Friday, March 25, 2011

Commentary: A water substation in U.P. Diliman becomes a venue for political art and presents an opportunity to ask some tough questions

By Chanda Shahani

Here are new photographs of the water substation in the University of the Philippines at Diliman campus, which previously showed an "unauthorized organism" flicking its evil tongue out and capturing portions of U.P.'s dwindling revenue streams. Last summer, we took pictures of it to dramatize and highlight financial irregularities going on with respect to the unremitted funds of the University Hotel, as reported by the Commission on Audit (COA) in latest consolidated audited annual report (see:

It is not yet clear to us if the new U.P. administration, headed by U.P. President Alfredo E. Pascual has already acted on COA's complaint that the monopolistic revenues of the University Hotel (the only place inside U.P. campus proper where it is possible to get a "legal" bottle of beer at PhP 50.00 a bottle) need to be put under the scrutiny of COA auditors in the interests of financial transparency and good governance. We do intend to follow up on this story for the benefit of our readers.

In the interim, the U.P. Diliman administration has painted over the offending "unauthorized organism" portrayed in urban graffiti or visual art on the water substation referred to in our previous dispatch, but the irrepressible hands of an unknown artist has put in new visual art to dramatize the challenges facing the new U.P. administration (see pictures embedded below).

The pictures show President Benigno S. Aquino III gleefully cutting pencils in two, which symbolizes President Aquino's cutting of the budgets of state universities and colleges last year, including those of the U.P. System.

President Pascual will have to fight hard to obtain ways and means to supplement U.P.'s budget, but it is to be admitted that U.P. has a serious image problem with the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) which is in the process of finalizing its 2011 budget call for the entire national government this year. As Budget Secretary Butch Abad has said, DBM reads COA's reports, aside from closely consulting with the affected government departments. Unfortunately, President Aquino, Senate Finance Commitee Chairperson Franklin Drilon and Secretary Abad, who are all high-ranking officials of the Liberal Party have said they believe U.P. has a lot of unused revenues and is awash with cash. Therefore, why increase its budget?

These are the tough questions being asked by President Aquino, et al. and with COA's 2009 CAAR vociferously complaining about the past U.P. administration's inaction with respect to the unreported revenues of the University Hotel, as well as COA's criticism of university-related foundations efffectively declining to open its books to COA, the most visible one being the University of the Philippines Foundation, Inc. -  which is headed by whoever is the sitting U.P. President. COA is calling for university officials to no longer head these foundations and to open their books to COA, so as to preserve the integrity of the university (see: It is no suprise therefore, that the Aquino administration thinks that U.P. has lots of money; but really there is no empirical basis to confirm or deny this until the U.P. Foundation, the University Hotel and other revenue-generating assets of the university allow complete scrutiny of their books, as COA has been insisting for the past six years.

So as U.P. President Pascual inevitably sits down in executive session with DBM officials and both houses of congress this year to discuss why U.P.'s budget needs to be increased as a long-term investment in a brains trust, charged with helping to ensure the long-term viability of the Filipino nation; he needs to have such issues such as the unaudited books of the U.P. Foundation and University Hotel properly addressed beforehand, as DBM officials and legislators are entitled to ask how much money U.P. actually has and what are the case-to-case restrictions on their use before committing public funds for the unaddressed funding gap. This is the only way that a rational decision can be made, employing the best possible baseline data beforehand.

(Photos by Chanda Shahani)

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