As I See It

Mitos, Risa: Abolish the pork barrel system

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HAPPILY, an anti-political dynasty movement was launched last Monday, the same day that, by coincidence, this column suggested that such a movement be launched to stop the spread of this malignancy in our country. The “Kontra Dynasty” Movement was launched at a news conference by senatorial candidate Ricardo Penson, 60, a road-building contractor. Let us all support and join this movement to save ourselves from the clutches of political families who believe that their constituents are their slaves. Do not vote for and campaign against members of political dynasties running in national and local elections.

The evil of political dynasties peaked in the 2009 Maguindanao massacre. The province of Maguindanao and many of its municipalities were ruled and so terrorized by members of the Ampatuan clan that they believed they could do anything without retribution. To prevent a rival politician from being registered as a gubernatorial candidate against the clan’s leader, a convoy, which included media people, that was on its way to the local Commission on Elections office, was stopped at the highway and everybody in it massacred.

The same thing is bound to happen in other localities if political dynasties are not stopped. Let’s stop them by joining and helping the Kontra Dynasty Movement and all other similar groups.

Do it to save yourselves and all of us.

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Two women senatorial candidates—Rep. Mitos Magsaysay of Zambales and former Rep. Risa Hontiveros of the party-list group Akbayan—were guests at last Monday’s Kapihan sa Manila at the Diamond Hotel. They are running candidates in the UNA and Liberal Party tickets, respectively, in next year’s polls.

The two were very articulate and voluble and many issues were discussed. There won’t be enough space to discuss all the issues here, so I will concentrate on the two most applauded by the audience: the abolition of the pork barrel and the squatting problem. They were both against these twin evils but they were divided on the controversial Reproductive Health (RH) bill. Hontiveros said it would mean the emancipation of poor Filipino women, but Magsaysay said the bill is unnecessary as its provisions are already embodied in many existing laws, which she cited one by one.

According to Hontiveros, the abolition of the pork barrel is one of the advocacies of Akbayan. The party-list group has already filed a bill for the pork barrel’s abolition in the House of Representatives, but it was put in the freezer because most of the members of Congress salivate for the yearly fund. She promised that if she becomes a senator, she would file another bill in the Senate for its abolition. This drew a round of applause from the audience.

Magsaysay traced the history of the pork barrel. She said, “Yes, we should abolish the pork barrel system,” adding that it is not only a waste of the people’s money but also a primary root of corruption. (We should also have an Anti-Pork Barrel Movement.) Through the system, the 24 senators get P150 million each in pork barrel funds and the more than 200 congressmen, including party-list representatives, get P70 million each.

The money is supposed to be used for the favorite projects of the lawmakers, such as roads and bridges, schoolhouses, community halls, etc. The trouble is only a little more than half of the pork barrel budget goes to the project. The rest go to the legislators in the form of kickbacks from the contractors, who have to make do with what is left to finish the project. The result: substandard or unfinished projects, or worse, “ghost” projects that, according to the Commission on Audit, exist on paper but not in reality. It is not only the legislator who is corrupted but also the contractor, the public works engineers, local government officials and even treasurers and ordinary clerks.

The pork barrel is used by presidents to bribe the legislators. Cooperative legislators get their pork, uncooperative ones don’t. The “bribe-giving” presidents include President Aquino, who was elected on the campaign promise of reforms and the elimination of corruption. The people thought that when he became President, he would eliminate the pork barrel system, it being a principal cause of corruption. All he needs to do is not include an allocation for pork barrel in the budget that he submits to Congress for enactment. Congress can reduce the proposed budget but cannot increase it. It is that easy for a sincere, reform-minded, anticorruption president.

But P-Noy did no such thing. He continued to send allocations for pork barrel funds to Congress and use these as a carrot-and-stick approach to lawmakers. This is the same person, the son of Ninoy and Cory Aquino, who, when he was courting votes, promised to stop corruption. This is the same person who called the people who pay the taxes his “boss,” but who keeps squandering those hard-earned taxes on pork barrel funds and on his frequent trips abroad. He has fallen into the same trap that other presidents fell into.

On the squatting problem, both Magsaysay and Hontiveros said the controversial Urban Development and Housing Act should either be repealed or amended. Since its enactment, the squatting problem has worsened many times over.

Property owners who pay the real estate taxes that fatten the treasuries of local government units are victimized by squatters who forcibly grab their lots. When the owners ask the LGUs to help them recover their properties, the officials shirk their duty because squatters are also voters. Yet they shamelessly collect, and even increase real estate taxes.

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