Duque’s P1B bag of goodies
We were prepared to believe the Palace was honest in saying the P1 billion hunger-easing fund would not be used to buy support for administration candidates. Easing hunger pangs is beyond politics. So by all means, we told ourselves, let’s give Gloria Arroyo the benefit of the doubt.
Our new-found charity toward the basic decency of Gloria and her subalterns was immediately rudely shattered, however, by the Palace announcement that Health Secretary Francisco Duque would serve as point man in an inter-agency ad hoc committee handling the war against hunger.
After his designation as anti-hunger “czar,” Duque appealed to everyone to shun partisanship and work hand in hand in providing a food safety net for the poorest of the poor. One out of five families going without food even if only once in three months is unacceptable. Duque said the battle against hunger will show dramatic results in six months.
If we didn’t know Duque, he could have fooled us. This is the same Duque who hijacked the Medicare fund of overseas workers for PhilHealth months before the 2004 elections. A note in his handwriting said expanding health insurance coverage would “impact” on Gloria’s presidential bid. PhilHealth did not have the money to provide expand coverage to those who could afford the premium. His recommendation? Hijack the OFW’s contributions.
Gloria then proceeded to give away PhilHealth cards during her campaign sorties. When the opposition questioned the thinly disguised form of vote-buying, Duque excoriated critics for seeking to deny the poor access to health services that they legitimately deserved.
In a subsequent Senate hearing, it was found that PhilHealth membership rose from around 3 million to 5 million in 2004. The new members promptly lost their health insurance the following year because the government would (what for?) no longer subsidize their premiums.
For a job well done, Duque was promoted from PhilHealth chief to health secretary. Now he’s back to crying crocodile tears over the hungry and the sick.
Partnering with Duque in supervising the release of the P1 billion is Agriculture Secretary Art Yap. Hellooo. Yap, as administrator of the National Food Authority in 2004, transferred his agency’s available funds to the agriculture department to “boost farm productivity.” The NFA money was pooled with the funds of the agrarian reform department and the agriculture department. These were the funds that former agriculture undersecretary Joc Joc Bolante siphoned off to the campaign chest of Gloria.
Duque and Yap pledging not to divert the P1 billion to the administration’s campaign kitty? Sama-sama na sila ng amo nilang sinungaling.