By BENJIE OLIVEROS
Finally, somebody stood up to our (dis)honorable congressmen who refuse to give up their perks, specifically their beloved pork barrel fund. And it took a non-politician, a progressive educator, unionist, and women’s rights advocate to do it. Social Welfare Sec. Judy Taguiwalo is being grilled by (dis)honorable congressmen, during the budget deliberations for the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), for issuing Memorandum Circular 9, which provides that: “Referral letters from individuals, groups of individuals, or organizations, including public officials whether national or local executives, legislators, members of the judiciary, or constitutional commission are not integral to the implementation of the PSP (Protective Services Program).”
What especially caught the ire of congressmen is the instruction by Social Welfare Sec. Judy Taguiwalo that these referral letters from congressmen, and other government officials for that matter, are not binding on DSWD social workers who are tasked to evaluate the qualification of beneficiaries. In other words, gone are the days when congressmen could lay claim on DSWD funds for their favored “beneficiaries.”
The dishonorable congressmen are running out of arguments to justify their anger. Who knows the situation of the poor better? The (dis)honorable congressmen should stop making the poor as an excuse. It’s as if they have been doing something to address the plight of the poor in their districts. Would they use their own money to give to the poor? Why not? They have more than enough after lording it over local politics for decades.
What Secretary Taguiwalo has been putting a stop to, at least in the DSWD, which she heads, is the “hidden pork barrel fund” being enjoyed by (dis)honorable congressmen. It could be remembered that when the Supreme Court declared the pork barrel fund called the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) unconstitutional, the Aquino administration allowed members of Congress to earmark funds to line agencies such as the DSWD, which they could use for their favored “projects” and “beneficiaries.” It is essentially the same as how the PDAF operated; their only excuse was that the projects were identified during the budget deliberations and not after. Well, it doesn’t really matter when the projects were identified, the funds could still end up with “favorite beneficiaries” or conduits such as Janet Lim Napoles. Ever wondered why the case against Napoles never prospered under the Aquino administration?
It was just a matter of who enjoyed the spoils. The allies of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo were no longer among the favored congressmen when the Aquino administration took over. It was then the time of Aquino, the Liberal Party, and his allies. And now, Secretary Taguiwalo has blocked it, at least in her department. Hopefully, other members of the Cabinet would do the same.
But definitely it would be met with resistance. Pork barrel funds are important for trapos. It is being used for high profile projects, where congressmen could put up big billboards with their names on it, and for patronage politics. It is also, as the Napoles case revealed, a source of corruption. This is why congressmen would fight tooth and nail to retain it. It would take the political will of Cabinet members, such as Taguiwalo, and that of President Duterte to finally rid the Filipino people of this scourge that steals their hard earned tax money. But old habits die hard, and before it dies, it fights with a vengeance.