Foreign tourists reading daily headlines on the pork barrel controversy may well quip: Corruption scandals—it’s more fun in the Philippines. And how:
This week the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has reportedly called for a Wednesday rally at the People Power Revolution shrine to abolish pork barrel, with an Iloilo protest vigil also planned. On Friday, militant leftist groups have their own protest lined up.
Malacañang urged the Church to call off its demonstration, so as to avoid snarling traffic on Metro Manila’s main EDSA thoroughfare. The House of Representatives did its bit to head off unrest. It announced that it would scrap the corruption-ridden Priority Development Assistance Fund, going even further than President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s pledge to reform PDAF.
From the upper chamber of Congress, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, who is due to join the International Court of Justice from Congress, offered legal counsel for Janet Lim-Napoles. “Ma’am Janet,” as her jailer, Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas, respectfully calls her, could turn state witness, contended former judge Santiago, if the alleged scam operator named the plunder masterminds. That would then making her an accomplice eligible for immunity from prosecution.
Self-styled pork barrel whistleblowers, for their part, argued that their estranged chief’s testimony was not needed to file charges. But don’t let that raise hopes for a speedy trial. Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte, a lawyer, cautioned against such expectations, saying that bringing PDAF schemers to justice could take a long time, as if the immobile Maguindanao Massacre case weren’t warning enough.
But not to worry: there will be much to keep media and masa fed with juicy news, even if the pork barrel probe and prosecution slow to a crawl. Valte’s superior, Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, another attorney, defended frequent Napoles updates issued by her custodian, the Philippine National Police, via social media. And that’s not counting the resignation drama at the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), one of the bodies investigating pork barrel, but now accused by Aquino of tipping off Napoles.
And in the pot-calls-kettle-black statement of the year, Undersecretary Valte accused the opposition of exploiting the pork barrel issue for politicking. Looks like the deputy spokesperson of President Benigno Aquino 3rd was too busy to keep up on the news.
She failed to notice that his administration had tarred opposition senators early on, even before any conclusive inquiry. Then the Department of Justice instantly cleared Palace allies sans investigation, while the Department of Budget and Management rigged the Commission on Audit report on PDAF by refusing to give COA the records on P21 billion in 2007-09 fund releases mostly to pro-Aquino legislators.
And doing the rounds online is an apparent video interview with Jean Napoles, twenty something daughter of the alleged pork barrel queen, from the plush leather seat facing the bar of the young lady’s limousine in Los Angeles.
Asked if her mother might go to prison, the cross-legged, glitter-shoed and miniskirted Jean allowed: “I think they need her more than she needs them. They were never enemies, [she and]the President and Mar Roxas. They were like a family when PNoy was a congressman-senator, and Mar a senator. There’s no axe to grind against her.”
Where is this thing going?
To be sure, the administration priority is to manage the investigation, prosecution and media coverage to maintain public and political support for President Aquino. So the Palace will spare no effort in ensuring that no stain falls on him and his key allies, though some sacrificial partymates may be momentarily put in the dock with assurances of eventual exoneration via tarnished evidence or plea bargain.
As the 2007-09 scope of the COA report indicates, likely to again be portrayed as villain is former president Gloria Arroyo, maybe just in time to slap another unbailable charge of plunder against her before or soon the current no-bail case against her falls flat by the Office of the Ombudsman’s own preliminary investigation report showing that there was zero evidence to charge her for plunder in the use of intelligence funds at the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office.
Calls to totally scrap both presidential and congressional pork barrel will likely be swept off the front page and primetime news with more Napoles revelations and trivia, plus the creation of some official panel to study the issue till the public and the media move on to some other potboiler incident or issue.
The tactic never fails, especially with pro-administration mainstream media willing to go along. Witness how the Napoles hype has buried the MRT extortion brouhaha purportedly involving presidential sister Ballsy Aquino Cruz and her husband, as well as the far bigger and more dangerous corruption at the Bureau of Customs, involving P200 billion in lost revenues and the entry of deadly guns and illegal drugs.
Will Napoles and the senators and congressmen accused of conspiring with her get their day in court and the rest of their lives in Muntinlupa? Apparent efforts to nail key opposition leaders and potential presidential candidates could trigger counter-exposes against President Aquino, maybe even a power grab.
Hence, Palace insiders friendly to Vice President Jejomar Binay, those of the Noy-Bi persuasion back in the 2010 elections, will likely urge caution in using PDAF against thje VP and his camp. So might the United States: its paramount goal of escalating its military presence in the Philippines, requires that the current administration stay in power and be popular enough till 2016 to get another pro-American president elected.
So what should upright citizens and groups do to make serious headway against corruption? Three things.
First, follow the lead of the Catholic Church, the only national institution capable of mobilizing the citizenry and pressuring the dominant cabal of President Aquino and his allies in Congress, the courts, constitutional bodies, mainstream media, big business, and foreign governments. As it was during the Marcos dictatorship, so it is today.
Second, press Congress to pass the Freedom of Information Act. More than abolishing the P25-billion PDAF, empowering vigilant citizens and media with the legal clout to demand official information is the best instrument to fight corruption in government, including hundreds of billions of pesos in smuggling bribes and even greater amounts in misspending budgeted, unpro-grammed and off-budget monies.
Third, the Catholic Church, its parishes and educational institutions, and major citizens groups, most especially the National Citizens Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) must set up monitoring groups across the archipelago and at all levels of government to keep sharp, unwavering eyes on state activities and raise the alarm over every anomaly. The anti-graft movement’s first task: lifestyle checks on legislators and officials of graft-prone agencies and local governments.
With the Filipino people watching, speaking up and praying, Marcos’s excesses were exposed, and his abusive and corrupt misrule was terminated. The same national vigilance, perseverance and faith are imperative today.