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COMMENTARY: Pacquiao politics: Reality bytes and bites

GENERAL SANTOS  CITY (27 May) — Rep. Manny Pacquiao’s honeymoon with the press as a member of Philippine Congress may have already ended with his bold attempt to interpellate veteran lawmaker Rep. Edcel Lagman of Albay.

It is one thing to speak out his mind and defend his position on such critical and important issue as the pending Reproductive Health (RH) bill now being deliberated in Congress.  But to come apparently unprepared and ill-briefed is another.

We would have understood why Pacquiao had no personal knowledge on what transpired in the previous deliberations of the bill when he posed questions that were already raised and answered.  He was, after all, absent from his congressional duties when he trained for more than two months for his fight against Shane Mosley.

But that should not be an excuse for his congressional staff for failing to properly brief the Sarangani solon.

His staff made him look silly and no longer the likeable neophyte congressman trying to make his way around the halls of Philippine Congress like the way his fans and the media were amused when he stood to read and deliver his first privilege speech quoting lines from famous American poet Robert Frost.

There is no problem with Pacquiao taking it against the RH bill.  But if he and his staff think his massive popularity will sway and intimidate his peers on the opposite side of the debate, they are entirely and un-informingly wrong.

His popularity as a boxing cult and celebrity figure may help the cause of anti-RH bill advocates but, silently, proponents could not have helped themselves any better with Pacquiao arguing for their opponents.

In a related front, self-proclaimed Pacquiao advisor Mike Koncz was quoted as saying the promised provincial hospital in Sarangani may not come soon.

Koncz said they are still looking for source of funds.

This is one realization that will test Pacquiao’s statesmanship and pragmatism – on the better side.

With the current fiscal state of his province, Pacquiao and his staff must have already realized that building and running a gov’t hospital, a provincial one at that, are two different matters.

His congressional chief of staff Frankin ‘Jeng’ Gacal Jr. should know better than everybody else in Pacquiao’s staff.

A former councilor of General Santos City, Gacal knew how much and from where the city government gets its annual budget to operate the 120-bed city-run General Santos City Hospital.

That hospital was built as early as the 70s.  Yet, to this date, it continues to be subsidized by the city government after the devolution of the health department which started in 1991.

Its annual budget of P120 million is way up against its annual revenues, most of them coming from reimbursements from Philhealth, the government-run health insurance agency, which amount to just roughly P20 million every year.

Sarangani, the province at least, cannot afford to allocate P120 million for a similar hospital out of its annual revenues.  Allocating such amount will mean setting aside roughly 25 per cent of its total annual income.

True, building a hospital was one of the campaign promises of Pacquiao.  But in the real and practical world of fiscal management in the province, it is like building an edifice to ensure the local government will go bankrupt in no time.

There are better alternative solutions, such as the ones now in place in the province.

It will not hurt his image if Pacquiao will publicly admit that breaking his campaign promise may be a better and wiser choice.

Welcome to the world of Philippine politics – post election campaign. (Edwin G. Espejo writes for www.asiancorrespondent.com)

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