By Gerry Albert Corpuz and Kremlin Montenegro
MANILA, Philippines-The left-leaning fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) assailed on Monday the $ 13 million contract the Department of National Defense (DND) inked with an Italian aircraft manufacturer, while it continues to ignore the demand of El Nino stricken fisherfolk for a four-month production and economic subsidies to mitigate the impact of the prolonged drought in the country.
“Malacanang and the defense department allocated 13 million in green bucks or roughly P 598 M of taxpayers’ money for the purchase of 18 SF-260 planes from the Italy while ignoring the fact that thousands of El Nino affected fishermen are in dire need of support funds to resume production and mitigate the economic impact of extreme heat besetting the country,” said Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap said in a press statement.
The contract between the Italian manufacturer Alenia Aermacchi S.p.A was approved in 2008, but the firm started assembling SF-260 planes only late last year due to undisclosed complications. According to Teresa Parian, chief operating officer of Aerotech Industries Philippines Inc. (AIPI), the Italian manufacturer’s local partner, said the DND agreed to reconstitute the project and to obtain fresh mandate from government in late 2009.
“Can we use the training planes to fish for livelihood? Can it perform miraculous cloud seedings that would soon produce heavy rainfalls of economic subsidies and hunger mitigation measures? The people’s hard earned taxes are spent on white elephant projects like the 13 million dollar Italian training planes,” Hicap lamented.
The procurement of 18 SF-260 planes from Italy is part of the long-delayed modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). According to the executive summary of the AFP modernization plan, in order for the Philippine Air Force (PAF) to have respectable air defense system, the PAF has to acquire a minimum of two squadrons of multi-role fighter aircraft. The SF-260 will cost the government $ 700,000 each P 32 million each.
“This Republic of war freak officials like President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and defense Secretary Norberto Gonzalez is engaged in avant-garde wastage of people’s money in the name of bureaucratic corruption and in the service of their militarist agenda and obsession for bloody war. This 13 million dollar plane deal is grossly inimical to national interest, people’s welfare and strong cry for social justice,” said Pamalakaya.
Pamalakaya last month submitted to the Department of Agriculture (DA0 and the Laguna Lake Development their demand for a P 10,000 per month economic and production subsidy to fishing families affected by the El Nino phenomenon.
The group had said the government should mobilize the P 1.7 billion El Nino budget allotted last year and the calamity funds of provincial and local government units to provide relief to red tide and fish kill stricken areas all over the country. The Pamalakaya fisherfolk alliance had also urged senators and congressmen to donate their remaining salaries from March 1 to June 30, including unspent portions of their pork barrel to fisherfolk and farmer victims of El Nino.
The group said the public could generate P 40,425 each from each district congressman. If there are 220 district congressmen, the fund which could be raised would be P 8,893,500 per month or P 35.57 million for four months. There are 23 senators at present, and each senator also receives
P 40,425 per month or P 929,775 for all senators. If they senators decide to donate their salaries to El Nino victims, the amount that can be generated from senators’ salaries for next four months would be
“If there are 243 congressmen and senators who will donate at least P 20 million of their remaining pork barrel for the year, that would amount to P 4.86 billion, excluding their salaries. All in all, the combined salaries and donated pork barrel would amount to over P 5-billion which could be of big help to affected farmers and fishermen,” Pamalakaya said.