The perils of being an ex-legislator in the age of pork

Mong Palatino

I’m an ex-con or ex-congressman. I was a two-termer (not two-timer) who represented the country’s first elected youth party. I was the third poorest solon and believe it or not I left the institution without getting rich. I have no relatives in government, I didn’t call Garci, and I certainly didn’t have any dealings with Napoles and other pork operators. But like many others who worked in Congress, I am also affected by the Napolist scam involving hundreds of legislators, Cabinet officials, and top-level bureaucrats.

As a citizen, I am appalled by the brazenness and remorselessness of these public servant thieves. As a former legislator, I am embarrassed that I exchanged pleasantries with some of them while they were secretly hoarding taxpayers’ money. As an activist, I am sometimes haunted by guilt over my failure to inflict deadly blows inside the belly of the beast.

The truth is that no one enters and leaves the Congress without being tainted by its dirty image. It is not for the squeamish who must endure all the wheeling and dealing, the unprincipled horse trading, the shameful glorification of the unethical, the pathetic inflating of egos, the spoiling of supersize vanities, and the arrogant self-declaration of warlords and dynasts as agents of democracy and change. After some time, activist parliamentarians must leave the squalor of the parliament or else they become numb with all the evilness lurking and ricocheting taround them.

But once they leave this underworld and return to our reality, they are not seen by society as survivors or victims but warriors who failed to hack the machine. They failed to slay the dragon. Worse, they are vulnerable to the accusation that they compromised their principles by appearing to be cozy with some of their sleazy colleagues. They become like the cursed ‘walking wounded’ who are reeling from trauma, hiding their shame, and recovering their activist integrity.

I was already out of Congress when the Napoles pork mafia was outed. Every now and then I am often asked if I have inside knowledge of the case. Frankly, I don’t have a clue. And this infuriates me so much because I should have tried harder to study and expose the modus operandi of the criminal corruption gang when I was still a member of the Lower House.

Perhaps it can’t be helped if people would suspect if I got involved with pork operators. After all, I was part of an institution whose prominent members are accused of receiving pork payoffs. Some would innocently ask me about commissions or kickbacks in public works or whether I tolerated this standard practice in the bureaucracy. Some would joke about my hidden wealth and (thanks to Corona) my dollar accounts. I always reply by reminding them that I’m an activist and that I abhor corruption. Denial is not enough (it’s also not a river) but my Spartan lifestyle seems to convince them about the truthfulness of my statement.

Some friends and relatives who believe in my clean record would half-innocently reprimand me for failing to accumulate some tangible possessions like a car or condo unit. ‘Bakit di ka nagpayaman habang andun ka?’

Indeed, there are numerous quick cash schemes in government but ALL of them are anomalous. As a matter of principle, I refuse to indulge in these petty pursuits. Besides, a public servant is not required to get rich in order to effectively fulfill his duties. Further, the law mandates civil servants to remain modest. Why should we look down on a government official who didn’t get wealthy? And in contrast, why should we get interested with subordinates who did the filthy work for their powerful patrons? There is no honor in being a bagman, a crooked middleman, and a payola beneficiary.

Unfortunately, the Napoles scam reinforced the stereotype of corrupt politicians using their position to acquire more illegal wealth. The rich, not satisfied with their worldly treasures, conspired to steal millions of pesos with icy brutal efficiency. The tentacles of corruption have mutated for the worse and afflicted all branches of government. Millionaires wanting to be billionaires, and billionaires wanting more. Oh what horror, the horror, the violence, the madness of their greed.

No wonder many people have little affection and even appreciation of the work done by politicians. Also, we can’t blame young people who have already rejected the idea of joining electoral politics. Hope is fading, cynicism is rising. But why surrender the fun of remaking this society to professional thieves and so-called honorable hoodlums?

My surreal descent into the bowels of the reactionary Congress has allowed me to see more clearly the superior alternative to pork politics. The antidote is not the Yellow pill which merely hides the symptoms of the disease. There should be no more giving of second chances for a solution that only yielded token reforms. Take the Red pill instead. (

Mong Palatino is a Filipino activist and former legislator. He is the chairman of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Metro Manila. Email:

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