Pork Barrel redux

5

It is exciting that Rep. Antonio Tinio has released transcripts / recordings of those “conversations” members of Congress had on separate occasions with Commission on Higher Education (CHED) Chairperson Patricia Licuanan and Department of Health (DOH) Undersecretary Janette Garin.

It doesn’t even matter to me that it has been barred by the House Justice Committee, coming as it has after the three impeachment complaints filed in July. Because it is valuable that we know for a fact that the pork is acknowledged to continue to exist by government officials. Because it is important that we do not get lost in the PNoy government’s rhetoric about the pork barrel, insisting that it doesn’t exist anymore.

These transcripts / recordings prove the pork’s existence even in the minds of the Women in PNoy’s Cabinet. It also reveals so much about Rep. Tinio’s colleagues in Congress, given those who have their fists raised against his presumed indiscretion.

Women in conversation
One can only be awed by Usec. Garin’s conversation with congressmen (which Inday Varona has done a provisional transcript of).


There was apparently “confusion” with regards the DOH’s use of funds under the Medical Assistance Program (MAP). As it turns out, contrary to the idea that the DOH might be the ones to disburse these funds based on their own judgment of say, the neediness of a patient and the urgency of medical condition, these funds are earmarked for … Congressmen.

That is, instead of DOH defining indigents who might avail themselves of the MAP, they are calling those in need of this medical assistance, MAP indigent patients. These MAP indigent patients need only one person’s recommendation to get medical assistance: the recommendation of their Congress representative, who are in turn called MAP officials.

Usec Garin goes on to say how the DOH changed its mind about the MAP system it had first put in place: “<…> the decision of the Department is to do away with all walk-in patients because in the first place it was made clear to us that these funds are not DOH funds but are actually funds of Congressmen who are there to assist their constituents.”

Not DOH funds. Congressmen’s funds for constituents. The ones who can make them win elections, and who will be thankful to their Congress representative, instead of thinking health services their basic right.

The transcript of CHED Chair Licuanan with congressmen quotes her to have said: “I had to tell my regional directors that the P14 million (additional fund allocation for CHED) is for each congressman and that they should prioritize the list of scholars to be submitted by the congressmen.” (GMANetwork.com, 11 Aug 2014)

As with having Congressmen recommend which indigent patients might avail themselves of the DOH’s medical assistance program, Congressmen also have some P4.1 billion in total earmarked for their chosen scholars. And in the same way that Congressmen will gain votes from the indigent patients and their families, so will they from the families of chosen scholars.

The truth
This is the thing with these recordings of these executive sessions: these only prove what we already believe about the abolition of PDAF and all the things that this government created in its place. That it was all part of the plan to keep the President’s allies in the Senate and Congress happy, while pretending to have put in a spanking new system with safeguards against having officials use these funds for their own gain.

Except that you know, this is still about their own political gain, yes? Because instead of having an effective and functional system for disbursing funds for medical assistance for patients in need, one that is put in place and controlled by the DOH, what the health department becomes is but a savings portal. Congressmen can send their chosen voters … este … indigent patients to these hospitals and the DOH has no choice but to give them medical assistance, regardless of whether or not they think it is deserved.

The same is true for having CHED keep funds earmarked only for Congressmen’s chosen scholars. It’s like giving these two departments the additional job of keeping this money for our lawmakers, instead of giving these departments these funds and having them serve the populace in need – which I imagine is their job, too, and an easier way to keep track of these funds, yes?

Ah, but keeping track of funds was never the point was it? Anyone who takes a look at the lists of DAP projects and the fund allocations over at the DBM website would know that none of this is about revealing to us where taxpayers’ money goes. It’s all just porma and rhetoric: look at all these lists! Look at how transparent we are!

As if.

What ethics?
There is nothing ethical about this pseudo-transparency, neither is there justice when a government pretends that billions in realigned funds means no more funds used for winning the next election.

And while the good men in Congress have raised their fists against Rep. Tinio releasing those recordings, I tend to think that more than pointing a finger at him, they have ended up revealing more of themselves. Because the first question that must be asked of Congress is this: why were these conversations deemed executive sessions at all?

The Rules Of Procedure Governing Inquiries In Aid Of Legislation of Congress clearly defines Executive Sessions: “If the committee or sub-committee deems that the examination of a witness in a public hearing may endanger national security, it shall conduct the examination in an executive session, and shall make a determination of the necessity or propriety of conducting further examinations of such witness in a public hearing.”

How exactly do these conversations with Usec Gazmin and Chairperson Licuanan endanger national security? Unless of course we now think that questions about Congressmen’s lump sum allocations are causes for worry, because they endanger our security?

The only security these recordings endanger is that of this government’s pretense that it has scrapped the pork barrel and is keeping track of public funds, when in truth it is, as usual, funneling funds for its chosen projects and lawmakers, the better to keep one’s allies happy, the better to win elections with.

None of that is ethical either—it even sounds a wee bit corrupt to me—but how many Congressmen are complaining?

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5 Comments

  1. people in government really believe the people are fools because we let them. STOP PAYING TAXES NOW

  2. The job of policy makers (congressmen, local Councillors) should be to set the criteria for the allocation of scholarships, payment of medical bills etc. The job of allocation should then be handled by paid civil servants who apply the criteria impartially. Policy makers should play no part in this operational business.
    This clear seperation of function removes the ability of politicians to use these funds for political advantage.

  3. Thanks, Rep. Antonio Tinio for making the greedy pigs squeal. Those piggies should not let the beneficiaries think they owe the legislators for what they deserve to get. Never allow vote buying by pork barrel.

  4. Scholarship funds (taxpayers money) are provided as entitlement for all constituents in their district and its not intended for any Congressman to select who will benefit the scholarship funds. Those scholars must not think they owe the Congressman any favor (utang na loob) and Congressman should not expect anything in return i.e. vote in his favor otherwise it is considered vote buying which is illegal.

  5. Good column. I also was happy about Tinio coming forward even though the impeachment complaint was stopped. His information is invaluable to us all.