Really, the picture Jocelyn Bolante painted at the Senate inquiry into the alleged fertilizer scam back in 2004, is an ugly one. Sure he tried to coat the real picture with layers and layers of tall tales, tales too tall to be true. Sorry, Joc, it's an ugly picture, and that's the way I see it.
The premise: P728 Million was released by the Department of Budget and Management in February of 2004. The fund was supposed to finance various farming projects all over the country, with the noble aim of benefitting the country's farmers, to which group much of the country's poorest belongs to. The fund did not specify for which project it should be spent, the local government units that received the money were free to spend their share for whatever purpose they deem their constituency needed more urgently.
He thought that the picture he was showing us yesterday showed that there was absolutely nothing wrong with the whole thing. And that's exactly what was wrong with the picture: how do you explain then his desperate efforts to avoid testifying at the Senate inquiry for four years, going as far as seeking asylum in the United States if there was nothing wrong with the picture? Not to mention his last minute efforts to prevent himself from facing the inquiry by holing himself up in a hospital as soon as he arrived in the country.
At yesterday's hearing, Bolante wanted us to believe that it was just a coincidence that most of those who received the money needed the same thing: liquid fertilizer. That was part of the picture he painted, almost all the farmers in the country needed the same thing, whether they're rice, vegetable, tilapia or bangus farmers, they needed fertilizer more than anything else. He also wanted us to believe that coincidentally, almost all the local government units in the country get their fertilizers from one particular supplier. That it was just too bad that there were reports that these liquid fertilizers were diluted with water, and that the fertilizers were overpriced by as much as over 1,000(!) percent. That it was just a coincidence that the money was released during the run up to the 2004 presidential elections.
A triple whammy, Senator Loren Legarda called it – it's more than just a triple whammy: we have an undersecretary who was so powerful he can have the release of hundreds of millions of pesos in a day; the money was distributed among local politicians during the campaign period; most of the fertilizers were bought from one supplier; farmers complain that no fertilizer reached them and that a lot of those who did receive the goods say the goods were bad; and bad goods were grossly overpriced.
And Bolante wanted us to believe that there's nothing wrong with that picture.
Not only is the picture so wrong, the saddest thing is that that same picture is painted all the time all over the country in practically all branches of the government. The same picture is painted whenever a local government official puts his name on a billboard next to a waiting shed, or deep well, or road construction project; whenever a politician approves a useless projects such as a concrete pine tree instead of using the money to truly serve the people; whenever a policeman offers you to settle a traffic violation fine "on site" earning him "pang-kape." You get the picture.
Pang-kape or P728 Million, the picture is as ugly.
In the beginning, there was space, and the space was beautiful. And Burnham said, let there be parks. And a hundred years ago, he reserved the choicest part of that space as that - a park, an open space where everything else in the future city spring from. Around it are the bare necessities – a town hall on one end, a government center on the other, parallel to it was the central business district, and emanating from that space, like a spider web, are the roads that led to residential areas enough for what he thought was this beautiful space's carrying capacity – 25,000 residents.
Surrounding this charming open space were scenic mountain sides, and so he said that no structure should be built that would ruin the picturesque skyline of the future city of Baguio. That open space eventually bore his name.
While other cities with a much bigger land area would have a park or two at most, for some none at all, Baguio's design included several open spaces. Daniel H. Burnham, renowned city planner during his time with several prominent beautiful city plans to his name, wanted to make the most of and protect what Baguio had - its cool climate, its unique landscape and wonderful scenery.
Fast forward a hundred years hence, and that cool climate is being threatened with pollution, that landscape unique only in how so many structures can be crammed into such limited space, and that picturesque backdrop gone, buried behind and under towering hotels and commercial buildings. How could they have missed the point?
Why did the people in charge of the city's public transportation think it was right to clog Baguio's narrow roads with thousands of extra taxicabs and jeepneys when even on the busiest days, a lot of these polluters are without passengers? While our city officials stand on the steps of city hall proclaiming to whoever cares to listen to them that Baguio is a character city, right behind them just a stone's throw away are sleazy establishments that proclaim to everyone passing that Baguio has become a city of characters.
How could they think that Baguio is much better off with several imposing shopping malls? How could they think that Baguio needs three golf courses? How could they think that Baguio can carry garbage from more than 250,000 residents instead of from 25,000? How could they think that Baguio is a prettier site with towering commercial billboards?
How could they think that developing Baguio means getting rid of what it is all about: its natural beauty.
You don't carve the rice terraces to make way for condominium buildings, or flatten the pyramids to make way for a mall, or put tarpaulins on the Eiffel tower to sell cellular phones, or hold a tiangge at Stonehenge.
Nothing says it better than Joni Mitchell: "They paved paradise to put up a parking lot."
And Baguio's parks, or at least whatever remains of them? When they're not being used for trade fairs and motorcycle races, they're a reminder to all of us: we don't know what we've got 'til it's gone.