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LETTER FROM MINDANAO: What 200 million US dollars can do. By Carolyn O. Arguillas

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/26 March) – If the National Broadband Network – ZTE anomaly had not been discovered, taxpayers would, as soon as the loan is due, be paying US$ 329 million for a project that actually costs only $ 129 million.

Worse, taxpayers would be paying for the overprice of US$ 200 million ($130-M and $70-M) which would have gone to the pockets of two already very wealthy and influential men in the country but with seemingly insatiable greed for the greenbacks.

But we won’t really know just how greedy these people are unless we get a good idea of what we can do or buy with the money they steal from us (for isn’t overpricing also stealing?).

I’ve been asking friends to help me spend (an imaginary) $130 million based on the alleged commission of  the resigned Commissioner (no pun intended) and $70 million intended allegedly for the Gentleman friend of Mr. Commissioner. The responses have been very interesting.

At the time of the supposed transaction, the peso-dollar rate was still 50 but let’s be conservative and just stick to 40 Philippine pesos to one US dollar: $130-M is 5.2 billion pesos and  $70-M is 2.8 billion pesos.

How are you going to spend P5.2 B? P2.8 B? A total of  P8 billion?

A friend from the Department of Agrarian Reform said he’d like to buy carabaos for distribution to farmers. Each carabao, he said, costs P15,000.

With P5.2 B, you can buy 346,666 carabaos. Add P2.8 B, that’s 186,666 more or a total of over half a million carabaos.

An executive director of a women’s NGO said a two-story women’s training center – complete with computers, sewing machines and beddings — costs P3 million. That’s only P1.26 billion for all 422 towns in Mindanao.  With P5.2 billion, you can have 1,733 centers, certainly more than enough for each of the country’s 1,502 towns. Add P2.8 billion and that’s 933 more centers.

Another friend asked his friend who works at the Commission on Information and Communications Technology under the Office of the President, for the cost of a community e-center (read: ala internet café) and was told it costs P300,000 each for four computers, one four-in-one printer, training of the personnel and social preparation. This does not include internet connection as yet.

The local government’s counterpart is supposed to be the personnel and the venue for the center.

If community e-centers were to be set up in each of Mindanao’s 422 towns, that’s only P126.6 M at P300,000 each.  If we link them to cyberspace via broadband at P999 per month, that’s only P421,578 a month for all 422 towns. In short, for 127 million pesos, e-community centers in all 422 Mindanao towns can be linked up with the rest of the nation and the world via broadband for one month.

But P127 million is just “barya” (loose change) so let’s try one year. That’s P5.058 million for the connection.

Let’s ensure their connection for 20 years then. But that’s just P101.178 million.

Okay, let’s make that 50 years connection at P252.9 million. Let’s triple the number of computers and printers to make it 12 computers and 3 four-in-one printers.  That’s P379.8M. So 12 computers and 3 printers in each of Mindanao’s 422 towns, connected via broadband for 50 years is only P632.7M. Not even a billion pesos!

Let’s go beyond Mindanao and set up 1,502 community e-centers nationwide. That’s only P450.6 M.  Connect them via broadband for a month, that’s P1.5 M. Connect them for a year that’s only P18 M. Connect them for 20 years, that’s P360 M.

Establishing community e-centers in each of the country’s 1,502 towns and connecting them via broadband for 20 years — cost only P810.6 million. Not even a billion pesos!

Even if the cost of connection is per computer,  that should pose no problem. There’s just too much money for it.

A teacher-friend wants additional classrooms.  A 49 square meter, 7 x 7 meter classroom under the Donate A Classroom program (donated by Filipino citizens abroad) is $ 4,000 each. With $ 130-M, you can build 32,500 classrooms — more than the 30,906 classrooms needed as of October 15, 2006.

Add  $70 million and you have 17,500 more classrooms, certainly more than enough to solve the shortage.

This year’s elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao will be computerized. But Rey Sumalipao, director of the Commission on Elections in the ARMM told the Conference on Islam, Elections and Democracy at the Grand Regal here on March 11 that Maguindanao voters will make use of the Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) where voting and counting will be automated while voters in Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and Shariff Kabunsuan and the cities of  Marawi and Lamitan will make use of the Optical Mark Reader (OMR) where counting will be computerized.

Only Maguindanao can avail of the DRE because the machine is reportedly expensive. Sumalipao had left the forum but PPCRV chair Henrietta de Villa was told the machine costs something like USD $25,000. With $130-M, you can buy 5,200 machines!

Oh, but there’s this major problem about cleaning up the voters’ list of underage, double, multiple registrants.

The multiple registrants were discovered shortly after the registration in 2003 which required photographs and fingerprints, computerized. Sumalipao said that as “sort of bonus” from the French supplier of the data capturing machines, the records taken were sent to France for biometric matching, hence the discovery.

As of July 2005, he said, there were “actually 120,000”  multiple registrants in the ARMM, of whom 10,000 had been charged. But the 10,000 could still vote because they have not been convicted.

Sumalipao said they cannot figure out the increase in number of multiple registrants in the ARMM between then and now  because “we don’t have the machines” that could do biometric matching.

“Our matching is confined to names only, not as to fingerprints…,”  he said, adding “the machines cost so much.”

How much do these machines cost?  He had no idea.

If the DRE costs $25,000, let’s grant that the machine that can do biometric matching, costs $100,000 each. With $130-M, you can actually buy 1,300 such machines!

Oh, and there’s the ACT for Peace, a program of the government with funding from the United Nations Multi-Donor Programme.

The program costs $ 14.5 million for a five-year period that ends in June 2010. Imagine how many thousands of residents in conflict-affected and post-conflict areas have benefited from the projects of ACT for Peace?

Imagine at least 40 years of ACT for Peace or any such similar program?

Oh yes, $130 million divided by 14.5 is 8.9 multiplied by five years = 44.8 years. Add $70 million and you have 24.1 years more.

With $200-M, you can do any of those written above or fund ACT for Peace or any such similar program, for 68.9 years.

And $200-M is just the “commission” of two greedy men, charged to Filipino taxpayers?  (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. You may email the author at carol@mindanews.com)

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