The Manila Times – Passport revolving fund ‘gone’ – Locsin

By Reynaldo O. Arcilla | The Manila Times

FOREIGN Secretary Teodoro “Tweeterboy” Locsin Jr., who assumed office in October 2018, tweeted that the Department of Foreign Affairs’ (DFA) entire passport revolving fund (PRF) was “gone,” and its arrears to the APO Production Unit, the country’s passport printing contractor, had reached P388 million.

He said the fund was “eaten up by travel allowances, insurance and miscellany.
Section 17 of Republic Act (RA) 8239, otherwise known as the “Philippine Passport Act of 1996,” states:

“SEC. 17. Passport Revolving Fund. — The department may charge a service fee of not more than two-hundred-fifty pesos (P250) for such service rendered to applicants relating to the processing and issuance of passports requiring special consideration, waiver or issuance beyond regular office hours. The service fees received by the department under this SEC. (sic) shall constitute a revolving fund to be called the “Passport Revolving Fund” which may be utilized by the department for the improvement of its passporting and consular services and other department services except travel and transportation allowances and expenses.

“The setting up, use and disbursement of funds shall be subject to review, accounting and auditing rules and regulations of the Commission on Audit and will be subject to an annual review by Congress, but the Secretary will submit a report on the disbursement of the fund every sixmonths to both the Senate and the House committees on foreign relations.”

It will be noted from the above provision of RA 8239 that the DFA may use the PRF for the improvement of its passporting and consular services and other department services “except travel and transportation allowances and expenses.”

Too, that the “Secretary will submit a report on the disbursement of the fund every six months to both the Senate and the House committees on foreign relations.”

In order to replenish the PRF, Locsin said, “I am cutting off foreign travels. There’s tons of money there. No more conference trips. There’s Zoom. I stopped building renovation and capital expenses. Government needs every peso for vaccination.”

In the meantime, Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said he would discuss with Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado the depletion of the PRF.

What is there to discuss? Why the depletion occurred? Or to help Locsin in asking for money to replenish the PRF?

To begin with, Locsin should be asked to explain why he violated the provision on the disbursement of the PRF under RA 8239. The DFA budget always has an allotment for official travel and allowances. Why was the PRF used instead?

That, I submit, is one question that Malacañang ought to ask Locsin. The other question is, has he been submitting a report on the PRF disbursement every six months to the Senate and House Foreign Relations committees?

Lousy service of telecom duopoly

On several occasions, I have written about the lousy service of the duopoly of telecommunications companies in the country — the Globe Telecoms and the PLDT-Smart Communications.

The problem has now hit Malacañang itself when a press briefing last week by Roque via teleconference was interrupted by the loss of internet connection. Ironically, the press briefing was on the report of the National Telecommunications Commission on the very poor service of the telco firms.

Hopefully, President Rodrigo “Digong” Duterte will now give substance and meaning to his warning to the telecom companies made during his State of the Nation Address in July last year that they risk “expropriation” if they don’t improve their services by the end of last month.

Well, they haven’t. What will the government do now? Or is that another one of Digong’s knee-jerk reactions when something goes wrong?

ABS-CBN franchise

It is incumbent upon, nay, the duty, of the senators and congressmen, particularly Senate President Vicente Sotto 3rd and Rep. Vilma Santos Recto, who want to renew the franchise of ABS-CBN Corp., to make sure that the company first pay the taxes it allegedly owes the government and also to regularize the dubious title that it allegedly has over the land where its headquarters are located.

Slowpoke Leonen

The insufferable Associate Justice Marvic Mario Victor Leonen remains to be the worst member of the Supreme Court with the biggest number of unresolved cases, 945 as of the middle of last year.

Incidentally, the court announced last year that Leonen would be submitting his report on the Marcos-Robredo election protest by the first half of this month. The month is nearly over. Where is it?

I also cannot believe that the court assigned Leonen as the chairman of the committee to handle the next bar examination. Isn’t he “busy” enough?

What gives, Mr. Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta? Are you now taking a hands-off attitude towards the important tasks of the court after you have decided to retire early in March? Tsk, tsk. All the more reason, I think, that you should make the hard decisions now, to leave a legacy of sorts.

