Saturday, April 1, 2023

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FIRING LINE: Dreamer, optimist and pessimist

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Okada Manila
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By Robert B. Roque, Jr.

I bid Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) Officer-in-Charge Gregorio Catapang Jr. good luck on his call for decent civil service-eligible Filipinos to come work for him in the bureau to implement reforms in the penal system.

That call to service in a broken system that has proven to be a health hazard, if not a death sentence, even for rough and tumble jail officers who have been sucked into a criminal wave of corruption within the walls of the New Bilibid Prisons is both audacious and desperate.

Catapang had to relieve and disarm all of suspended BuCor Director General Gerald Bantag’s men and bring in his own crew to ensure he doesn’t have to look over his shoulder twice to get into his office.

In fact, the former military chief said he needs an “anti-corruption vaccine” and administer it twice with follow-up boosters to make sure the people around him become credible tools for reform. If that statement was no joke, then attracting applicants to the BuCor makes Catapang a dreamer!

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Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla is an optimist.

When his son was arrested in a drug bust, jailed, and dragged into court, Remulla exuded the calm of optimism that he, as Department of Justice (DOJ) chief, need not lift a finger for his troubled son’s benefit.

When people called on him to resign, again, Remulla had that optimism, saying bluntly that he would not leave, and the President agreed with him.

And when he left last week for Geneva to lead the Philippine delegation to defend the country’s human rights record before the United Nations’ fourth cycle review by rapporteurs from Marshall Islands, Namibia, and Poland, guess what… Remulla had in his folder nine new cases of “alleged abuse of power” – his preferred term for extrajudicial killings – by law enforcers involved in the country’s war on drugs during the Duterte administration.

Yes, he remained as cool as ice, saying he would tell the UN Human Rights Council: “Abuse of power is not state policy. We’ll tell them that.” There’s your optimist.

*         *         *

Unlike Remulla, we have a pessimist in Congress like Senate Minority Leader Koko Pimentel, who frowns at the proposal to give hundreds of millions of pesos in confidential and intelligence funds (CIFs) to civilian government agencies.

Under the budget schedule presented to the Senate, CIFs account for P9.3 billion of the proposed national budget for 2023. Newly included for next year’s CIFs are the Office of the Vice President, P500 million; the Department of Education, P150 million; and the Office of the Solicitor General, P19.2 million.

For Pimentel, the questions are simple: “What for?” “After decades without, why now?” And so, he will push to amend and cut the allocation for CIFs altogether and leave such funding exclusive to security agencies.

Firing Line shares the senator’s view that intelligence funding is needless and serves civilian agencies no good. So let’s stay pessimistic about that, sir!

*         *         *

SHORT BURSTS. For comments or reactions, email or tweet @Side_View. Read current and past issues of this column at

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