It’s called “damage control.” Doubtless that figured in the timing and crafting of P-Noy’s message Friday announcing that he was “abolishing” the Priority Development Assistance Fund or PDAF, otherwise known by the more popular and recognized term “pork barrel.”
The timing of the message certainly lent credence to accusations that it was meant to head off, or at least dissipate, the outrage expected to be generated by Monday’s “Million People March.” Fueled mainly by Facebook’s postings but provoked by the media (specifically, the Inquirer’s continuing coverage of the pork barrel scam perpetrated by, among others, a syndicate allegedly headed by Janet Lim-Napoles), the march/protest is expected to gather thousands of Filipinos denouncing the abuse of and exploitation of public funds through this system of congressional privilege.
Though the main protest is to be staged at the Luneta, the traditional site of indignation rallies and grand State occasions, similar protests harping on the same theme are also to be held in other parts of the country. This turns the “Million People March” from a localized, ho-hum protest action into a truly national expression of citizen anger. Coming on the heels of the widespread devastation of yet another “habagat” disaster, the protest underscores the people’s disgust at the shameless use of taxpayers’ money not for public good but for private gain, specifically of legislators engaged in wrongful and illicit use of their “pork barrel” funds with the connivance of private operators hiding behind bogus NGOs.
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Actually, at this point I don’t know if the people incensed by the reports of how public funds were siphoned off by exploitative politicians would be placated by mere reform of the system.
Budget Secretary Butch Abad points out that only some and not all (not even the majority) of the senators and House representatives were implicated in the scandal. But the amounts the implicated politicians were able to secure, with little or no accountability, truly boggle the mind. Indeed, studies have shown how many basic needs, like classrooms, teachers, roads, health centers could have been built; how much better the lives of the poor would have been, if the money had been used for the purposes stated, or just gone to public coffers.
Even in his speech, P-Noy wasn’t clear on just what system would replace the discredited PDAF. All he said was that he would confer with the leaders of the House and the Senate on “finding new ways to deal with the needs of constituents in a manner that is transparent, methodical and rational… and not susceptible to abuse.”
Consulting with Congress on how to make it more difficult for legislators to access funds? That sounds like asking thieves to consult on antirobbery measures!
The truth, however, is that the President still needs to practice some form of “pork,” if only to ensure he keeps, or maintains, influence over the legislators who could throw a monkey wrench into his plans and programs. In turn, lawmakers need access to public money to accommodate all those requests from “constituents” for all sorts of assistance—from jobs to medical treatment, scholarships to roads—which they would need to accommodate if they want to win reelection.
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At this point, though, it seems the most immediate victims of the uproar over “pork” seems to be—no, not Napoles or her cohorts—but nongovernment organizations.
True, a large portion of the wayward funds was coursed through bogus NGOs, many of them little more than paper organizations headed by, in the case of the Napoles-created groups, her own household staff and office workers with no experience whatsoever in community organization or even welfare work.
But there are many more NGOs and people’s organizations that are composed of people who truly want to help, with track records of civic involvement and public engagement. Code-NGO, a national coalition of NGOs and POs, has argued that there already exists a system of accrediting such groups with a long history of honest dealings with the communities they serve.
That these NGOs have all been bundled with the fake groups fashioned by the likes of Napoles is unfortunate. Many of the genuine NGOs have also been working with local governments and even agencies in what’s been called public-private collaboration, on projects that either explore novel or experimental ways of community-building or reach areas that public agencies have neither the time nor capability to reach.
Still, I hope this imbroglio will lead civil society into rethinking its increasing engagement with government. They are, after all, called nongovernment organizations, and financial independence is one criterion for true autonomy.
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Thanks to a friend who directed me to this YouTube video featuring novelty singer Jograd de la Torre performing what promises to be the “anthem” of tomorrow’s protest action.
Titled “Kawatan” (Thief), it’s a not-entirely-humorous outtake on the pop song “Price Tag” that at the very least should get protesters up and dancing. Here are the words to the refrain:
Kukurakot sila doon sa left
Kukurakot sila doon sa right
Magdasal tayo na sila’y
Kawatan ng money, money
Ay naku kayo ay huling huli
Mga adik sa pera
Gahaman sa kuwarta
Tigilan niyo na ang cheating, cheating
Pagka’t kayo ay buking, buking
(They’ll plunder from the left
They’ll plunder from the right
Let’s pray that they
Have a nightmare tonight
Thieves of money, money
Gosh you’re caught, caught
Addicts of money
Greedy for money
Stop this cheating, cheating
Because you’re now busted, busted)
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