PGTW: Killing the ‘virus of corruption’

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 31 October 2013, Thursday

Killing the ‘virus of corruption’

Former senator Panfilo “Ping” M. Lacson minced no words in hitting the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) in an October 24 speech before members of the Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa).

The former senator opened his “Pork Barrel 101” remarks with an interesting quotation from Mahatma Gandhi: “The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed.”

He compared national budgets in 2002 – P782.9 billion – to 2011 – P1.645 trillion.  The national debt in 2003 was P3.256 trillion. As of this year, it stands at P5.864  trillion. Each Filipino, “both living and unborn,” he says, is “P61,733.28 in debt” to foreigners and fellow Filipinos.

Lacson emphasized that “The country has enough funds to sustain government operations year after year, but always ends up short and resorts to borrowings. There are two reasons for it – greed and corruption.”

Recorded savings in the national budget, he said, are “mainly due to underspending.” In 2002, total savings were P3.5 billion, in 2005, P111.6 billion and in 2009, P263.8 billion. If we have savings, why do we borrow? So that, he said, “para may mapaglaruang pondo ang mga nasa gobyerno” (so that people in government have money to play with).

He said that according to the Department of Budget and Management, some additional funding for senators’ pork barrels came from the DAP, which was sourced from savings in 2011, “or what is termed in the GAA [General Appropriations Act] as ‘unused appropriations’” consisting of unreleased appropriations and unobligated allotments.

“An undisclosed number of congressmen,” he added, “received at least P10 million in additional PDAF from the same program.”

Lacson made other revelations on the workings of the PDAF and DAP systems as used by lawmakers. These are detailed and complex and cite various laws.

This is not the first time he has given such exposes. He has spoken in the Senate various times against pork, recalling an instance in 2006 and notably in 2003 when he delivered “a scathing privilege speech on the Senate floor unequivocally calling for the abolition of the pork barrel system” no matter what name it was called.

“I referred to the system,” he said, “as a virus of corruption that must die.”

Lacson (like Senator Joker Arroyo), did not use his Senate pork of around P200 million a year, for the reason that “The pork barrel system is ugly, more often than not, cruel, sometimes merciless toward the people we all swore to serve and protect when we took our oath of office.”

What he advocates now is a fix of the system. “I personally believe,” he said, “… that the DAP per se is neither bad nor illegal,” but warns that “too much fiscal discretion by any branch of government will not only be unsupportive of the principle of check and balance, but will affect the fiscal management efficiency of the national government.”

With light shining on the dark corners of PDAF and DAP, the Filipino people are taking note and kicking ass. The movement contra pork began with the Luneta people’s march, and has spun off in various efforts, such as that of Philconsa. On October 8, the group, represented by Dean Froilan Bacungan, former Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, and former National Treasurer Leonor Briones, filed a petition before the Supreme Court asking that the DAP be declared unconstitutional, and for recipients of the fund to cease using it and to return the money.

Lacson gave the assurance that while he supports the Philconsa petition, he does so “not to put President [Benigno] Aquino in a bad light.”

He said, “As a former colleague in the Senate who can personally attest to the honesty and incorruptibility of President Aquino, I want to help him succeed in his well-intentioned daang matuwid vision for this benighted land…”

Lacson did ask the President to correct the “flawed program and possible render the pending petitions moot and academic.”

In response to my question, “how can the funds that used to be in the PDAF and DAP be used for the good of the people?” Lacson suggests an alternative mechanism is to “incorporate the priority items during the budget call when all departments and line agencies submit to Malacañang their respective budgets.

“The same procedure may be followed by legislators who can also submit through their respective heads and appropriation and finance chairs their priority projects, including lists of hospitals and schools where they would want to send their poor constituents.

“In this way, we eliminate discretion on their part since the projects would have been pre-identified or pre-determined. Corruption would be minimized if not eliminated.”

Shall former senator Ping Lacson always be the voice crying in the wilderness, decrying the systematic corruption in government, or shall people finally take heed of the warnings he has been giving all these years?

It’s time to kill the virus of corruption.

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