Despite the hype on our reputedly “higher than China’s” or “first in Southeast Asia” GDP growth, we are told, at last, that the economy has slowed, reportedly because of low spending on the part of government.
You don’t need a PhD in economics to know it doesn’t make sense.
From 2012 to 2013, President B. S. Aquino 3rd diverted hundreds of billions of pesos from the national budget into the unconstitutional Disbursement Acceleration Program, ostensibly “to ramp up public spending and accelerate GDP growth.” The DAP funds were supposed to have gone into “stimulus projects.” If there is no evidence of that spending, then where did the money go? What happened to the “stimulus projects?”
Are we to understand that the only completed “stimulus projects” were the forced enactment of the Reproductive Health Law and the impeachment and removal of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona, for which corrupt members of the 15th Congress received considerable bribes, and for which the impeachable chief executive has remained unimpeached?
And where are the big “public-private partnership projects”? Despite the crumbling transportation system, the deepening electric power crisis, the deteriorating supply of water and food, and the compelling need to generate emergency employment, no substantial infrastructure, energy, water, or agricultural project is in place.
Were there ever any real foreign direct investors, or were they all speculators who pulled out after they made their killing in the stock market?
The Supreme Court has declared the DAP unconstitutional, and directed the prosecutorial organs of the State to file charges and prosecute all those involved in the misuse of the pork barrel system, consisting of the DAP and the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). This involves the great majority of the members of Congress, the Budget Secretary, some agency heads, and members of the Commission on Audit.
Despite this ruling and directive, which remains unimplemented, the DAP-funded projects would still have been there, providing employment if nothing else, if they had, in fact, been implemented. But were they, in fact, ever implemented? Or was the money simply siphoned off into the pockets of plundering sycophants and cronies?
Why do we detect a certain alacrity in Malacañang’s announcement of the slowdown, and the official explanation for it? Is it because they want to use the slowdown to justify the questionable passage of the pork-laden P2.6 trillion 2015 budget, and the even more highly questionable 2014 P23-billion supplemental budget?
The P2.6 trillion budget is supposed to be “pork-free,” according to Malacañang and the leaders of Congress. Is this the unvarnished truth? Or the exact opposite? According to the Supreme Court, every budgetary lump sum, which the President could spend at his discretion, is presidential “pork.”
Following that definition, the 2015 budget stands on a mountain of “pork;” about P1.3 trillion, or one half of the entire budget. But this needs a more extensive discussion, and I shall return to it in a separate piece.
On the other hand, the P23-billion supplemental budget, according to Malacañang, will be used to fund projects that were supposed to have been funded by the DAP, but which lost their funding after the High Court voided the DAP. This is highly specious. Assuming Malacañang froze the funding after the Supreme Court voided the DAP, which one cannot safely do, the projects funded by the DAP were never legislated by Congress and were therefore illegal projects.
Under the Supreme Court ruling, they cannot now be funded. Why then should the Congress approve a supplemental budget for these projects? Will not this budget be used simply to fortify the administration’s political war chest?
This is just one of many puzzlers we are getting from the Aquino government. Another one concerns the much self-applauded decision of the Commission on Elections—unanimously confirmed by the Supreme Court—to disqualify the popularly elected Governor E. R. Ejercito of Laguna for exceeding his authorized official expenses in 2013 as a candidate. There’s something more than meets the eye in this.
E. R. is a nephew of Manila Mayor Joseph Ejercito “Erap” Estrada, the former president who was ousted in a coup in 2001, convicted of plunder, and then pardoned by Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, his successor, who is herself under medical detention facing a similar case.
E. R.’s disqualification is but the latest misfortune to befall the Ejercito/Estrada clan. Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, one of Erap’s two sons in the 24-man Senate—the other one is J. V. Ejercito—is already in jail facing a charge of plunder for the alleged misuse of the PDAF, along with opposition Senators Ramon Revilla Jr. and Juan Ponce Enrile. Erap himself is threatened with possible disqualification by a suit filed by former Mayor Alfredo Lim, who argues that the former president violated the terms of his pardon when he ran for office.
A similar case was filed against Erap when he ran for president in 2010, but that became moot and academic when he lost to the incumbent B. S. Aquino 3rd. Now, strong rumor persists that the Supreme Court justices have already voted to disqualify Erap and to install Lim, the defeated mayoralty candidate, in his place. But the Court has reportedly decided to stay the promulgation, for fear of massive pro-Erap and anti-Aquino street protests. The rumor, dormant for months, has regained fresh currency in the wake of E. R.’s disqualification.
Why this undue focus on Erap? The speculation seems limited to one theory, namely, that the ruling Liberal Party sees Erap as the man to watch. Aside from those who seem convinced that Erap, not Aquino, was the actual winner in the 2010 elections, the LP seems to believe that unless Erap is now barred from public office, he could end up running for president again, should the 2016 election take place as scheduled, and the LP succeed in destroying Vice President Jojo Binay’s presidential bid.
Yet, whatever other uses E.R.’s disqualification may have, some good could still be derived from it. A militant group is poised to file disqualification suits against over a hundred members of Congress, and ongoing research indicates that about one thousand officials—mostly in local government—could be similarly targeted. Sending all these officials to jail is probably the break we need; it could also prompt us to rewrite the law and change the rules.
As of now, the politician who does not overspend on his campaign is the exception rather than the rule. Not too many believe, as I do, that no politician should ever spend more than what he is expected to earn legally from the position he seeks. Even small-town mayoralty candidates are known to spend fifty to one hundred million pesos to run, while senatorial candidates are known to spend several hundred million pesos to seek a seat in the Senate. If we are going to eradicate corruption, we have to insist that no politician should be allowed to spend more than what he will legally earn if elected.
Can this be done? Of course, it only needs political will and some imagination. For instance, all political advertising for candidates could be banned and penalized; adequate information about candidates and political parties should be provided the electorate at State expense. Second, no one should be allowed to announce his candidacy for any office before the start of this campaign period, and no polling outfit should be allowed to conduct and publish surveys on electoral preferences before such period.
Under this rule, the six senatorial “candidates” recently announced by the Liberal Party for the projected 2016 election, and everyone else who has announced their candidacy for any office, should now be disqualified from running in 2016, if we are to have elections by then. If allowed to run, all their publicity, promotional and related expenses from the time they announced their bid up to the end of the election period should be computed as part of their authorized campaign expenses. These are certain to exceed their legally allowed expenses, especially if the law were changed to bar candidates from spending more than the salaries and other emoluments they expect to receive if elected.
It goes without saying that a meaningful electoral reform should begin by junking the PCOS machines and reinventing the Comelec, as an integral part of an entirely new structure of government.