• Just do it

    Ernesto F. Herrera

    Ernesto F. Herrera

    In every sortie and gathering during the 2010 presidential campaign, President Aquino vowed that if he became president the next administration would immediately establish itself in the people’s eyes as being cut entirely from a different cloth as the administration of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

    Mr. Aquino was elected president primarily on that promise. He was seen as the antithesis of GMA. People wanted an end to a corrupt presidency. If the one sitting on top is corrupt then everyone in government would follow. So first and foremost, our president must be honest.

    To his credit, Mr. Aquino has been trying to show the people that his administration has a different value system than the one it replaced. His good governance and anticorruption program has been getting positive ratings from the citizenry, the business community and investment analysts. To a large extent, his administration has brought back public confidence in government transactions.

    But anyone choosing to embrace the Aquino administration’s new value system, this Daang Matuwid as it is called, cannot do so while justifying the pork barrel system in Philippine politics.

    Indeed, you would be lucky to find a citizen who still believes there is no bribing, rigging or any kind of corruption that occurs in pork barrel transactions.

    President Aquino has announced the scrapping of congressional pork barrel, preempting the large gathering of anti-pork barrel advocates in Luneta Park on National Heroes Day (which has yet to happen at the time of this writing).

    But his announcement falls well short of expectations, because the P27 billion budget allocation for legislators would still exist and would still be spent at the discretion and behest of congressmen and senators, supposedly with more stringent requirements dictated by Malacañan.

    Essentially, it is pork barrel by another name, form and manner, not anymore the Priority Development Assistance Fund, which indeed used to be called by another name as well, the Countrywide Development Fund.

    The problem facing this administration is that if it wants to pass the major pieces of legislation that are fundamental to its reform agenda, including its proposed national budget, it needs to keep members of Congress happy and satisfied.

    Unfortunately, a good number of lawmakers do not vote for reform legislation per se. They don’t even vote according to their own party’s mandate, as much as they vote for sweetheart and pork barrel provisions contained in the national budget.

    Hence, the President probably believes that politically and realistically it is impossible to strip out all the pork and force each member of Congress to vote solely on the merits of the national budget or any proposed measure. Most members of Congress act in their collaborative best interest when it comes to pork barrel allocations.

    The President’s announcement on the pork barrel’s abolition might be nothing but a wink-and-a-nod deal between the administration and the leadership of both Houses of Congress. It’s horse-trading and business as usual.

    Anti-pork barrel advocates include a lot of ordinary citizens who voted for P-Noy and hold his administration to a much higher standard.

    They are asking the President to institute a new dynamics of conflict and cooperation between the executive department and Congress. They are asking P-Noy to ditch the relationship with Congress based on pork and pelf.

    They voted for change. We voted for change, specifically change from what the previous administration so brazenly practiced.

    We are demanding that the President and all lawmakers look beyond their own interests and vote for bills not because there is a quid pro quo arrangement.

    We said earlier that without the attendant kickbacks that have given pork barrel a very bad name, this huge amount of money can actually do a lot of good; that used wisely and without corruption we believe the pork barrel system could allocate much needed state resources on projects that would otherwise be neglected or those that direly need more funds.

    Unfortunately, corruption has long bedeviled the pork barrel system and no less than a thorough exorcism is required.

    The characters and motives of the whistleblowers in the latest pork barrel scam seem of small importance compared to their revelations about the nature and extent of the corruption.

    The scam—multibillion-peso ghost government projects funded by legislators’ Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF)—has been going on for quite some time obviously. It did not stop with the Arroyo administration and doesn’t involve only opposition legislators. It is also not a two-way affair between Janet Napoles, the alleged mastermind, and the legislators because it could not have happened without the connivance of people in other government agencies, like Budget and Management, the Commission on Audit, Agriculture, and Agrarian Reform.

    No wonder a lot of legislative districts across the country still does not have basic necessities and lack social services. Imagine the billions that are lost in this scam that could have otherwise built farm-to-market roads, wiped out the classroom shortage, completely irrigated our farmlands and supplied our public hospitals with direly needed medicines and equipment.

    We cannot squander this historic opportunity for genuine change. People are fed up with the corrupt status quo in Congress.

    We beg the President Aquino to put an end to all pork barrel corruption by abolishing pork barrel altogether—the pork barrel of senators and congressmen and his own audit-free pork barrel, the multibillion special purpose funds allotted to the Office of the President. Just take these out of the national budget and give the money back to the government agencies who are supposed to implement basic social services such as housing, education, health.

    Mr. Aquino won’t have the moral authority to talk about fighting corruption if his administration would continue the pork barrel system; even under another name it would always be under a cloud of legal and ethical suspicion.

    His lame announcement—no more PDAF BUT . . . —simply won’t do.

    Please, Mr. President. In the words of Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, “You are better than this.”


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