It was no surprise to me that the Makabayan Bloc in Congress, namely Partylist Representatatives Antonio Tinio of ACT Teachers, Neri Colmenares and Carlos Zarate of Bayan Muna, Luz Ilagan ang Emmi de Jesus of Gabriela, Fernando Hicap of Anakpawis, and Terry Ridon of Kabataan were the first to give up their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF or Pork Barrel), as they call it. After all, there is much to be said about consistently taking a stand against corrupt practices in government, even and especially when one becomes part of that august hall that has become the seat of pork barrel scams.
I didn’t expect less from the Makabayan Bloc, in fact, even when I trust that they use any access to pork barrel funds on real and actual projects that are all above board. You might say what you like about activism, but show me your version of it, and tell me if your Congress representatives are giving up P70M each in pork barrel funds.
And lest you think this is mere celebration of the partylist representatives that I’d trust with my life, it is important to throw two Senators into the mix. Senator Panfilo Lacson stopped using his P200M pesos in pork barrel funds when he discovered his chief-of-staff engaged in a project-overprice negotiation; he has not touched it since. Senator Joker Arroyo didn’t touch his pork barrel as congressman for nine years. Neither has he touched his PDAF as a member of the Senate.
The fact, really, is this: if the seven Makabayan Representatives and the two Senators can do it, all of them in Congress and the Senate can give up their pork.
I get the rational of a gradual phase out as proposed by Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago. But any member of the Senate or Congress who’s got no problem with losing their pork in 2016, shouldn’t have to wait that long. If you think you won’t need pork in 2016, then you don’t need it now. More importantly, if you believe that the pork barrel can be used in the way that these scams reveal, then you have much to gain by saying no to your pork, if only so it’s clear to the people that you are in office to serve, and not to enrich yourself while in office.
Imagine what that would do for the national psyche, too, when we find out who among our Senators and Representative in Congress are ready to take on the challenge of no money. That the kind of money PDAF allows might be flaunted and misallocated, and dictates upon the relationships to be had; that it now carries the weight of fake NGOs and ghost projects, is enough reason to let it go.
As it is, along with the seven Makabayan Reps and Senators Lacson and Arroyo, it is worth lauding that Senate President Frank Drilon, Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano, and Senators Antonio Trillanes IV, Grace Poe, and Bam Aquino have been supportive of Senator Defensor-Santiago’s proposed gradual phase out. But too, there will be nothing more powerful than already giving it up, seeing as it’s been proven that one can be senator without pork.
And like Senator Chiz Escudero, I want a Senate Hearing. I do not care that it might be embarrassing to other Senators or Congress Reps, I don’t care if in the end what we will realize is that our politicos are protected by non-disclosure clauses on their assets, or on their office’s liquidation of expenses – or lack thereof. I want to know who is messing up here, and why. I want to know which of our politicians have everything to hide. I want to know which NGOs are exactly like fake partylists: being given money that it doesn’t need or deserve, that doesn’t trickle down at all.
Which is still the premise, it seems, of the President’s insistence on keeping the pork barrel, despite the growing number of cases that now puts its mere existence into question, despite the foregone conclusion that it is so open to corruption. The pork barrel has been wrong all these years, it’s just that now we’ve got a P10B-peso scam in our faces.
But the President via spokesperson Abigail Valte believes that the pork barrel is good “in theory” and that it is the only way for the national government to reach local communities. That is, PNoy’s working with the notion of national government being about macro concerns, and local officials being in charge of micro concerns. That is, PNoy is saying that the pork barrel that passes through our Congress Representative’s offices, is for us, is for the people, and there’s no other way of reaching us but through our kind and honorable Congress Reps.
This is not just unimaginative for a government that promises reform and transparency, it also contradicts everything PNoy has said about his government being on a righteous path. Because yes, “in theory” the pork barrel works. It doesn’t take a genius to see, however, that if P70 million pesos for each member of Congress were being used for the people’s needs, then we wouldn’t have impoverished districts. One wonders where the bogus partylists with no real constituencies actually use their pork.
But more than common sense and the more obvious indicators of corruption (like I don’t know, which of our politicians have gotten rich on the job?), it might do PNoy well to look at the present and this slew of cases that reveal how the PDAF-NGO combo can scam the people and the nation to kingdom come. More than thinking that there is no other choice and being stricter about the process is the key, think about how even that can be bypassed or gotten around by the more cunning of our politicos. They are geniuses, I tell you.
At the very least, I would expect PNoy to support Senator Chiz Escudero’s call for the Senate’s Blue Ribbon Committee to do its own investigation into the matter. It would be a wonderful display of balls for this President, and this Senate, if it knew to push for the Blue Ribbon Committee hearings. That would tell the people that we are truly about transparency, that this government is absolutely on the side of the matuwid na daan, no matter that Senator Allan Peter Cayetano warns that it would be highly emotional and might push our Senators to fight among themselves. That wouldn’t be the first time.
Meanwhile, it would help PNoy if his allies were less about complicating the matter, and more about lucidity. I wish they had the balls to give up their pork too, but instead we have Akbayan Rep. Ibarra Gutierrez talking about the abolition of the pork barrel as if it is rocket science.
Echoing Malacañang’s assertions about improving on the system that allows the pork barrel to exist, Rep. Gutierrez insists that abolishing the pork barrel demands that a package of reforms take place in the government’s budgeting system – reforms that will make it more participative and democratized. Yet the point he is making is clear: “Even without the pork barrel, crooked public officials can still find innovative ways to pursue their corrupt practices because of weaknesses in the law budget governing allocation, release and use.” Rep. Gutierrez is saying that in essence, abolishing the pork barrel will not mean curbing corruption, because the corrupt will always find a way.
Well, yes. But why give that corrupt politician – that one that Rep. Gutierrez is talking about, who will be corrupt anyway – P70 million pesos to spend? The truth is that when any member of Congress or the Senate agrees that the pork barrel be abolished, the only next step is to let go of theirs, and push for its abolition altogether. And no, Rep. Gutierrez, you don’t get to mess with this discussion by going all gobbledygook about the budget and people’s participation.
Here, ACT Teachers Partylist Rep. Antonio Tinio: “The proposal to abolish PDAF is not just meant to address the problem of corruption. It is meant to change the way we do politics. Right now, with the pork barrel, it is all about patronage politics where politicians’ access to government funds enables them to ingratiate themselves with voters by giving projects or assistance. Our point is this: government assistance in terms of health services, education, housing, etc. is a right of every citizen. It should not need the intervention of politicians. Kung may sakit ang maralita, bakit kailangang tumakbo sa Congressman? ‘Di ba dapat diretso na sa government hospital at yung government hospital ay dapat may sapat na pondo para matulungan siya.”
Common sense. And the balls to prove that no one should need pork to serve the people.
What about you? What has your Congress Representative been doing with his or her pork barrel?