The “pork barrel” scandal has been the subject of so many news items, articles by renowned columnists of all major dailies. It has also occupied so much space in Blogosphere and anyone who has some real estate in this vast writing pad would want to put his or her few cents worth about pigsties and lawmakers. I am no exception. Now that Janet, the Pork Queen has surrendered to the intrepid boar hunter of Malacanan, the pressure to write about it in my blog has mounted. The topic is not about to write finis but the drama has moved on to the next act and anything written before that becomes stale and superfluous.
The pork barrel is a system of budget distribution involving our legislators working with the assistance of other lower government officials; elected or appointed. It endeavours to ensure that the economic, social and other basic needs of constituent groups are funded from the government’s coffers on an equitable and rationalized manner. Congressmen are tasked to provide the necessary service to their constituent groups; urban districts, provinces, townships, cities, provinces and other sectors which make up their constituencies. Senators have funds for national services and other aids to the citizenry in general and not of particular regional and sectoral constituencies. The legislators have handed out the “pork barrel” to their home constituencies in the form of money for roads, bridges, hospitals, puericulture centers, irrigation systems etc and all sorts of civic projects like the ubiquitous basketball courts in most city districts and townships.
Truly logical and laudable by its intentions but now sullied by thievery of the highest order.
The “pork barrel” has been with us for scores of years and despite its reputation for being a source of graft and corruption, the citizenry have been inured to it and resigned themselves to its being there. Almost everyone in government have been aware of the corruption engendered by the “pork barrel” system that it has had several lame attempts of deodorizing it through euphemistic names it has been christened with such as SLDP (Support for Local Development Project), CDF (Countrywide Development Fund) and now PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund). The “pork barrel” is the reason why candidates spend millions in electoral campaigns and go to the extent of murder and wholesale massacres because they know that they will be able to recoup their investments and much, much more once in position.
The shit hit the fan when whistleblowers came out, not altruistically but more for self preservation, to expose the operations of Janet Napoles who allegedly facilitated (for donkey years now) the siphoning of pork funds through a group of NGOs in varying shades of fakedness, some truly fake and others, legitimate but conscripted for the evil enterprise. This is how the “pork barrel” funds of quite a few legislators (senators and congressmen) where diverted and disbursed on ghost projects and some real ones but graft tainted. It was only at this time, when media made a cause celebre of it that we were made aware of the extensiveness of the scams and the magnitude of the high level thievery. In some instances only a minimal amount of the budget went to the actual completion of projects and in several cases nothing actually went to projects. For projects that have been started and completed little has been left to for actual use that it resulted in substandard completion of infrastructure projects, buildings, agricultural structures etc. leading to their short lived usability.
The implication of several high level names in politics and government agencies in the expose’ sent the threatened miscreants scrambling for alibis and scurrying to make ready their safe havens. Denials of association with Janet Napoles were sworn to only to be debunked when photos of Janet mingling with the power elite in social situations came out. One even featured the Pork Queen as a wedding sponsor or in others as business partners in some enterprise.
Media has been instrumental in communicating widely the stench. The expose’ happened at a time when poverty is rife in the whole country and the devastation created by recent natural calamities exacerbated the situation. Add to this the hunger ratings is at an all time low in the lower levels of society. Millions were in desperate straits.
As in most protests, the middle class have been at the forefront of the show of outrage and inevitably organized the show of displeasure for the “pork barrel” by enjoining the citizenry to march to Luneta last August 26, 2013. Prior to the march, opinion leaders, influential bloggers and a wide spectrum of civic organization leaders through their spokespersons expressed their outrage through conventional media and the internet. The middle class have been, through history, the catalyst, the movers and shakers in society to clamour for change on felt travesties committed by those in power; either by avaricious oligarchs or by corrupt government authorities. A bit unfair to the rich is the statement (though it has a vestige of truth) is the adage “the poor are amoral; the rich, immoral and the middle class moral”. Often times the middle class take up the cudgels for the oppressed poor of society who, at times, are somwhate clueless and may not be very aware of the oppression being inflicted upon them by government and of the ravenous greed of oligarchs. They are also being used as cannon fodder for a pittance by those on the left side of social ideology scale and of traditional politicians for the furtherance of their selfish agendas.
Now the circus is in town, the big top is up and the circus ring floor tedded with dry hay and sand to absorb the gore and the filth of upcoming tragicomic numbers. We will be at the ringside treated to the parade of wild beasts. Enter creatures from the bestiary...the thunderous crack of whips will elicit roars from the accused predators... clowns will waddle in to provide relief and a momentary lull, comic or otherwise...quick change artists will go in and out at the baton of a ring master. Let us just hope that this is not just a festive command performance to assuage our frazzled nerve ends and perhaps to cater to a slight touch of sadism to heckle and throw eggs and rotten vegetables to a bad performance of the dramatis personae; only for them to vanish into the proscenium and be forgiven and forgotten after the curtsy as the curtains fall. The curtain falls not on them but on us. Let us not make this happen.
