Guilty until proven innocent. For too long, far, far too long, the politically powerful have gotten away with their crimes. It may be unfair, it may be wrong, but the people at Luneta believe the senators and congressmen—not their staff or anyone else they try to transfer their guilt to—are guilty in the so-called “Napoles” scam. So they have to prove beyond reasonable doubt their innocence. And this we should insist on. We do not have to prove their guilt in a court of law; this is not, at its core, a legal issue, it’s a social, a moral one.
If those politicians try to hide behind legal maneuvers, and fail to prove their innocence to the public, they will be brought down by a public unwilling to take it anymore. They cannot claim their staff did it without their knowledge. If the staff did it, then they are guilty of not protecting the peoples’ money. It is their responsibility to ensure the proper use of funds that aren’t theirs. The boss is responsible for the actions of his underlings, particularly when it comes to the use of public money, our money.
The only acceptable proof of their innocence is if their signatures were forged. This can be easily verified through examination by an international handwriting expert who should be flown in for the job. It’s not that I don’t trust the experts at the National Bureau of Investigation; I do, but I don’t trust some ruthless politicians who could threaten them, or their families. I don’t want them to face that risk. If an expert confirms the signatures to be theirs, they must resign from Congress whether or not there’s a legal case to follow. They were trusted by the people, they betrayed that trust.
The country’s political leadership would be most unwise if it ignores the message of last Monday’s “Million People March.” President Aquino came to power on a promise to eradicate corruption. The people believed him and gave him the job. Now he must deliver. He said he has abolished the pork barrel and Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda confirmed that when he said on TV last Monday night: “Let me be very, very clear with it: The President abolished PDAF. That’s it.”
But I thought that what Aquino had agreed to was Senate President Franklin Drilon’s idea to require senators and congressmen to submit their pet projects for inclusion in the following year’s budget. No longer would there be a lump sum in the budget from which politicians could draw as they would want to; they would now have to list all their projects individually for inclusion in the coming year’s budget.
So if that’s what it is, Mr. Aquino just changed the system of delivery. He’s taking a big risk here. What he’s suggesting is an improvement on the corrupt system of today. It’s a new, better-controlled system and it may well be a workable compromise system, but it’s not abolition.
If this compromise system pushes through, it will be necessary to pass the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act immediately. Mandate by law transparency of all government actions, particularly those related to the use of the people’s money. President Aquino must certify the FOI bill as urgent now.
Ideally there should be no pork at all. The correct way to get local development funds is for mayors to work with the regional and local development councils, through which they can recommend and submit their development programs and requirements to the national government for the latter to evaluate them for inclusion into next years’ budget. A lawmaker’s role is to make new laws to improve society. And this is particularly true of senators who are elected nationally: They should not be selecting specific localities or communities to support, but look toward improving the nation as a whole. Equally, congressmen, although elected locally, have the responsibility to improve the lot of their people by introducing and passing sensible laws, not by identifying projects.
There’s a chance here for genuine reform, for a real clean-up, which the President said he wanted when he was running for the presidency. Real reform that, frankly, despite his best intentions, didn’t look possible before. But now it does, the anger of the people could explode into a People Power revolution—if true, genuine reform doesn’t happen.
Public anger must be sustained until genuine reform is achieved. A one-day march won’t do it. The politicians involved must be brought to account. Otherwise, given history, there’s a good chance this whole thing will wash over and be forgotten with the politicians escaping conviction. The pressure on the President to institute the reform measures he promised must be kept up. We should not allow the P10-billion pork barrel scam to degenerate into a legal issue argued over technicalities in a court of law. It is not a legal problem, it is a social problem. These people have stolen from us, they have betrayed our trust, they have stolen money that the poor need. They can’t be allowed to get away with it.
The President is reluctant to abolish the pork barrel because its “discretionary release” is an easy means for him to get his way in Congress. A far better, more democratic way is for him to convince them through sound argument.
President Aquino came to power on a platform of bringing honesty back into the system—breaking the pork barrel would be an important step toward that goal. What is absolutely certain is that the current system can’t be allowed to continue. And the politicians involved must be forced to step down if they can’t prove their innocence to the public. Guilty until proven innocent. Legal cases can follow, the guilty must end up in jail.
(This is an abridged version, the fuller version may be accessed on www.wallacebusinessforum.com or email us: firstname.lastname@example.org)