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Where there’s smoke

hat was Dinky smoking?

The Commission on Audit has asked the Department of Social Welfare and Development to continue to suspend its flagship Conditional Cash Transfer or 4Ps program until various leakages are plugged. Among them:

As of 2015, some 1.3 million family beneficiaries of monthly cash transfers were actually above the poverty line. This was 30 percent of total beneficiaries, close to the 35 percent leakage rate earlier reported by the World Bank. COA blames the Aquino administration for expanding the program too rapidly, converting it from a selective behavioral modification program started under former President Arroyo into nothing but a huge dole-out. 

Total program size ballooned to 4.4 million families, but IT support systems could only handle 300,000 households. As of last May, there were nearly 16,000 duplicate entries—mostly in the ARMM region—who had received unauthorized amounts worth P335 million.

No impact studies were done to see if 4Ps had in fact achieved its goal of “breaking the inter-generational cycle of poverty.” The decline in poverty incidence in 2015 can’t be credited to this program, since it produced its first batch of graduates only in that year, and since the maximum cash grant of P2,600 a month simply isn’t enough to lift the average poor family above the poverty line. 

DSWD is headed for the time being by Undersecretary Noel Leyco, a former colleague of mine on the faculty of the Asian Institute of Management. With his finance and management background, here’s hoping that Noel will restore some fiscal as well as programmatic sense back to CCT.

* * *

What’s the senator smoking?

Senate majority leader Tito Sotto has taken a lot of umbrage at a new House bill that proposes to legalize the medicinal use of marijuana. And because incoming Health Secretary Dr. Francisco Duque has come out in the bill’s favor, Sotto’s even threatened to oppose Duque’s confirmation, from his seat on the Commission on Appointments.

As a member of the entertainment profession in old and good standing, one who’s presumably more than passingly acquainted with the weed-smoking habits of his peers, the senator may understandably be over-reacting. Or he may see this issue as another opportunity to burnish his born-again squeaky-clean reputation.

Or maybe he just hasn’t read the bill yet. As it stands, HB 180, or the Philippine Compassionate Medical Cannabis Bill, simply aims to legalize the processing of the entire cannabis plant into pharmaceutical-grade cannabis in various dosage forms, such as oil extract, tincture, suppositories, capsules, pills, spray and topicals. The entire industry would of course be subject to the strict regulatory oversight. 

We won’t be the first country to venture into cannabis processing. It could be the newest addition to what ought to be our growing portfolio of agri-business exports. And it would bring pain management and therapeutic relief to so many victims of a wide range of ailments, here and abroad, from high blood pressure to multiple sclerosis to cancer.

Here’s hoping that the good senator and the good doctor come to a meeting of minds on what could be an important medical and industrial breakthrough for the country.

* * *

Smoke the peace pipe, not smokin’ guns.

This is what Colonel Harold Cabunoc, the enterprising commander of the Philippine Army’s 33rd Infantry Battalion, wants to do with his adversaries from the New People’s Army. Last week, a total of 60 rebels in Sultan Kudarat province had surrendered to his troops, worn down by fatigue, hunger, and bad weather.

Cabunoc greeted them by listening to their gripes about poor government response, land-grabbing, and lack of employment. He then asked the provincial government to start up some high-impact projects, like day-care centers and more access roads. He also asked local tourism officials to employ the rebel returnees in their projects.

The colonel is a highly decorated young officer who clearly thinks out of the box. Just as Mayor Sara Duterte has put together a Davao City peace committee to engage the local rebels in localized peace talks, so too has the colonel innovated another peace-making approach: For local military and police commanders to go out of their way—assisted by good intelligence—to persuade disgruntled rebels to surrender, talk peace, treat them well, even help mainstream them back into the community.

Here’s hoping that DND, DILG, DoT, and other national agencies support such initiatives by their people in the field. It’s honey, not vinegar, that draws the bees. And it may be the only way to rebuild peace in our country—not from the top down, but from the ground up, one community at a time.

* * *

The bright boys over at research firm OpenSignal have come out with their latest ranking of countries by quality of Internet and telecom service. Millions of local mobile subscribers will hardly be surprised to learn that our country now ranks near the bottom—66th out of 77 countries surveyed—in terms of availability and speed of long-term evolution (LTE) technology, the 4G standard for mobile data access. 

Some of the problem can be fixed by government, through the release and reallocation of new and more spectrum. Faster processing by local government units of cell site permit applications will also help a lot.

But most of the work is still the responsibility of the cellular companies. They should be out there building denser networks  (more cell sites), relieving congestion (better traffic management), and adopting newer technologies like LTE-Advanced. Tower-sharing is an old idea whose time has come. Perhaps the President can prod them to do all of these, in his usual inimitable style.

The telcos are likely to respond by pleading capital constraints. In that case, DICT Secretary Eli Rio should proceed with his earlier-announced plans to build out what may become a virtual, government-owned third telco that will initially depend on long-term capacity leases from ISPs and other value-added service providers.  Its areas of focus would be backbone network coverage and international gateway access.

Here’s hoping for some relief from government. It’s time the telco buccaneers stopped blowing smoke up our asses.

 

Readers can write me at gbolivar1952@yahoo.com.

Topics: COA , DSWD
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