The Makabayan Bloc in Congress, composed of 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.
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 but 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.
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 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 representatives.
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.
Hear 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 representative been doing with his or her pork barrel?