It’s healthy and even insightful to just swim against the tide once in a while. So let’s pretend today that we sympathize with Janet Lim-Napoles and her kind, and play devil’s advocate to the prevailing perspective on pork barrel so eloquently enunciated on Monday. Here goes nothing:
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Phew! We thought he caved in, but President Benigno Aquino 3rd made most everyone think he was junking the Priority Development Assistance Fund, not repackaging it. “It’s time to abolish PDAF,” he thundered. Yeah, right. But the fine print added that “every project, as well as their corresponding budgetary releases, will have the following safeguards against corruption. . . .”
Translation: we still have pork—the safe, fat-free kind, whatever that is. But in the end, political reality demands that at some point, ample resources are allotted to campaign spending to make voters think they’re making informed choices, and dole-outs to election supporters and the poor. Of course, on the way to the great unwashed, the Special Allocation Release Orders make a pit stop in the lawmakers’ bank accounts. Call it legislative privilege.
Sure, several million, probably much more of a congressman’s P70 million annual SAROs or a senator’s P200 million end up with a BMW dealer, a real estate developer and a round-the-world travel agent. But, hey, that’s good for the economy and jobs. Imagine if only a handful of the 300-odd legislators and 24 senators bought SUVs and condos every year. That could put a few dozen salesmen on the street hawking taho. Clearly, a gross violation of their right to seven-figure commissions and bonuses.
No, the nation’s collective vision sorely needs radical corrective refraction on the pork barrel issue. First of all, the monicker is a gross misnomer. The original cylinder of salted cuts of swine was a holiday treat given to black slaves in the American South, who jostled for the pork barrel like, well, starving pigs at the trough.
That metaphor may well describe a pack of Washington legislators rushing as one to pocket their equivalent of the PDAF. But our lawmakers certainly have the dignity to let their chiefs of staff do the jostling. Except for rare occasions when no less than the Speaker of the House or his top lieutenants do the honors of handing out the multimillion-peso outlays, say, after the co-equal Legislative branch obliges the Executive’s special requests, like signing unread Articles of Impeachment against one of President Aquino’s bêtes noires.
Americanese aside, congressional development funds should be kept if only to keep President Aquino in his job, he of the 70-plus-percent approval and trust ratings among 1,500 randomly chosen respondents. Last time a Malacañang resident called for an end to the porcine bonanza, legislators signed and elevated to the Senate sans hearings an impeachment complaint against the pork-junking Chief Executive.
American President Barack Obama’s book title, The Audacity of Hope may well describe Joseph Ejercito Estrada’s urging in his very first State of the Nation Address one and a half decades ago. “I believe that Congress shares my conviction that we have to abolish the pork barrel,” Estrada told the opening of Congress in July 1998. “In the face of our fiscal position, our people ask no less . . . In 1998 alone, we can save as much as thirty four billion pesos from pork barrel.”
Brave words befitting his tough-guy screen roles. Less than 30 months later, however, the House of Representatives got its revenge. In November 2000, more than a hundred signed the impeachment complaint against Estrada over alleged jueteng payoffs and other alleged sleaze, well over the one-third needed to send him for trial in the Senate.
So thankfully, President Aquino thought 10 billion times before echoing Erap’s SONA line. Instead, his wordsmiths found nifty ways to call for the end of PDAF without actually zeroing in on it. May we then suggest other fancy lines to try on the public so as to enlighten them about the virtues of congressional chicharon in a barrel:
PORK GREASES THE WHEELS OF REFORM! With PDAF, the President you trust and approve of can get even the snails of Congress to hop, skip and jump in passing Palace bills and ousting obstacles to change. Especially those officials we want to change, but are constitutionally protected from being fired.
PDAF GIVES VALUE TO YOUR VOTES! Thanks to the bounties of pork, your friendly neighborhood candidates running for Congress are more than willing to offer top peso for your vote on election day. Keep the value of voting up by raising, not erasing, PDAF!
PDAF IS PEANUTS NEXT TO PNOY’S PORK! Give your senators and representatives a break. If three out of four Filipinos purportedly trust and approve of the President spending hundreds of billions of pesos in lump-sum funds, lottery and casino revenues, anti-crime intelligence funds bigger than the PNP’s, and a host of other megabuck allotments hidden by the absence of a freedom of information law, why get worked up over P27 billion or so parceled out to 300-something lawmakers and their NGOs?
CHARITY BEGINS AT HOME WITH PDAF! Your elected representatives show all and sundry that Christian charity begins at home: the congressmen’s homes, their hangers-on’s homes, their partner NGOs’ homes, Janet Lim-Napoles’s multiple homes (wherever she may be now), the project contractors’ homes, the condo, car and travel salesmen’s homes, and other homes of those in the legislators’ good graces. As for the poor, many of them are homeless, so there’s nowhere for congressional charity to begin.
PORK BARREL DRIVES CHANGE! Filipinos needs a jolt every now and then to mobilize for change. It took Jose Rizal’s execution, Ninoy Aquino’s assassination, and Chavit Singson’s revelations to ignite and unify the nation against abusive regimes and practices. With corruption unrelenting, if not worsening, it looks like Juan and Juana de la Cruz need another kick. PDAF can certainly stir the pot and the people.
Then maybe, just maybe Filipinos will realize that real change will only happen if each and every citizen persists in striving to do good and say no to evil day after day. Not just banking on supposed saviors, be they actions stars or heroes’ sons, but taking action and being heroes ourselves, striving and sacrificing to get things right at least in our own lives, families, organizations, and communities. And this struggle doesn’t stop even if pork barrel is abolished or curtailed, for the corrupt never stop seeking ways to somehow circumvent reforms and exploit the complacency or distraction of the citizenry.
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As we said before allowing the pork to crackle, sometimes the contrarian view brings insight. So let pork barrel, old or new, show us that our ills lie not in our leaders alone, but in ourselves as well. We are part of the problem; let us become the solution.