Edgardo Angara complains that the media have induced a frenzy on pork. It has caused the public to prejudge senators and congressmen. By calling a “controversy” a “scandal,” media have painted a picture of legislators as evil and NGOs as fake. In fact the report of the Commission on Audit has yet to be validated. The COA itself, he said, should have been more responsible and “embargoed its report because it posed prejudicial publicity.”
The COA, which reported on the pork barrel releases from 2007 to 2009, named Angara as one of those who grossly exceeded their pork allocations, in his case by P384.375 million. It also reported him as having sunk P14.4 million of his pork into an NGO he himself put up. That NGO, Kalusugan ng Bata, Karunungan ng Bayan, lists him as “incorporator, stockholder, and board member.”
But hold your horses, says Angara. “The COA did not qualify their report. They did not mention any irregularity. Even if they mentioned my name, don’t jump to the conclusion that I pocketed money from it.”
What’s wrong with it is that it’s like a prison warden allowing a VIP prisoner a weekend pass and justifying it afterward by saying: “So what? The guy did not commit any crime while he was on temporary liberty.” At the very least you have only his word for it. For all you know he could have robbed a bank, raped a minor, or put his drug empire in order by giving instructions to his subalterns.
But that’s nothing. Quite simply, giving prisoners, VIPs or not, temporary liberty is not the prerogative of a prison warden. It is wrong, it is illegal, it is a crime—in and of itself. And it is punishable by the warden himself sharing the lot, preferably permanently, of those he has given temporary leaves to.
Quite simply, plowing pork barrel funds into an NGO you yourself put up is not your prerogative as a senator. To begin with, you have no right to create an NGO as a senator. What is this, a “government non-government organization?” But of course that NGO is fake: It has no substance, no justification, no legitimacy. It has no right to exist. It is a travesty of everything decent or commonsensical.
It certainly renders comical the fact that Angara became chair of the Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption last February. You’re a lawyer, you’re a senator, and you’re the head of a global agency fighting corruption, and you don’t know that?
More than that, you put P14.4 million of your pork barrel funds, of which you have an inordinate excess, into the NGO you created, you turn controversy into a scandal. Hell, you turn scandal into scam.
Neric Acosta is currently in hot waters for doing something like this on a completely minor note, on a less epic scale. While congressman of Bukidnon, he put P5.5 million of his Priority Development Assistance Fund to the Bukidnon Vegetable Producers Cooperative (BVPC). His mother, Socorro, the former mayor of Manolo Fortich, was listed as a director and board member of it. Both claimed to have the concurrence of the municipal council for the transfer of funds. Investigation, however, showed the municipal council approved no such thing.
Upon the recommendation of the Sandiganbayan, government put Acosta under a 90-day preventive suspension. Then this January, after learning that he and his mother had lied about the municipal council approval, the Sandiganbayan ordered both of them arrested.
The amount of P5.5 million is small compared to P14.4 million even if it is enormous compared to what a small-time guitar-player who commutes by jeepney to a dingy dive in Cubao or Quiapo in the dead of night makes in 20 years. Quite apart from that, Acosta merely plunked the money into an NGO his mother belonged to, Angara plunked the money into an NGO he was incorporator, shareholder and board member of. At least the erring senators and congressmen sank their pork barrel funds into a Napoles NGO which may or may not have been fake, they didn’t bother to look too closely. Angara sank his funds into an NGO which he knew, or ought to, being a lawyer, senator and global anticorruption official, to be fake.
That is another order of perfidy altogether, a higher one, a more breathtaking one. No more intermediaries, no more middlemen or women. Rekta na, as we say in Tagalog.
The Sandiganbayan said nothing about whether Acosta’s mother spent the P5.5 million rightly or wrongly, and rightly so. When you disbar a justice for ruling in a case that involves his family, you do not ask whether he ruled fairly or not. What he has done is unethical, immoral, wrong. When you take a senator to task, and hopefully to court, for putting his pork barrel funds in an NGO he himself put up, you do not ask whether his NGO spent the money rightly or wrongly. What he has done is unethical, immoral, wrong.
Angara says we do ill to presume he pocketed the money. What else are we to presume? The fruits of a poisoned tree are poisoned. The consequences of something wrong are wrong. I don’t know which is worse, the original crime or the justification of it. Certainly the justification doesn’t lessen the crime, it compounds it.
Angara says that by whipping up the frenzy, the media have painted the senators and congressmen black. Well, easy enough for them to repaint themselves white. All they have to do is give up their pork. All they have to do is hold a congressional hearing with Napoles as key witness. All they have to do is not fritter public money into NGOs of their making. Unlike ordinary citizens, public officials may not hold on to their office simply because they have not been proven to be criminals. They may hold on to their office only because they have proven themselves fit.
Do we really need the media to drive us to a frenzy? The senators and congressmen are already doing a good job of it.