What is common to the citizenry is the sense of outrage for the shameless thievery perpetrated by our elected government officials, the bureaucracy and some unscrupulous facilitators of the scam. The need to be indignant is so palpably felt in the midst of prevalent poverty, sufferings and sacrifices of the OFW, the struggle against hunger, the chronic lack of aid and services to alleviate the plight of the poor especially now that natural calamities have been more frequent and disastrous. Money that should have gone to efficient flood control projects, well built infrastructure projects have been pocketed by the guys who were supposed to look after their needs and concerns. It is sad to see that most of the poor people cannot connect this to the plunder of the government coffers. Sharing of the largesse from the plunder a’la Robin Hood through measly “pantawid” food packages are better appreciated by the masa. Some of them join rallies to avail of the “hakot” fee coming from the diverse interest groups. They are busy trying to keep their heads above the debris ridden flood waters, keeping body and soul together, making the “pork barrel” issue remote and irrelevant to the pressing needs that stare them in the eye the livelong day. Even if it takes a long indefinite period of time the issues have to be explained so that they will not be completely clueless of the real and main issues. We need everyone to have a sustained belief for change...for us to pursue with arms linked together with every well meaning citizen until such time the positive changes are seen to their fruition.
The marchers at Luneta share the outrage on the thievery involved in the “pork barrel” but they take different stands as to where the blame lies, who are to be included for prosecution, whether the announced changes in the disbursement system are sufficient to make it efficient, effective and foolproof. There are those who believe that Pnoy is embroiled in this fiasco. They are of the opinion that Pnoy is protecting his people; his cabinet members and his “kapartidos” in the political scene. Add to this those who believe that there will be no real changes made, only a change of name, another euphemistic word for “pork barrel”. Some groups are of the opinion that Pnoy is not involved in the scam to plunder the government coffers and that he continues to be sincere and honest in his actions to ferret out the truth of the involvement of people and to bring them to the doors of justice regardless of political leanings, familial and social connections. Then again there would be other aggrupations having their own agendas, some ideological, some religious, some big business and others having specific interests attached to organizations they belong to. It is a motley bunch, these marchers, so don’t hold your breath, we may be in for a long wait despite the importance of a more expeditious solution.
In my simplistic assessment the two most important things that have to be done post haste. First is the prosecution of those found with enough evidence of guilt. There must be a way of hot-housing the judicial process otherwise the cases filed will just form part of the stockpile of cases pending resolution in our courts. The wheels of justice grind exceedingly slow but in our case it seems to have ground to a halt and justice will never be dispensed as the cases wait in the long queue. It seems that nailing the big fish is an impossibility and that we will never deliver a signal and a lesson to all those with ill will that crime does not pay. Perhaps the convening a special court to deal with the “pork barrel” cases should be organized to facilitate and expedite the resolution of the cases.
The second item is to look for an alternative delivery system of government’s money to bring to the citizenry the various basic services, economic assistance, and the creation of an ideal environment that is peaceful and secure, things that they have not enjoyed for so long a time. The delivery system should operate devoid of influence from politicians. They should be barred from having anything to do with the allotment of monies, choice of suppliers...any operational aspect which would redound to their having the authority and the discretion at any phase of projects. They may, however, direct the implementing body to projects that are needed by their constituencies as they would be closer to the ground and would be in the best position to know their needs. Lawmakers should not be given discretionary powers on anything involving selection of suppliers and authority to approve payments of any project. Keeping filthy hands away from the honeypot ensures full use of the government’s money, our money, to deliver services that should accrue to the citizens’ benefit. As a bonus, it disincentivises those not qualified for government elected positions from running, e.g. popular actors and actresses, basketball stars, colourful charlatans, all sorts of riff raff who by sensation and by chance have been favoured by media mileage.
While these seem simple enough to understand, in reality, these are easier said than done. The prosecution of the guilty parties will not easily be achieved. The people involved are in high places, with lots of money and influence and may have involved more people implicitly and explicitly. The Ombudsman has already expressed her dismay to the seeming reluctance of some government agencies to cooperate and comply with her requests for reports, statistics and other useful documents she will need to build her edifice of evidence against the errant legislators and their accomplices.
Cleaning up Janet Napoles’ pig sty is an Augean task which would require the strength of Hercules, the patience of Job, the swift justice of Judge Dredd and a dash of Solomonic wisdom. There are just too many legislators involved that the legislative function of the government would be frozen if most of them would be found guilty. It may not be such a bad idea, in fact I relish the thought of having the salaries and the perks of guilty persons cancelled and their budgets held in suspense. Apart from the savings it may cause Congress and the Senate to be more productive in the absence of the scalawags.
The creation of an alternative delivery system would require more studies involving methods, information systems, computerization, security systems and other necessary operational aspects. It will also require the recruitment of new staff to the implementing agencies to augment the work force left after sacking those involved in the scams, also the filling up of the new expertise requirements that the new delivery system will require and a remunerations review which will seek the raising of salary scales of the organization to attract professionals and also to ensure that temptation to participate in irregularities of the past are avoided. This is an administration model that may serve as prototype of the other implementing agencies of the government.
I continue to put my faith in Pnoy. I will not trust the job to any other person now in government. Most of them are not lacking in intelligence and the capacity to do governance work but the task ahead requires a unique trait, a rare quality among local public servants, that of being honest and sincere to be of service to people. His mission of ridding our government of the long staying, pervasive and deeply rooted corruption is the key towards shepherding change. He may not be the brightest, nor the most articulate and not the most decisive but he gets my vote as our leader towards a better government and a better nation because he is truly in the mould of philosopher kings, a true servant to the interest of his people.