At the heart of the crisis and nightmare now racking the Philippine Congress, there is this troubling fact that throughout the mind-boggling story of the pork barrel, the Napoles kickbacks, the Malacanang bribes, the DAP, the congressional insertions, and so on, our senators and representatives never paused to define for themselves, “how much is enough pork barrel, enough kickbacks, enough bribes, enough looting of the treasury,” beyond which they would not go. There was no cliff they were not prepared to jump.
In our culture of consumerism, when we have no idea of what is enough, the natural tendency is to demand and ask for “more” and “more.” It is easy to go crazy, and hard to stay sane.
I believe that had our legislators individually known from the beginning, “what is enough,” the billion-peso scam would not have grown the way it did, or ensnared so many in its web.
Gandhi’s principle of enoughness
In his inimitable way, Mohandas Gandhi provided penetrating insight on why “enoughness” is so important for the happiness and sanity of human beings. He called it the principle of enoughness.
He starts off from man’s relationhip to the environment and Mother Nature.
He wrote: “The earth provides enough to satisfy every person’s need but not every person’s greed. When we take more than we need, we are simply taking from each other or destroying the environment for ourselves and other species.”
Gandhi warned that greed is insatiable. Even Mother Nature cannot sate it.
On the issue of enoughness, it is important that we work to take from our environment only that which we need. It’s also important to recognize this in business and in own work environments. Some say that we should view Gandhi’s teaching as an attitude of abundance. If we see the world as having abundance, we’ll be able to tap into our fair share.
If we see the world as having scarcity, then life becomes a struggle.
Lack of limits fed the corruption
In the traditional pork barrel system, before it was transmogrified, there should have been enough pork for every representative and every senator. But when the objective became one of satisfying greed, there could not be enough. The Aquino administration literally had to invent new methods and funds to channel pork.
The psychology of “not enough” and “more” fed the entire pork-barrel scandal, and is the reason why Janet Lim Napoles, despite her lack of schooling became such a big deal, and why the Aquino administration is so deeply enmeshed from head to toe in this tawdry affair.
The lack of an idea of “enough” made our legislators moral weaklings and totally vulnerable to Napoles, who was prepared to offer them anything or any sum, just to get them to authorize the conversion of their pork barrel allocations into projects for her foundations and enterprises.
The lack of limits made them subservient to President Aquino’s determination to make the legislature his rubber stamp.
How pork became a monstrosity
In an earlier column (“Pork mutates into cancer of our democracy,” April 5), I traced the evolution of the traditional pork barrel system into the monstrosity under President BS Aquino 3rd.
I wrote then:
“The fact that the pork barrel has corrupted and discredited Congress is to be expected. Until the Supreme Court struck down the PDAF as unconstitutional, securing their share of pork was the single most important priority of our legislators, of senators and representatives alike. That they exact kickbacks from pork projects is the rule.
“That it’s the senators who will likely suffer and repay the most for misusing the pork barrel is both surprising and ironic. Senators should not be getting pork to begin with. Senators are elected nationally, like the president and vice-president; they do not have local constituencies to serve and placate. In contrast, representatives (both regular and party-list) have legislative districts and specific constituencies to serve, and it is clearly for their sake that legislators labor hard to secure pork in order to fund local projects.
“During the administration of President Marcos, especially during its authoritarian phase (1972-86), the pork barrel did not exist. Funding for local districts was itemized in the budget. There were also no senators then, because the country adopted the parliamentary system with the 1973 constitution.
“When the pork barrel was revived in 1987 during the Cory Aquino administration and through the aggressive lobbying of then Speaker Ramon Mitra and other congressional leaders, their main idea was to provide representatives with funds for local projects, and to enable them to win reelection. It had a modest name at the resurrection—the Countryside Development Fund (CDF).
“Senators were not allotted their own pork barrel at the time. They had no local constituents to serve. And they could lobby well enough for projects (infrastrucrture and the like) that could project them before the national electorate.
“Senatorial interest in the pork barrel was roused during the administration of President Fidel V. Ramos and under the speakership of Jose de Venecia, who aggressively moved to transform the pork barrel into a system as certain as the seasons.
“The initial outlay for senatorial pork was modest, and then it began to increase every year. By the time Gloria Macapagal Arroyo ended her term as president in 2010, the pork barrel had ballooned to P70 million per year for each representative, and P200 million per year for each senator.
“The fund was eagerly lapped up by the legislators. Only senators Joker Arroyo and Panfilo Lacson can claim innocence of the practice because they pointedly refused to use their pork allocations.
“It’s not known which Senate leader and members were mainly responsible for securing so huge an appropriation for Senators. The Senate press corps should enlighten us on this.
“From an outlay of P8 billion for pork during the time of President Arroyo, the PDAF ballooned to P27 billion under President BS Aquino 3rd.
“Aquino’s stance toward the misuse of PDAF is marked by hypocrisy. It’s a certainty that he availed of his pork barrel when he was a representative for Tarlac for three terms, and a senator for one term. And he certainly did nothing to rein in pork when he became president. He increased the PDAF by 300%.
“Most distressing of all, President Aquino inflated the pork barrel even more with the invention by DBM secretary Florencio Abad of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), which dispensed more funds to legislators in addition to creating a humongous pork barrel for the President.”
Edward Snowden of the Philippines
The pork barrel system went haywire during this administration because we have a President who is not shy about providing public funds to get his way in Congress, and the flow of more funds whetted congressional appetites so much that legislators began planning their future around ever-in creasing pork allocations.
Pork is clearly a reason why the political dynasties have expanded exponentially under President Aquino.
A system without an idea of “enough” is antithetical to the constitutional concept of limited government that underlies our constitutional system.
A system without limits soon finds the seeds for its own destruction.
Anticipating this, John Adams warned his fellow founding fathers of the American republic: “There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”
The antidote to suicide is a public philosophy of restrained, limited free-market government that gives space and place to the individual and to the civil society that stands between the citizen and the state.
Philippine democracy was on the way to suicide at the rate it was self-destructing under a berserk pork barrel system.
Someday, we will be thanking Benhur Luy for helping to save our democracy. If Kris Aquino can claim without blushing that she is the Oprah Winfrey of the Philippines (with no Filipino agreeing), Benhur Luy can justly lay claim to being the Edward Snowden of this country. He is an iconoclastic whistleblower in his own right.