In my latest post to the Bad Manners Gun Club a couple days ago, I opined that part of the continuing failure of the Aquino Administration to overcome the fallout from the Manila Bus Massacre was, in the absence of swift and decisive corrective action, their inability to find a way to ‘wag the dog’ – in other words, another issue to distract everyone’s attention from the sordid and depressing affair du jour. Some news published in the past couple days, however, now has me wondering if I have misread the situation. Incredible as it may seem, has the Manila Bus Massacre actually been the coincidental ‘dog-wagging’ to keep everyone’s mind off even more stupid things that are being done?
Even more stupid things, for example, like a recently-procured $400 million loan from the World Bank via the ADB to fund the DSWD’s Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program. The program provides cash grants to poor families with the stated intention of helping these families keep their elementary-aged children in school. Each family that qualifies for the program receives Php 500 per month, plus an addition Php 300 per month for each of up to three children per family, with monthly and annual limits set at Php 1,400 and Php 15,000, respectively. The main requirements for families to be eligible for the program are that (according to DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman) “unlike traditional welfare programs, only families who keep their children in school and ensure that children and pregnant women get regular health check-ups can receive the cash grants,” which presumably makes the program a “conditional cash transfer” rather than a straight dole-out. In Soliman’s estimation, the World Bank-ADB loan will allow the Department to expand the “4P’s” program to 582,000 additional families, mostly in rural areas.
There is exactly NOTHING about this scheme that makes any sense whatsoever, as several members of Congress have been quick to point out. It is an extremely short-term solution; assuming that the entire $400 million is distributed to poor families – which it won’t be, because some attenuation of the funds for administrative purposes has to be assumed, even under ideal conditions – the fund will sustain the “4P’s” program for only about eight months, if Soliman’s estimate of the program’s expansion to 2.3 million families by the end of 2011 is even close to being correct. As a direct, purpose-specific loan to the government, the funds are outside normal Congressional budgetary oversight; monitoring and follow-up on the use of the funds will fall within the purview of the Commission on Audits, but that bit of security is already moot – if there are irregularities in the handling of the funds, they will only be discovered once the funds are already gone.
In a sense, one has to give Aquino credit for being consistent: the one promise he has made that he is apparently exerting great effort in keeping is to be a different sort of president than the ee-vil Dr. Arroyo, and with the announcement of the World Bank-ADB loan, he is doing exactly what he said he would – whereas Arroyo’s stewardship saw the country’s external debt drop by 1.1% by the end of 2009, N/A has in one blow managed to generate a year’s worth of debt increase and virtually wipe out that gain. And to add insult to injury, he has locked the country into a 25-year repayment obligation that will, at a minimum, cost the Republic $514 million (based on current LIBOR rates and the ADB’s carrying charge) for a use which will generate no discernible return, only a temporary small cash stimulus for a limited number of people. The “conditions” set for the “conditional cash transfer” are vague and lack details as to how they are to be enforced, not to mention how the additional demand for services they will hypothetically generate is to be managed and funded, particularly since the program is directed at rural areas where school and medical facilities are already in short supply.
On the other hand, the mystery of why such an obviously bad idea has been enthusiastically embraced by the government might be solved by considering the timing of the move: with barangay and SK elections just about a month away, it’s difficult to accept that a short-term cash handout directed at the grass-roots support base of the Yellow Machine is entirely coincidental. On the other hand, that may be an unnecessarily cynical view; but the very fact that it is the view that comes quickly to mind is a sign that N/A’s self-absorbed “integrity and transparency” are not making much of an impression to any minds other than the one inside his own skull.