With the indictment of Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, and Bong Revilla, along with alleged pork barrel scam operator Janet Lim Napoles, many Filipinos weary of the corruption cancer consuming the country, are sighing in relief and vindication. And President Benigno Aquino 3rd can rightly claim that his Tuwid na Daan campaign is bringing top politicians accused of graft to justice.
Detractors will point out that no one in the ruling camp has ever been sanctioned for pork barrel or other anomalies. But a few big fish in the net is better than none, right?
Sadly, it could make things worse. For the drive against sleaze isn’t helped if most pork barrel grafters get away. Then the lesson they take away from the senatorial indictments is that it pays to be in the winning side.
With that in mind, the corrupt will just stay close or sidle up to the powers that be. Senators and congressmen, even some in the opposition, will take care never to attack the President, and a good number will begin singing the Palace tune more loudly and frequently. And in 2016, they will switch to the winning side.
That’s what they did in 2010. And over the past year of pork barrel controversy, a good number of those who got kickbacks from Priority Development Assistance Fund outlays have been thankful they joined the yellow camp.
When the Department of Budget and Management gave PDAF records for 2007-09 to the Commission on Audit in 2010, DBM withheld documents for two-thirds of the pork, mostly for administration lawmakers, despite repeated COA requests. And when Justice Secretary Leila de Lima released Napoles’s recent testimony and list of erring lawmakers, there were again many sighs of relief among Aquino allies.
Battle for survival in 2016
What’s worse, having seen what Malacañang can do to adversaries, all sides will fight for the presidency with even greater intensity, ruthlessness, cheating—and, of course, guns, goons and gold.
Now, the losers don’t just get frozen out of power for six years; they could be maligned before the nation and jailed for life for past sleaze—all documented in state agencies —even as their winning opponents continue to gorge on present and future anomalies.
Hence, expect the next elections to get even tougher, dirtier and bloodier than ever, especially if a foolproof electronic system isn’t found in time and polling goes manual again. And in the years to 2016, the scramble for vote-rich allies, multi-billion-peso funding, and nationwide name recognition will be much more driven, if not desperate.
With PDAF outlawed, other schemes will be tried, confident that if anyone in the ruling camp gets caught, the Palace has always been the first to downplay the anomalies, if not defend its allies outright. President Aquino even paid the bail for two fellow Liberal Party stalwarts on trial for corruption.
If the Disbursement Acceleration Program is ruled to be lawful and constitutional, then DAP-style presidential recasting of the budget could become a top source of partisan outlays. Plus there’s always jueteng and smuggling, not to mention the hugely lucrative bidding for public infrastructure like the Metro Rail Transit.
In the intensifying maneuvers for election advantage, the opposition is looking beleaguered. Besides plunder cases against Enrile, Estrada and Revilla, the government is reviving graft charges against the family of Vice-President Jejomar Binay, who leads both the rival United Nationalist Alliance and voter preference polls.
The removal of UNA-aligned Laguna Governor ER Ejercito may be followed by moves to take out or win over chiefs of other vote-rich provinces now with the opposition. And special PDAF courts, if created, would make pork-tainted UNA legislators think about switching and enjoying the virtual immunity from prosecution shielding Aquino allies.
Clearly, the 2016 elections is now a battle not just for power, but for survival.
What the nation can do
If the opposition is decimated by pork barrel cases and intimidation, even as the ruling camp is largely protected in past and present sleaze, the emerging political scene looks set to replicate the near-total dominance of Ferdinand Marcos’s Kilusang Bagong Lipunan during his dictatorship. And with mainstream media mostly supportive of the administration while the judiciary is run by a loyal Chief Justice, and Washington backs Malacañang, the resemblance between the FM and PNoy eras grows even more.
The nation is now faced with two choices: go along with the campaign to crack down on the opposition while sparing the administration, further cementing the LP-led ruling coalition’s hold on power; or to push for a non-partisan investigation and prosecution of PDAF corruption.
Most people will prefer the path of less resistance and let the government jail some crooks while letting off those in its camp, especially political chieftains with hefty voting constituencies to deliver in 2016. At least some grafters go to jail, the least resisters surmise, trying not to think about the mass of sharks swimming in protected waters.
That would be expedient and convenient—until the growing power of the ruling coalition and its cronies inevitably leads to gross abuse and corruption that will be impossible to hide and even harder to tolerate.
That eventually happened under Marcos, when some of its powerful factions thought they could kill an opposition leader traveling with a planeload of media, and pin the blame on a lone communist gunman already dead before the airport killing.
Administration backers will insist that the Aquino regime will not go the way of the Marcos dictatorship, even though the constitutional checks and balances and the fiscalizing media needed to restrain abuse are getting weaker and weaker. And looking at the rival politicians raring to replace the current crop, most Filipinos may well let the Aquino camp have their way.
But those who truly believe in democracy would prefer to trust not the unbridled power of a few, but the sovereign people’s demand full truth and impartial justice. As Lord Acton said, absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.
Still, it remains to be seen if Filipinos care to make that demand. Most probably don’t. And that’s why we’re in this mess.