PGTW: A Farewell to Pork

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 12 September 2013, Thursday

A Farewell to Pork

The thousands-strong march against the pork barrel system at Luneta on August 26 showed that the Filipino people are a sleeping giant, long on patience, but short on temper when the salop is puno.

The government suggests the following measures: the “abolition” of the PDAF, and the creation of a new system for disbursement of funds.

In an announcement he made on August 23, President Benigno S. Aquino III agreed “it is time to abolish the PDAF.”

“There are those who treat PDAF as their own private fund,” he said, “to use as they please. This is clearly wrong: What is involved here is the people’s money; it should be used for the benefit of the people, and not for the benefit of a few greedy individuals.”

What made the PDAF prone to abuse? An infographic at Malacañang’s “Official Gazette” website (gov.ph) points to the following factors: “a former president desperate to hold on to power, congressmen immersed in a culture of transactionalism, a bureaucracy coopted and coerced, lack of transparency in the system, and a passive and disengaged citizenry.”

The President also said, “The shocking revelations of this misuse—the latest being the COA Special Audit Report on the 2007-2009 PDAF, which was released this past week—are truly scandalous, and so the time has come to do two things.”

These things are “to exact accountability from those who have abused the system.” A body that has existed since 1999 called the Inter-Agency Anti-Graft Coordinating Council (IAAGCC), which includes the Department of Justice, Commission on Audit, and Ombudsman, has been tasked to investigate the matter, prosecute those found liable, and recover the assets unlawfully taken.

Second, “to find a better way to ensure that the public coffers will be spent with only the public’s benefit in mind.” (An aside: you can’t “spend” coffers, the word means “a small chest for holding valuables.”) The President says that despite reforms his administration implemented in the management of the PDAF, the fund was still put to  “excessive and criminal use” by those “determined to abuse the system.”

He proposes the creation of “a new mechanism” that will address the needs of lawmakers’ constituents “in a manner that is transparent, methodical, and rational, and not susceptible to abuse or corruption.” Legislators will identify projects for their districts, have their suggestions undergo the budgetary process, and if approved, these will be “earmarked as line items under the National Government…and enacted into law as part of our National Budget.”

The President instructed the Department of Budget and Management along with the Senate and House of Representatives leaders to “craft this mechanism and submit it for my approval as soon as possible” so that allocations per district may be included in the 2014 National Budget.”

Will this proposed new system prevent abuse? I guess we are doing this via trial-and-error, implementing a plan and seeing what works and what doesn’t.

At the moment, following the President’s similar suspension order recently, the Supreme Court has issued a temporary restraining order against the use of remaining P13.21 billion from the 2013 PDAF. According to DBM, P11.58 billion has been released so far.

The House of Representatives’ “Third Force” of independent lawmakers are seeking the revival of Senate Bill No. 3121 proposed by the President when he was a senator during the 14th Congress. It seeks to “increase congressional oversight and to limit executive influence over specific appropriations in the General Appropriations Act.” A congressman is allowed P70 million in PDAF and senators P120 million.

A couple of days ago, the President said that charges would be filed against Janet Napoles by Friday or Monday. However, he commented that it would be “hard to commit” to file charges against the senators and congressmen mentioned in the CoA report as having allotted their PDAF to “ghost” NGOs, pending the discovery of hard evidence against them.

If found liable, erring lawmakers could be charged with the non-bailable offense of plunder and sentenced to life imprisonment and permanent disqualification from public office.

Why are these measures being implemented only now? Skimming the fat off the pork barrel has gone on for decades, but it had to take a revelation of nation-shaking magnitude for this to happen. Why is the public eye only on Napoles – where are the other people who ran similar operations?

While those questions remain unanswered, what we have discovered is that we can’t fully trust some of the people we elected to stay on our side and resist the temptation of the easy money from graft and corruption.

We, the people, have to remain aware of societal issues and be prepared to act for change as needed.

We, the people, need to realize that those who abused our trust and soiled the integrity of their public service do not deserve their high offices.

Only we, the people, can govern those who govern us.   ***

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