08:37 PM August 21st, 2013

By: Conrado de Quiros, August 21st, 2013 08:37 PM

What a time for Ome Candazo to die, just when the protest against pork is heating up. Ome, as the Inquirer  revealed the other day, was the newspaper’s “Deep Throat,” the congressman who exposed the bane of pork in 1996. Specifically, he showed in painstaking detail how the senators and congressmen swallowed huge portions of the lechon de leche, their commissions or kickbacks from their pork ranging from 30 percent to half of it.

Ome was the representative of Marikina then, one of those who helped mightily to banish the city’s reputation as the rape capital of the world. In more ways than one: There’s rape and there’s rape, the literal rape of Maria and the not-so-metaphorical rape of Juan de la Cruz, and both are heinous. Ome had been an activist in his younger days and was jailed three times for it, and clearly he never lost the spirit of wanting to “serve the people” even after he became a congressman.

He died last Sunday of a heart attack. I had just heard that very morning he was rushed to the hospital, only to learn the following day he never recovered. He was 61. Not without an irony he himself might have laughed at, the man who had tried to clear the country’s political arteries of cholesterol succumbed physically to it.

Ome’s exposé shows what’s profoundly wrong with Malacañang’s refusal to scrap it, and indeed continuing defense of it. Like the P-Noy administration today, the Ramos administration then also vowed to plug the loopholes in pork. The budget department promptly disallowed projects like basketball courts and waiting sheds to be funded by pork, and posted an online bulletin board showing how the lawmakers proposed to spend their allocations. Like today’s senators and congressmen, the lawmakers then promised to behave, their change of heart signaled by their change of the name of pork from “Countryside Development Fund” to “Priority Development Assistance Fund.”

Alas, a skunk by any other name smells just as bad, cholesterol by any other name kills just as well. The change of name led only to a change of ratio: Not long afterward, many senators and congressmen were leaving less to their constituents, skimming off more than half from their pork—60 percent, according to a Commission on Audit study. Not least by funneling the money into NGOs put up by family and friends. The practice of sliming the NGOs did not begin with Janet Napoles, it goes way back.

I have little doubt the government will be able to stop a Napoles-type scam from happening again. That doesn’t mean it will be able to stop other pork scams from happening again. Or people’s money disappearing into the bottomless pit of greed, the way it did long after basketball courts and waiting sheds were banned from being pork-ed. Where there’s pork, there’s scam. If we Pinoys have shown an exceptional talent for anything, it is in discovering the infinite variety of ways to skin a cat, or roast a pig, or get around the law.

The pork barrel is an engraved invitation to perfidy, which is not likely to be refused by people who have been known to gatecrash places where perfidy holds a party. “Huwag naman lahatin” is the mantra of ardent pork defenders in the executive and legislative branches. That may be true, but the exception is not the overwhelming majority, it is the tiny minority. Or the exception has to do only with quantity, not quality. You put P200 million in the hands of a senator and P70 million in the hands of a congressman, giving him or her the sole power to decree where it may go, it will take a Mother Teresa to want all of it to go only to the poor. The only question really is what the ratio will be between pocket and conscience. To go by the history of pork, pocket will be the long-term gainer.

Indeed, the only question is whether the skimming will be done with finesse or brazenness. To go by the alleged 10-year run of Napoles, brazenness will win in the long run. Why am I not surprised that Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla were caught with their, well, pants down? Napoles kayo nang Napoles, napulis tuloy.

Given our culture, which defines corruption as pillaging beyond the norm—“Was I greedy?” was Angelo Reyes’ pained and quite revealing cry—the pork can, and will, be used for purposes other than what the law intended without the senator and congressman feeling he/she has done something wrong. Since the Spanish times, plunder has been rife, with a tacit injunction only that officials do not plunder too grossly. The problem with that of course is that what is normal and what is excessive, what is par for the course and what is kaswapangan, are subjective judgments. More to the point, the norm rises over time. The pork take certainly has: It’s now at 60 percent.

You insist on merely policing the uses of pork and you only add to the work of the auditors, or indeed to the bureaucracy itself, putting on more people to police the police, to regulate the regulators, to audit the auditors. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and nowhere does the adage apply more forcefully than here. Scrap pork and you won’t have that headache.

I’m glad the netizens in particular—truly, thank God for the social media, they are the new Edsa, or the new Plaza Miranda—are registering their disgust and revulsion over the pork scam, given particularly the scale of poverty and misery in this country. I’m glad they’re calling for some sort of People Power next week to demand an end to the plague. About time we rose to stop it. You may hem and haw about pork, you may discuss and debate the nutritive value of the political cholesterol, but one thing is inescapable. Pork remains—both the congressional and presidential ones—and the daang matuwid will never be paved.

The money for it will be, well, napulis.

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