alert defender and advocate. 

 

     

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