By Carol Pagaduan-Araullo
Streetwise | BusinessWorld
Why is it few were truly surprised that Janet Lim Napoles, prime but wily fugitive in the pork barrel scandal, would have not only the cunning but also the ability to arrange her “surrender” to no less than the President of the Republic. Is this in exchange for much needed “pogi” points for President Benigno Aquino III and the prospect of cooling down the already overcharged and overheated atmosphere?
This suspiciously stage-managed “surrender” in light of the lack of progress in the Aquino government’s investigation into the humongous pork scam and in addition to Mr. Aquino’s continuing defense of the pork barrel system betrays his intent to merely do damage control, minimize and contain the impact of the exposes, and retain the pork system albeit in a disguised and deodorized form.
Malacañang has taken pains to explain that indeed, the pork barrel system has become an indispensable part of the entire political system. What it does not say is that the pork system is part of, or a manifestation of, what makes this whole political system rotten to the core.
The pork barrel system is the exposed tip of the iceberg of continuing plunder of public funds wrung out of the sweat and blood of hardworking people through taxes and other government exactions and mechanisms. This abomination by which the ruling elite use the government machinery and resources to further enrich themselves and entrench their families in power at the expense of the people is what activists have long been calling “bureaucrat capitalism.”
Each and every occupant of Malacañang without exception, from Manuel Roxas down to BS Aquino, has been the biggest and leading bureaucrat capitalist lording over and benefitting from the system under their watch.
By means of huge discretionary funds controlled solely by the Chief Executive (and by extension his alter egos in the line agencies) and the members of both houses of Congress through their share in the presidential largesse, hundreds of billions to more than a trillion pesos of the people’s monies are spent by the bureaucrat capitalists with little or no effective oversight.
The latter are the members of the ruling elite who make a lucrative business out of their government positions, who protect and advance their economic interests and privileged positions in society using state power, and who are therefore at the forefront of preserving the rotten political system and the socially unjust status quo.
What has become starkly clear is that all along, those government officials who belong to various factions of the ruling classes have been conniving with each other to appropriate for themselves billions of people’s money, under the guise of providing for the people’s needs, without accountability and with full impunity. It would be interesting to compute how much of the vaunted “economic growth” is in reality corruption-generated representing phantom projects, kickbacks, bribes, etc. The pork expose explains where that “growth” had really gone and who benefited from it.
Last August 26, National Heroes Day, at the massive Luneta protest action, the overwhelming cry that reverberated was this: “Abolish the pork barrel system, punish the guilty in the pork scam, and rechannel the pork funds for the benefit of the people.”
Yet one can discern a spectrum of positions. On the one hand, the organizations and individuals who marched under the banner of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, the Pagbabago People’s Movement for Change and the Makabayan Coalition of Party lists in Congress have categorically called for the abolition of both the Congressional and the presidential pork; that is, the 25-billion, lump-sum, discretionary budgetary allotment for members of Congress called the Priority Development and Assistance Fund (PDAF) and the hundreds of billions of other lump-sum funds named special purpose funds and off-budget items like the Malampaya Fund and the PAGCOR Presidential Social Fund under the exclusive control of the President.
They pinpoint President Aquino to be the main defender and promoter of the pork barrel having not only maintained but tremendously enlarged its total amounts compared to that of his predecessor, Gloria Arroyo. As a consequence, Mr. Aquino’s Liberal Party together with his alliance with the other pro-administration parties have emerged as the biggest, strongest and most dominant of the reactionary factions of the political ruling elite, its ranks enlarged mostly by turn-coats from the shrunken coalition of parties formerly loyal to Mrs. Arroyo.
They reject Mr. Aquino’s announced “abolition of the pork barrel” as another attempt at a sleight of hand to damage control the volatile political situation sparked by the Napoles pork scam and more exposes of long-standing, unperturbed, complex schemes for stealing the people’s money.
In truth, the 25-billion PDAF is intact in the 2014 proposed national budget albeit now incorporated and hidden in outlays for specific national line agencies. But the legislators’ entitlement to identify projects, channel funds, choose beneficiaries and ensure implementation of their pet projects outside of the normal legislative process of reviewing and approving the General Appropriations Act remains untouched. Thus the cozy, you-scratch-my-back-I-scratch-yours arrangement is intact. The purported separation of powers and system of checks and balances is subverted and rendered inutile with Congress meekly and uncritically approving the budget presented by the Chief Executive and all his other priority bills so that they can get the prime cuts of the presidential pork.
There were many in the Luneta protest whose outrage is still inchoate, mainly fueled by anger at the corrupt members of Congress in connivance with the Napoles-type scammers. Many are still unaware of the overweening role and culpability of President Aquino in keeping this system in place. They are not fully appraised about how the thievery is carried out so that they are vulnerable to being lulled into complacency or even deceived by Aquino’s announcement of the so-called abolition of the PDAF. But they continue to be incensed about how this has gone on for so long that they are nonetheless wary of again being taken for a ride by the “trapos” exemplified by the implicated members of Congress. They constituted the mostly unorganized, spontaneous, and least politically experienced sections of the Luneta crowd.
Then there are those who constitute the fifth column. For example the Akbayan party list, who sport themselves as the “progressive partners in the Aquino coalition,” say they are for abolition but actually merely wish to reform the pork system so that is shielded from public scrutiny and protest. They are there to ensure that President Aquino appears spotless, escapes blame, and to falsely claim that the hundreds of thousands who marched to Luneta are on Mr. Aquino’s side, still bewitched by his mantra of “tuwid na daan.”
They are noisy in social and the mainstream mass media focusing all the attention, public revulsion and calls for accountability on Napoles, on the thievery that went on under the Arroyo regime and on the members of the Opposition who have been named.
Worse, they question the integrity, consistency and moral high ground of the progressive lawmakers under Makabayan by harping on the non sequitur line that the latter, having accessed the pork barrel for their projects, are prevented from exposing the corrupt system and calling for its abolition.
They maliciously lump progressive party list representatives with the bureaucrat capitalist despite the fact that former were elected by the small window of opportunity provided by the party list system, through the strength and political grit of their organized mass base, and their ability to mount an effective campaign without becoming beholden to rich sponsors or relying on patronage politics. They engage in red-baiting, Left-bashing, political innuendo and malicious intrigues.
Be that as it may, it is heartening that people from all walks of life have taken the step forward of making their voices and warm bodies count in common protest against the pork barrel system in whatever form. It stands to reason that a lot more discourse and ground work is needed to raise the level of unity, sustain and strengthen the protest actions to ensure that these do not serve as mere outlets for indignation, only to cool down in the face of cosmetic changes and propaganda barrages, gimmicks and maneuvers by Malacañang and the rest of the ruling elite.
Published in Business World
August 29, 2013