09:40 PM August 25th, 2013

By: Conrado de Quiros, August 25th, 2013 09:40 PM

I don’t know how today’s rally will go. I can only hope the weather is a little less dolorous than it was for most of last week. But how things will turn out today will probably depend more heavily not on weather but on “weather-weather,” which was how Erap called politics at one point—“panapanahon lang ’yan.”

Specifically, it will depend on how the prospective marchers will react to several senators calling for the abolition of pork. Even more specifically, it will depend on how the prospective marchers will react to P-Noy scrapping the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) but not the pork itself.

The President did so quite suddenly last Friday. This after defending the PDAF for several weeks as being more boon than bane, the corruption rearing its ugly head only during Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s time, the corruption being the handiwork only of a few rotten souls and not the majority of senators and congressmen.

Neither of which is borne out by facts. Ome Candazo’s exposé of the amounts being lost to pork dates all the way back to 1996, Candazo being the “Deep Throat” who supplied the Inquirer with information about the specific ways the scheming and skimming were being done. Indeed, as Yvonne Chua notes, it dates all the way back to 1922 when it was first introduced, P-Noy’s own great grandfather, Juan Sumulong, chastising his colleagues for it.

And as the Inquirer’s own exposé of Janet Lim-Napoles’ P10-billion scam shows—quite apart from the Commission on Audit’s report (however it pertained only to the last few years of Arroyo’s rule) that only 10-20 percent of pork actually went to the taxpayers—the pillage from pork is extensive and exhaustive.

I always laugh when I hear the phrase “misuse of funds”: The pillage is a misuse of funds only in the sense that the Maguindanao massacre is an abuse of power.

P-Noy’s tack is deeply problematic. While abolishing the PDAF, he allows the senators and congressmen to retain the power to identify projects in their districts for funding, though under a new mechanism still to be worked out by the budget department. Which means Budget Secretary Butch Abad, a pillar of the Liberal Party, the party that means to make Mar Roxas the next president. Which is going from crispy  pata  to  balat  ng  lechon. P-Noy says nothing about presidential pork at all.

Arguably, an arrangement like this, which doesn’t really abolish pork but only gives the semblance of it, allows the President the leeway to prosecute his agenda with the help of a conscripted Congress. There are several problems with this however.

Not the least is that, as I said last time around, you institutionalize something, it applies to everyone. You give this same power to the next president who may not be as honest as this one, the country is in trouble. More to the point, pragmatism is often just another word for opportunism, being practical is just another word for doing things the  trapo  way. What, “Ok  lang  that the president is  trapo  so long as he is a good  trapo?” This isn’t hewing to the  daang  matuwid, this is taking the  dating  daan.

Even more to the point, how you pursue your goal determines whether you reach it or not. You cannot fight corruption with the banner of pork, with the shield of pork, with the sword of pork.

It would be tragic if today’s rally draws in only a thin crowd and strengthens the presidential resolve to skirt it, or ignore it. The rally’s callers—you’re hard put to call them “organizers,” this thing looks wondrously spontaneous, the natural consequence of the widespread fury against pork that blazed out in the social media—cannot of course seriously expect a million people to gather at the Luneta. Though I’d be ecstatic to be proven wrong there. But I do hope a huge crowd turns out today.

Nothing less than P-Noy’s own  daang  matuwid  is at stake here. I myself fear for its future if the President continues to not hear the public fury and to not heed the public outcry. The strength of P-Noy’s anticorruption campaign has always lain in his credibility, which to this day remains high. The last time he spoke about the  daang  matuwid  was at the State of the Nation Address and his call to arms sounded even more stirring when he called out several of his own officials for failing to hew to it. Of course it lost a bit of its luster, after he kept the same officials in the Customs bureau after complaining bitterly about those who were so unscrupulous they allowed even firearms to be smuggled into the country, some of which could end up in the hands of enemies of the state. But for the most part, the credibility has remained. The high moral ground has remained.

Not so if he continues to go against the tide of public sentiment against pork.

It will erode it tremendously, it will debilitate it gravely. The next time he talks about the  daang  matuwid, it will not resound, it will ring hollow. The public will greet it a lot more pessimistically, if not cynically. They will say: “You wanted to push back corruption, here you had a chance to but did not take it. You asked us to hew to the  daang  matuwid, here the path lay before you, and you did not take it.”

How can anyone not hear the public disgust? How can anyone not feel the public revulsion? I myself have been astonished by the depth and scale of it, people I have known to be indifferent and apathetic about politics, indeed expressing an aversion to it, vowing to be at the Luneta today. All this time, they say, they have been paying taxes and duties and fees as small entrepreneurs, as artists, as various professionals, only to realize they’ve been subsidizing not the poor squatters but the rich crooks all along. It’s enough to go berserk—or join a rally.

Today is the day of the rally. It is also National Heroes Day. Who knows?

Maybe we’ll hear the cry of Pugad Lawin again.

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