The plot thickens

By Carol Pagaduan-Araullo
Streetwise | BusinessWorld

The Aquino regime’s gross abuse and misuse of public funds through the now discredited and derided pork barrel system is becoming fully unmasked what with the disclosure of how Malacañang has been illegally juggling and misappropriating hundreds of billions of pesos via the Department of Budget and Management-concocted Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). This monstrous anomaly is apart from, and on top of, utilizing to-the-hilt congressional pork funds as carrot-and-stick to bend a pliant Congress to its will.

But this time presidential pork is implicated in President Aquino’s single-minded campaign to oust via impeachment then sitting Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona who Mr. Aquino considers a stooge of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Moreover, the Corona Court had handed down decisions unfavorable to the Aquino administration and the Cojuangcos, apart from being, unsurprisingly, corrupt. More than P2 billion from the DAP were allegedly used as a bribe (aka “incentive”) for the honorable gentlemen and ladies of Congress to find CJ Corona guilty of corruption, casting a dark shadow on what the Aquino administration has been touting as a sterling example of its anti-corruption crusade.

The P10-billion Napoles fund scam that had outraged the public enough to spark the biggest protest action against the “pork” on Aug. 26 and sustain mass protests thereafter on Sept. 11, 13 and 21, has uncovered not just the PDAF-related can of worms. The entire stinking pork barrel system with the humongous Presidential lump sum, discretionary funds at the forefront has been revealed and its main objectives exposed: to shore up the feudal patronage politics system; to line the pockets of corrupt government officials and their private counterparts (a decidedly successful “private-public-partnership”); and to consolidate the hold of whichever elite faction of the ruling classes wields state power by controlling not only the executive department but both the legislature and the judiciary as well.

The scale, magnitude and pervasiveness of anomalous pork use reveal that political patronage — a mild and seemingly tolerable aspect of realpolitik — is not a mere aberration but a deceptive euphemism for deep, insidious and systemic graft, corruption and bribery at the loftiest levels of government.

The immaculate “yellow” image of Mr. Aquino as squeaky-clean and incorruptible began its besmirching when he refused (inexplicably for many) to abolish the PDAF outright and even defended it as necessary, benevolent and rational. The stain grew larger when it became clear that not only did Mr. Aquino have his own stinky pork barrel funds, these had grown to phenomenal amounts even far exceeding those of his predecessor, Mrs. Arroyo. And just like Mrs. Arroyo, the ultimately corrupt ruler in Mr. Aquino’s book, he cynically used his presidential pork to control Congress and tame the judiciary to conform to his liking.

Despite Mr. Aquino’s attempts at damage control with the deceptive “abolition” of the PDAF in the 2014 national budget (Malacañang has assured its allies that they will continue to have their pork and eat it too albeit in a different form); the surrender of the fugitive Janet Lim-Napoles under suspicious circumstances; the filing of plunder charges against senators, congressmen, and their alleged accomplices in the Napoles scam and former and current officials in the plunder of the Malampaya Funds; and even the contemptible attempt to justify the President’s Social Fund by announcing that the latter would fund the rehabilitation of Zamboanga City after the all-out military offensive against the Moro National Liberation Front — the stench of the pork barrel system has enveloped his Teflon image and will simply not go away.

Senator Jinggoy Estrada’s seemingly pitiful attempt at ratting on his fellow senator’s as a guilty man’s defense of the indefensible and a warning that he will not go down alone, has inadvertently opened the lid on an explosive issue: President Aquino’s illegal impoundment (or the President’s action of not spending all or part of a sum of money appropriated by Congress) and realignment of government funds upon his sole discretion, without the authorization of Congress, for items not found in the General Appropriations Act (GAA) and, worse, to bribe and manipulate Congress into doing his bidding to advance his clique’s narrow political and economic ends.

(Let us not for a moment forget that the alleged bribery to attain Mr. Corona’s impeachment together with the collusion between the Agrarian Reform Department and the management of the Presidential kin’s Hacienda Luisita has resulted in an even more contemptible swindle against the farmer-worker beneficiaries of the hacienda who now stand to come out empty-handed after the Corona Court’s favorable decisions.)

According to ACT Party List Representative Antonio Tinio:

“It is a little-known fact that, since 2010, the Aquino administration has introduced numerous provisions in the General Appropriations Act that have further strengthened the President’s power to impound Congressional appropriations and realign funds at his discretion…”

“The so-called Disbursement Acceleration Program is the smoking gun that illustrates how the President abuses the power to impound and realign the budget for purposes not even authorized by Congress in the General Appropriations Act. DAP is nothing less than the President arrogating unto himself the power of the purse. It is Presidential discretion over public funds gone wild. It shows how Presidential pork is generated at the budget execution stage, by the President declaring savings in the middle of the fiscal year, so that he can then realign the funds as he sees fit.

“Former President Gloria Arroyo was notorious in abusing reenacted budgets to give the Executive control over huge chunks of the budget. President Aquino has been grossly abusing the Presidential powers of impoundment and realignment to do the same. In both cases, the objective is to enable the President to dispense political patronage.”

But what is most enraging and preposterous is that the Aquino regime, like its predecessors, has been rejecting demands and denying appeals from the workers, teachers and other government employees for wage hikes and the release of pensions and benefits due them with smug and even arrogant explanations that government has no funds for these.

Meantime, aside from fattening the bureaucrat capitalists — government officials using their positions to enrich themselves — the Aquino regime has taken no effort to hide its fawning servility to foreign multinational corporations and their domestic business partners, granting them tax holidays, sovereign guarantees and other incentives, as well as removing tariffs and other restrictions on their imports. In what can now be seen as the same mindset of putting the interests of the privileged few above the law, even the Constitution that he swore to uphold, Mr. Aquino had declared to foreign businessmen that his government would take the necessary measures to help them go around legal obstacles that hamper their operations and extraction of profits.

Such anomalies — nay grievous crimes against the people — have been going on for decades and are inherent in the ruling socio-political system. But it is only now, ironically under a regime that had hitherto been perceived as the least tainted by corruption and piously claims to lead the nation on a “righteous path,” that the people are seeing graft and corruption at its ugliest, most rotten form, how it works, and how it keeps the vast majority of our people in deep poverty and misery.

Published in Business World
October 3, 2013

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