By BENJIE OLIVEROS
What started out as a corruption scandal allegedly involving five senators and 23 legislators from the House of Representatives, together with Janet Lim-Napoles, covering the period 2007-2009, has now erupted into a full-blown mess affecting the Aquino government. First came the Commission on Audit report, which revealed irregularities in the disbursements of pork barrel funds of several lawmakers, who were not necessarily involved in the Janet Lim-Napoles scam. What followed after was the privilege speech of Senator Jinggoy Estrada, which he and Senator Tito Sotto hyped as a bombshell.
Senator Jinggoy Estrada was not able to defend his case with his privilege speech. In fact, he did not directly address the charge of plunder filed against him. His speech appears to be more intended to bring the house down with him.
Neither was Senator Jinggoy Estrada able to come up with well-documented, well-substantiated accusations of corruption or even fund misuse against the Aquino government and its allies. When questioned, he could not even say categorically that the additional P50 million ($1.15 million) in pork barrel funds released to senators and representatives who voted to impeach former chief justice Renato Corona was a bribe. But the fact that he mentioned it appears to be enough.
The Aquino government is now frantically trying to justify the additional P50 million ($1.15 million) fund releases to lawmakers. First, it included Senator Joker Arroyo in the list of lawmakers provided with additional funds. Sen. Arroyo vehemently denied this saying that he did not get any additional funds. In fact, he never accessed his pork barrel funds. What he did, according to Arroyo, was to ask for the inclusion or insertion of a budget for a number of projects he identified. Why he was included in the list was never answered by the Aquino government, giving credence to Senator Arroyo’s theory that his name was included in the list because he voted against the impeachment of Corona and his inclusion was meant to cover the fact that only those who voted for the impeachment and conviction were given additional funds.
Then, Budget Sec. Florencio Abad said the additional funds given to lawmakers did not come from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), the official name of the pork barrel funds of lawmakers, but from a fund created from realigned ‘savings’ called the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). This made matters worse.
Is the president allowed to create such a fund by realigning ‘savings’ from other projects? President Aquino said he just read the 1987 Constitution and what he did was constitutional and legal. Lawyers such as Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago and former senator Joker Arroyo do not think so. Constitution expert Fr. Joaquin Bernas, who was a member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission that drafted the 1987 Constitution, which Aquino was referring to, also believes that what the president did was unconstitutional.
But beyond the issue of constitutionality or legality is the propriety of what the Aquino administration did. The Aquino administration created another pork barrel or discretionary fund that it uses to provide additional funds to those who the president favors. How is this compatible with his promise of being the exact opposite of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo? Is this consistent with Aquino’s promise of taking the daang matuwid (righteous path)?
Also, the Aquino administration has not answered the question: If the release of the additional P50 million ($1.15 million) was not intended as a “bribe” or “incentive” for the impeachment and conviction of former chief justice Renato Corona, why is it so that only senators and representatives who voted according to the president’s wishes were given the funds?
President Aquino’s claim that it could not have been a bribe because no bribe is given post facto is a lame excuse. As Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago puts it, a promise to give an incentive to influence a decision, even if it was given after the fact, is also a bribe. To make an analogy, giving money to a voter to vote for a certain candidate, whether given before or after the act of voting, constitutes vote-buying.
To make matters worse, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, in its plunder complaint against Agriculture Sec. Proceso Alcala and President Aquino, revealed that three fake NGOs associated with Janet Lim-Napoles were still accredited by the Department of Agriculture this year. Is this a mere case of oversight?
The president’s allies claim that the issue regarding the Disbursement Acceleration Program is a ‘diversionary tactic’ to ‘deflect attention from the plunder charges filed against lawmakers involved in the pork barrel scam.’
On the contrary, it is not. The issue of the Disbursement Acceleration Program shows that the pork barrel scam is not limited to the five senators and 23 representatives allegedly involved in stealing the people’s money through Janet Lim-Napoles and her fake NGOs. It reveals that the misuse of government funds and corruption did not end with the administration of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. It reminds us that the pork barrel scam did not start and end with the PDAF. For as long as there are pork barrel funds, discretionary funds, un-programmed funds, even if you call it by whatever name, there would be corruption. And for as long as there are mechanisms, systems, processes that perpetuate patronage politics, corruption would continue to exist.
The Aquino administration has only itself to blame for getting implicated in the pork barrel scandal. If it abolished the pork barrel completely and surrendered even the president’s own pork barrel, discretionary, un-programmed and intelligence funds, it could have been saved from being dragged into the mess. But it did the exact opposite: it did not only defend the pork barrel system, it adamantly refuses to give up the president’s pork barrel, and it even created its own: the DAP.
So now the scandal that was supposed to be limited to the involvement of officials and lawmakers of the previous administration has now implicated not just the lawmakers under the current Congress, but the executive as well. Clearly, it has become a mess and nothing short of sweeping, radical measures – the abolition of the pork barrel system and the allocation of discretionary funds and holding those guilty of fund misuse and corruption to account – could restore the people’s trust in government.