‘War is a racket’

By Dean Dela Paz

At the height of the pandemic last year, when all focus was on our feeble healthcare system and the even more feeble if not incompetent response of the authorities in mitigating its deadly impact on public health and the economy which sustains us, the legislature suddenly turned away and did something that seemed uncalled for and anachronistic. Our lawmakers quickly rubber-stamped amendments to an old law initially designed to quell an Islamic insurgency.

From the dustiest depths of congressional archives, a pack, as if responding to a silent auditory pitch, exhumed the long buried Human Security Act of 2007 – a 15-year-old law aimed at militants linked to extremists in the Middle East. Where it provided safeguards against abuses, Republic Act (RA) 9372 was a more humanitarian version of an anti-terror bill sponsored by Juan Ponce Enrile in 1996. The new statute, the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, virtually negated safeguards and added rows of canine incisors. It was meant to instill fear. And it did just that.

Perhaps influenced by the background of those commanding our response to the deadly pandemic, side-lining the critical needs of a severely neglected healthcare system, policy makers thought it more important to address what they saw as weaknesses in a 15-year-old statute. By disinterring an old law, they placed anti-terror front and center. But why now of all times “cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war’’?

Allow us to scour the cranial cavities of commissioned foot soldiers donning war paint against the pandemic. The de facto offensive is led by the Department of Health (DOH) including the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth), the Department of the Interior and Local Governments (DILG) and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

Our pandemic response then turned out to be the most draconian. Moreover, vaccination was entrusted to a former military man. Do the math. Ceteris paribus, on an efficacy basis, the Philippines continues to buy the most expensive China-made vaccine and force-jabs those nationwide. Yet herd immunity is nowhere in sight.

As we trek through the labyrinthine trenches of nebulous and nescient grey matter, analyze why anti-terror was prioritized while we were virtually rendered helpless in a health crisis.

Compelled by the new and improved RA 11479, curiously the 2-year-old P19-billion National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) led the attack. The agency, spawned after peace-talks were deliberately abandoned, is chaired by Rodrigo Duterte. It now wants P28.1 billion. Never mind that it is holstered under the Office of the President whose confidential intelligence funds are over P4.5 billion.

Recently, the Commission on Audit (COA) discovered as much as P160.1 million were transferred to the NTF-ELCAC from funds earmarked for educational scholarships.

As for the DILG, the COA questioned over P2.9 million unliquidated disbursements related to the local insurgency. According to COA, the total audited deficiencies exceeded P4.9 million. The COA also found P936,804 worth of un-programed procurements as well as inadequately documented payables totaling P1.06 million.

Under the DSWD, the COA flagged as much as P5 million disbursed to unidentified former insurgents.

From PhilHealth’s P15 billion fiduciary controversies under a former brigadier general, note how, amid the pandemic, these aforementioned agencies are also commanded by former soldiers deployed against the anti-terror and insurgency campaigns.

Philippine-American War veteran Major General Smedley Butler once wrote, “War is a racket. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious.” Because the COVID counteroffensive was under the command of the DOH, now over P67.3 billion seems to have been mishandled. Obviously, this war is being fought by both mercenaries and soldiers. And it is indeed most profitable.

(Dean dela Paz is a former investment banker and a managing director of a New Jersey-based power company operating in the Philippines. He is the chairman of the board of a renewable energy company and is a retired Business Policy, Finance and Mathematics professor.)