By BENJIE OLIVEROS
Say what? The Aquino government, which rode high on an anti-corruption campaign to propel Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III to the presidency and is, up to now, banking on this image of an anti-corruption crusader to get the people’s support, is now defending the pork barrel? How can an anti-corruption drive co-exist with the pork barrel and other discretionary funds?
Everybody knows that the pork barrel, even if you call it by different names such as Priority Development Assistance Fund or PDAF, is a main source of corruption for government officials. Every-juan knows that the pork barrel is synonymous with patronage politics; and patronage politics, in turn, is concomitant with corruption.
The Aquino government is saying that there are safeguards, and that it would screen NGOs, which are made conduits of the fund, through the Department of Social Welfare and Development, especially after the alleged scam involving businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles, who allegedly created fake NGOs to launder P 10 billion in pork barrel funds of five senators and 23 members of the House of Representatives. Our (dis)honorable senators and representatives would even justify it by saying that they do not handle the funds themselves.
Well, that is true, but it does not necessarily mean that they do not profit from it. There are two types of funds under the pork barrel system: the “hard” and “soft” projects. Funds classified as “hard” are for infrastructure projects such as roads, school buildings, etc. While it is true that lawmakers do not handle the funds for the “hard projects,” they decide on the type of project and where to place it. This gives them a tremendous amount of power. Of course the beneficiary of such a project would be grateful to the lawmaker and would tend to turn a blind eye to the other anomalies involving him or her. Second, since the lawmaker determines the project, he or she could favor a certain contractor. Third, there is the SOP or his/her cut from the project budget.
“Soft” funds could be used for the purchase of equipment such as computers, books, materials or could be earmarked for charity patients of hospitals, development projects, among others. Funds for “soft projects” could easily be pocketed for as long as the lawmaker has a conduit, whether a local government agency or an accredited NGO. Such was the case involving Janet Napoles.
Discretionary funds such as intelligence funds are even worse. Remember what former Commission on Elections (Comelec) Commissioner Gus Lagman revealed? He related that he was merely made to sign a document, which states that the intelligence funds that were issued to him were spent properly. That’s it, no auditing, no receipts, no supporting documents.
One could only surmise the reasons why Malacañang, after President Aquino’s tirade against corruption and his pitch for “transformation” during his 4th state of the nation address, is now suddenly defending the corrupt-ridden pork barrel, discretionary fund system.
No matter how many times the Aquino government would deny it, it is not surprising if the pork barrel allocations of those supportive of President Aquino’s agenda – for example, the impeachment of former chief justice Renato Corona – are released on time while those opposed to it would have their allocations inexplicably delayed. It still is being used as a political tool to make lawmakers tow the line. Remember how then Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile divided the “savings” of the Senate to favor those in his camp and “punish” those against him? That is how things are being done in the government.
Second, how could the Liberal Party maintain its membership and get the support, even of those from other parties if the Aquino government abolishes the pork barrel system? The history of politics and political parties in the Philippines shows that elected officials and candidates for elective positions easily shift party loyalties depending on which party would further their interests.
Third, how could elected officials – especially lawmakers and national officials who do not have their own fiefdoms, which local officials have – readily recoup their campaign expenditures without the pork barrel, discretionary and intelligence fund system? For the pork barrel system, there is the pork and the grease money from contractors. For the discretionary and intelligence funds, all it takes is a signature.
One could say that the pork barrel, discretionary and intelligence fund system is the oil or grease that keeps the government, or perhaps more precisely this type of state, running. No matter how many times the Aquino government mentions the word “change” or “transformation,” the more things remain the same. Because if there really is genuine change, the Filipino people would immediately feel it; it does not have to be stressed in speeches and statements of the government.