Friday, August 23, 2013

Pork barrel a bad turn on “daang matuwid”

By Val G. Abelgas 
Janet Lim Napoles
Janet Lim Napoles
The apparent nonchalance of President Aquino on the controversy surrounding the alleged misuse of about P10 billion in pork barrel funds raises very serious doubts on the sincerity of his campaign to curb corruption in the government.
Despite serious allegations raised in the past three weeks about misappropriated billions of pesos of pork barrel funds of senators and congressmen and the P900-million Malampaya funds allegedly involving fictitious non-governmental organizations, forged signatures, fake documents, ghost projects and deliveries, Aquino has remained silent except saying that a thorough and impartial investigation is underway.
Aquino, who acted like a wounded tiger in making sure that Chief Justice Renato Corona is impeached and his reputation destroyed for a simple misdeclaration of his statement of assets and liabilities, is now acting like a meek lamb amid nauseating revelations of corruption of the highest order.
Malacanang even refused demands that the investigation being conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation be made public and has apparently blocked efforts by some congressmen to hold a congressional investigation on the misuse of pork barrel funds.
And even before the NBI could complete its investigation, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima was quick to clear three administration senators and Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, who was among the first Aquino official to be linked to the anomaly involving the firms and NGOs associated with Janet Lim Napoles.
Meanwhile, a report from Cebu City said that the Sandiganbayan has suspended the implementation of the arrest warrant against known Aquino allies former Cebu Rep. Clavel Asas-Martinez, former Bogo Mayor Celestino Martinez III, Ma. Cielo Martinez and four others who are facing malversation and graft charges for the misuse of her pork barrel. Eearlier, the Sandiganbayan ordered the arrest of Lanao del Norte Rep. Abdullah Dimaporo, an opposition member, also for pork barrel funds misuse.
And to top it all, the President ignored insistent public clamor for the abolition of the pork barrel system, which has become one of the biggest source of graft and corruption in the government, and instead defended the pork barrel funds as necessary.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the President believes the PDAF is the “share” of the people in the annual national budget. She noted that legislators can quickly address the needs of their constituents, from poverty alleviation to infrastructure work, through the PDAF since the national government “cannot be everywhere at once.”
“The President believes in theory, that the PDAF can be used for the correct reasons,” Valte said in a media interview.
But Aquino overlooked the fact that in the Philippines, there is a wide gap between theory and reality. For example, in theory, the government is supposed to be getting billions and billions of pesos from taxes that are supposed to be levied on goods coming into the country, but in reality, the government would be lucky to get even a third of what it is supposed to get every year due to corrupt customs officials conniving with unscrupulous traders. In theory, those who are responsible for the abuses in the pork barrel system should be in jail now, but in reality they continue living luxuriously in mansions in Ayala Alabang, Forbes Park and other exclusive villages.
The fact is that more than half of the pork barrel funds goes to “non-productive, non-priority and non-existent projects,” as described by BusinessWorld columnist Carol Pagaduan-Araullo. Instead, those funds should have been spent to build more classrooms, more farm-to-market roads, build housing projects, public transportation, and perhaps, even to modernize the military.
The pork barrel, also known as the Priority Development Assistance Fund, is the biggest single source of corruption and patronage politics. It was used by former President Arroyo to control Congress, to make the senators and congressmen toe the line. Aquino was one of those who vehemently opposed its abuse by Arroyo to control Congress, but when he took office, instead of abolishing it, Aquino even defended, justified, and increased it nearly three times.
Aquino obviously saw how the pork barrel influences Congress when he used it as a carrot and stick to pressure the congressmen to impeach Corona. And now, Aquino is bent on retaining the fund, although it is known to have been abused for years, causing the government hundreds of billions in funds that went to the pockets of corrupt government officials and businessmen, instead of improving the lives of the people. No wonder, poverty has worsened instead of being reduced, as promised by Aquino in 2010.
Aquino has no qualms in giving away billions of pesos in pork barrel funds to senators and congressmen despite the strong possibility of the funds being misused, and yet does not hesitate to reduce the budget of PAG-ASA by P204 million for next year at a time when the weather bureau was being set back by the exodus weather forecasters for better-paying jobs abroad. It’s a wonder how Malacanang budget officials could not see the importance of increasing the budget of PAG-ASA considering that the country is always in the path of strong typhoons.
We cannot expect Arroyo to abolish the pork barrel, as he himself, according to former National Treasurer Leonor Briones, has a huge pork barrel fund in the form of P1 trillion worth of undisclosed funds simply labeled as “budgetary support, intelligence, special purpose funds and un-programmed funds” under the proposed 2014 national budget.
“The hidden and undisclosed lump sum and automatic appropriations amount to almost half of the P2.268 trillion national budget for 2014 [and] more than half of the budget that is placed under the discretion of the President. The President now has a huge pork barrel,” Party-list Rep. Jonathan Dela Cruz said.
Seven congressmen belonging to the Makabayan Coalition, saying they would not access their share of the congressional pork barrel, denounced Aquino for his support of the pork barrel amid reports of its rampant abuse.
Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, on the other hand, said she would move for the gradual abolition of the pork barrel. “The problem with the pork barrel in our country is that corruption has become institutionalized…the pork barrel has become a weapon of mass destruction of public funds,” she said.
Will Aquino care to listen to them and the people who have grown tired of the politics of patronage and corruption in government? Is he really serious about his “daang matuwid”?
Unfortunately, the answer to both now seems to be a clear “No.”

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