Robredo on Covid-19 vaccination

Vice President (under protest) Maria Leonor Robredo asserts that President Digong should be the first to be vaccinated against the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) to boost the people’s confidence in the vaccination program.

I wonder if she has given any consideration to being vaccinated first as the No. 2 official of the land, should Digong refuse to do so.

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Reminders

As promised, the following items will regularly be featured in this space so long as the authorities concerned do not do the right thing:

The notorious Smartmatic — In June last year, Digong directed the Department of Information and Communications Technology and the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to search for a replacement for poll technology provider Smartmatic.

Apparently, Digong has changed his mind for reasons only he knows.

Smartmatic has just won the bidding conducted by the Comelec to refurbish its vote
counting machines for the 2022 elections over the lowest bidder for what experts say are allegedly very flimsy reasons, with nary a reaction from Malacañang!

The only other bidder, Power Serve Inc. (PSI), was disqualified by the Comelec’s special bids and awards committee (SBAC) for its failure to indicate “zero” or “dash” in the relevant bid documents.

PSI’s bid of P490 million is lower by a whopping P147,443,308.45 than Smartmatic’s bid of P637,443,308.45.

PSI has appealed to the SBAC to reconsider its decision. None has been taken by it as of this writing.

Is the United States coming back to Subic? — About three months ago, this newspaper reported that Maritime Industry Authority Administrator Robert Empedrad, former Philippine Navy chief, said a contract had already been finalized between Australian shipbuilder Austal and US private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management, and would reportedly soon take over the Subic Bay yard from Hanjin Shipping, a South Korean firm that went bankrupt in 2016.

Empedrad also reportedly said the US and Australia were eyeing the yard as a possible ship repair and maintenance facility (read, naval base). He added that US and Australian naval presence at Subic Bay could bolster national security.

That would directly run counter to what President Duterte said in his fifth State of the Nation Address in July.

“Kaya ‘yang maglagay lagay ka ng base at this time, this will ensure, if war breaks out because there would be atomic arsenal brought in, this will ensure the extinction of the Filipino race,” he said.

A grim scenario indeed!

So, what will Digong do, or can do, if the contract is already a fait accompli? A reliable source said that Austal and Cerberus are reportedly poised to take over the facility during the first quarter of next year.

An authoritative source suggests that the government could insist on renegotiating the contract to include a provision that “there should be a restriction that prohibits the yard from accepting any naval business, whether for repair, routine or emergency, and new construction defining clearly the protocols. It should also prohibit the accommodation of any nuclear powered vessel, armed ships whether they are government or civilian-controlled.”

The source also said that “we should get a clear picture on who the beneficial owners really are. It is just too bad that our local entrepreneurs do not have the appetite for this business.”

Fugitive Andres Bautista — In November last year, Senate President Sotto urged the National Bureau of Investigation to serve the arrest warrant issued by the Senate on former Comelec chairman Bautista for contempt for ignoring the Senate hearings into his alleged ill-gotten wealth. It was his wife who blew the whistle on him.

Bautista was earlier impeached by the House of Representatives but resigned and left the country before standing trial in the Senate. It was later found that he had fled to the US. Shouldn’t the government seek his extradition from the US to face the charges against him? Isn’t flight a sign of guilt? Maybe his passport should be cancelled to force his return?

Isn’t Bautista’s case one of corruption? So, how come there has been no action on the part of the government to be consistent with its campaign against corruption?

And what about the Senate? After all, it was its arrest warrant that was defied by Bautista. Shouldn’t it at least encourage the government to do something?

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From an internet friend:

These two guys are sat in their hospital beds having a little chat. The first guy asks the second, “What are you in for?”

“Camera down the throat,” the second guy replies.

“Oh, endoscopy?” the first guy asks.

The second guy says, “Yeah. Checking for stomach cancer. How about you?”

“Camera up the butt,” the first guy says.

“Oh, colonoscopy, checking for bowel cancer?” asks the second guy. |

The first guy says, “No, my neighbor was sunbathing and my wife caught me taking a photo.”

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