THE Congressional pork barrel has demonized innumerable persons including those in the religious sector that should serve as our moral compass. It is time to let it go.
Yes, the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF)—as the pork barrel is officially called—has done well to many areas once neglected in the national development plans and programs. We have seen infrastructure projects like school buildings, roads, bridges, livelihood centers, and health clinics funded through the PDAF of lawmakers.
Abuses have however become so appalling that the call for its deletion in the national budget is getting louder. Thanks to Janet Lim-Napoles and Benhur Luy whose greed for money has brought to public attention the complexities of misusing and abusing the taxpayers’ hard-earned money.
Not a few were disgusted with President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s announcement last Friday for the formulation of a new mechanism in lieu of the PDAF that, he said, will be abolished. Okay, the 2014 budget will no longer have an item classified as PDAF. It will have a new name. Therefore, the pork barrel fund stays, but with a new name.
Same dog with different collar, you would say.
The turnout in today’s protest march at the Rizal Park should send a powerful message to those who feasted on the pork barrel funds to make amends. Make a public accounting and auditing of their allocations from the time they came to power until the present.
Show us that the money that went to huge project billboards with their oversized names and faces were not at the taxpayers’ expense just for their self-promotion. Some of those billboards carried also the name the incumbent legislator’s wife, son, daughter, brother, sister, or protégé who would be running in their place in the election.
I remember seeing billboards at almost every 100 meters in Davao City with the name of then House Speaker Prospero Nograles, and below was Karlo Alexie Nograles, his chief of staff who ran in the same district and won in 2010.
The son capitalized on the pork-funded billboards of the father to advertise himself and put his name in the consciousness of the voters. There are many similar cases across the country where a Congressional district is controlled by one family for many years through a succession scheme that goes around the electoral system.
It is not entirely their fault. Voters are largely responsible for electing the kind of lawmakers we have. If you did not cast your vote, you too are to blame. If we continue to allow voters who largely depend on dole outs for their livelihood and survival to dominate the elections, we too are to blame.
The problems associated with the pork barrel are both systematic and structural. Our political system is far from ideal as it relies heavily on patronage. The palakasan system remains in our government structure in that those with access to people in power get more than ordinary mortals.
We have a significant number of legislators who would hardly qualify as lawmaker, but they are voted into office because of their surnames, or the projects they promise to bring home through the pork barrel.
Take a look at Lani Mercado-Revilla, an actress and now representative of Cavite’s second district. I am not saying that she is dumb, but I don’t subscribe to the thinking that an acting and hosting job is a good background for making laws.
But her candid statement in defending the pork barrel is quite disturbing.
“Basta ‘wag lang manghihingi sa amin ang mga tao!” entertainment online magazine PEP.ph quoted Mercado-Revilla as saying in reaction to reports that billions of pesos in PDAF were spent on ghost projects and non-existent organizations.
Her husband, actor and Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla, Jr., has been reported as one of the favored beneficiaries of the pork barrel scam.
Their son Leonard Bryan was purportedly a business partner of James Christopher Napoles, son of Janet Lim-Napoles, who was tagged as mastermind of the scheme.
“E ano’ng ibibigay namin? Hindi naman pwede ‘yung pinaghihirapan namin dahil sa personal naman namin ‘yun, sa mga anak, sa mga pang-araw-araw na panggastos namin,” Mercado was further quoted in the PEP.ph report.
I admire her for her candidness. But what made her think that she could give away the people’s money as if it were her own. Did she mean the money she gives away to her constituents were easy money? Does she realize that that money came from taxes, including from the incomes of salaries employees and wage earners whose payroll were automatically deducted as much as 33 percent?
If she did not want to spend her personal money for dole outs because she worked hard for it, all the more she should be judicious in spending monies that are not hers.
Lani Mercado-Revilla’s thinking about the pork barrel gives me more reason to support the growing clamor for the absolute deletion of the pork barrel from the national government budget. Lawmakers should stick to law making. It is time to let the pork go.