FIRING LINE: Commission vs. Omission

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By Robert B. Roque, Jr.

I’m sure of having encountered a few social entrepreneurs in my work with the Lions Clubs International. They impress me for channeling their money-making skills to ventures that endeavor to solve the problems plaguing humanity.

Recently, I came across the inspiring story of social entrepreneur Jim Ayala, former CEO of Ayala Land but not related to its controlling family, the Zobel de Ayalas. In a gist, he quit his job when he had everything in his career going for him, following the realty development wonders that are Nuvali in Sta. Rosa and, of course, Bonifacio Global City.

Finding God’s mission for him, Jim devoted his time, effort, and money to providing solutions to the country’s darkest places – communities unplugged from the power grid. In his church testimony, he explained how a solar lamp and panel that can charge a cellphone could drastically improve a rural family’s income, education, and well-being. (https://web.facebook.com/paolo.punzalan/posts/10219004026544843?_rdc=1&_rdr)

He has since collaborated with microfinancing firms and foundations to bring light and power to the remotest of communities to fast-track their development. While it’s fascinating work from the private sector, I begin to question the government’s resolve to make the same impact on a national scale.

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At last week’s budget hearing for the Departments of Energy (DOE) and of Education (DepEd), senators bared that 10 percent of Filipino students or about 2.3 million learners nationwide are without electricity. This means they are all insulated from distance learning, which is dependent on gadgets that run on power – and that includes very last-century radio and TV sets.

Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto points out that not only students are hobbled by the lack of power in their homes, but schools as well. This is reflected in the DepEd’s drive to connect 449 “Last Mile Schools” in far-flung areas to power grids, as cited by the senator.

To effectively address these problems, DepEd needs P3.85 billion to bring power to these schools. At the same time, the DOE requires P25 billion for its sitio electrification program to erase the backlog of 2.3 million households unhooked from the power grid. That’s not even P30 billion – a minuscule amount from the P4.506 trillion national budget for 2021.

If that cannot be addressed, then that’s plainly a problem in commitment.

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Perhaps, that’s the very same problem our government has with the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), which has failed to utilize some P83 billion of its budget on various programs intended for the poor from 2019 to the current year.

That wasted fund answers the electrification problem of both the DOE and DepEd more than twice over.

How could a department that has failed in “ominous 2020” to deliver P75 billion worth of services and benefits to the poorest of the poor in a time plagued by a pandemic, a recession, and strings of natural disasters not be questioned for commitment?

Can this corner get an answer from DSWD Secretary Rolando Joselito Bautista?

The last I heard from him was when he pushed for the repurposing P10 billion in unutilized fund for the DSWD’s Livelihood Assistance Grant (LAG) program – a fund intended “to support low-income families in the informal sector whose livelihood continues to be disrupted by the community quarantine”.

Before you repurpose, sir, shouldn’t it be asked first how many low-income families in the informal sector are still struggling to make ends meet as we speak?

I applaud Jim Ayala for finding God’s Great Commission in his life. It’s just a shame that some of our leaders who are expected to do more seem to bury themselves in the great crime of omission.

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SHORT BURSTS. For comments or reactions, email firingline@ymail.com or tweet @Side_View. Read current and past issues of this column at Home – The Philippine Business and News

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