The P12 billion in Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) stolen over a period of three years could have been used to lift the country and its people from centuries of poverty and ignorance.
It is thus understandable that the people march. The amount involved is large, but that is only secondary. It is the callousness of the scheme—senators and congressmen diverting funds intended for the poor and calamity victims—that makes them feel so violated and angry.
But there is a similar, equally reprehensible crime, and it remains largely unnoticed: the misuse of funds by local government legislators. All over the country, city or municipal councilors and provincial board members also fatten themselves at the trough.
Here’s something typical. The provincial board of Nueva Viscaya, it was reported the other day, appropriated for themselves P21.7 million for the purchase of cars, mobile phones, tablets, and laptops, citing “the enactment of local laws in support of development programs and initiatives” as justification.
Such cheek, but that’s penny-ante. The Quezon City Council approved P40 million each for its 36 members, ostensibly for infrastructure projects. That local version of pork barrel costs taxpayers P1.4 billion every year.
The QC government, shamed by the extravagance when it was uncovered, vows to remove the pork from its 2014 annual budget.
Don’t bet on it. The councilors are no less vicious than the senators and congressmen who were charged with plunder, along with Janet Lim Napoles, for funneling their pork barrel allocations to spurious non-government organizations for non-existent projects.
Are we being overly harsh for making such a sweeping condemnation? Not at all. If the councilors have the gall to keep ghost employees in their payroll, they will also pocket the appropriations meant for the repair of school buildings and road maintenance. Two of them—the actor Roderick Paulate and Francisco Calalay Jr.—were in fact ordered suspended for six months by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales for that offense.
The greed is by no means confined to board members and councilors. It’s something that could not happen without the local government executive abetting, if not encouraging, it.
Far from the glare of city lights, Governor Hermogenes Ebdane of Zambales has issued close to a hundred small-scale mining permits (SSMPs).
It has nothing to do with misappropriation of public funds, but the same arrogance of power is at play here. Moreover, the harm is felt more directly by the people.
Small mining, indeed! Other provinces see timber concessionaires strip the jungle of its forest cover. In Zambales, miners are blasting the mountain and carting away the soil for its mineral contents—usually chromite and nickel—to waiting ships docked in hastily constructed wharves to be transported to China, whose government has lain claim over Bajo de Masinloc and is driving the province’s fishermen away.
The operation fouls up rivers and silts irrigation canals with muck.
Now, to go back to that contentious issue. Rep. Isidro Ungab of Davao City has announced that the House of Representatives will soon pass the proposed P2.268 trillion national budget for next year without the pork barrel allocation.
It turns out that the fund is just being realigned. It is, the congressman explained, placed in appropriate government agencies for disposition to make sure that it goes to where it is intended. PDAF is still there, but not “as we know it,” said the politico, who by the way is also implicated in the scam.
The Senate, with three of its members facing plunder charges, vows to do away with pork altogether.
Abolition, not realignment is the way to go. It is what the people demand, and they will keep on marching until they get it.