As I See It

A bribe by any other name is still a bribe

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“What’s in a name?” Juliet asked Romeo in Shakespeare’s play. “That which we call a rose by any other name will smell as sweet.” True. Hence, a bribe by any other name still stinks.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile calls the P1.6 million (or a total of more than P30 million of the people’s money) that he gave each of 18 senators a “gift,” but many taxpayers call it a “bribe.” The gift of four other senators, with whom JPE does not see eye to eye, was only P250,000 each. (There are rumors that there is a plot to unseat JPE as Senate President, and that the P30-million cash gifts were a “bribe” to the other senators so he could keep his seat.) Sen. Loren Legarda denies receiving JPE’s P1.6-million gift to her. Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago returned the P250,000 given to her because, she said, JPE had returned the can of Iloilo biscuits she gave him as a Christmas gift. If JPE had not returned her biscuits, would she have accepted the P250,000?

Money really poured out of the Senate like manna from heaven this Christmas. JPE also gifted the hundreds of Senate employees, “including drivers and security personnel,” up to P120,000 each.

In the House of Representatives, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte “gifted” each of the 283 congressmen P.5 million, or a total of P141.5 million of the people’s money.

Our legislators, who are supposed to look after our welfare, call the bonanza “maintenance and other operating expenses,” or MOOE, but by any other name, it still stinks to high heavens.

Meanwhile, 3.3 million Filipino families who pay taxes went hungry in the last quarter of 2012, according to a Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey. Imagine what the almost P172 million that our representatives gave themselves can do to ease the hunger pangs of those poor Filipinos. Imagine how many houses that amount can build for our homeless brethren. Imagine how many jobs would be created for our jobless kin if that money were used instead to establish factories or other businesses.

The MOOE is like the PDAF, or Priority Development Assistance Fund, which is the polite name for the pork barrel that has been stinking up the nation for decades now. Each senator gets P200 million and each congressman gets P70 million of the yearly PDAF. But in reality, the MOOE and the PDAF maintain and assist nobody else but the senators and congressmen.

We will let an insider, Senator Santiago, reveal the cash bonanzas that each senator receives: Besides the yearly pork barrel of P200 million, he/she gets “P2.2 million a month for staff salaries and office expenses, a P500,000 annual travel allowance, and an honorarium of P30,000 to P60,000 a month as chair of a Senate committee.” Every member of a committee also gets an allowance. Each senator has a monthly salary of P75,000.

JPE said the “gifts” that he gave the senators came from “savings.” But Senator Santiago said: “The so-called savings of each public office have turned into a national scandal, the grandmama of all scandals. The Constitution allows savings to be used by the office at the end of the year. But in reality, the head of office manipulates the books and creates the so-called savings by refusing to fill up vacancies or refusing to buy essential office supplies or services, or capital equipment. These so-called ‘enforced savings’ are then distributed among the highest officials, in the guise of Christmas bonuses.”

Is that the reason the Supreme Court does not appoint judges to the hundreds of vacancies or increase the salaries of judges in the lower courts, which has resulted in the clogging of the court dockets and the very, very slow administration of justice?

Senator Santiago added: “Each member of the Senate committees also gets an allowance. That’s why some of my colleagues become members of so many committees. This amount is given whether or not you attend the hearings conducted by the committee.”

Likewise, a senator gets the P500,000 yearly travel allowance whether or not it is used, Santiago said. “It is for official trips, such as those for international conferences. But even if [you] don’t leave, you still get that.”

One senator is rumored to collect salaries and allowances for nonexistent staff members and pocketing the money.

The grandmama of all scandals in Congress is the pork barrel or PDAF, P200 million for each senator every year, supposedly for pet projects. A senator allegedly gets at least 10- percent of that as kickback from contractors.

Santiago recalled that when she was a neophyte senator, she was approached by a contractor who guaranteed her “a ‘clean’ 10 percent kickback from [her] pork-funded infrastructure projects.” That 10-percent offer was very low. Some senators and congressmen have been rumored to demand as much as 30 to 50 percent of the contract price from contractors. That is why many public works projects are substandard. Contractors have to make do with what little is left to them after paying the kickbacks.

Santiago said that during a senator’s 6-year term, he/she can collect P120 million in kickbacks, “enough to bankroll a reelection bid.”

“One who wants big money should run for senator,” she added with sarcasm. So that is why so many fortune-hunters want to be a senator.

Anyway, gift or bribe, it shows how our leaders, our representatives, are so generous with our money. They give it away liberally because it is not their money.

The watchdog who is supposed to catch abuses such as these is the Commission on Audit, but many in-house auditors look the other way because they share in the bonanza. For instance, auditors also get cars to allow the distribution of expensive cars, bought with the people’s money, to public officials.

Where is the “daang matuwid”?

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