As I See It

Pork also making us a nation of mendicants

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09:15 PM September 5th, 2013

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By: Neal H. Cruz, September 5th, 2013 09:15 PM

It has turned out that not only members of Congress and the incumbent president have pork barrel funds but also Cabinet members. At least one congressman, Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali of the Liberal Party (LP), has admitted that he got P10 million from the pork of Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala and allocated it to a bogus nongovernment organization (NGO) owned by pork barrel scam queen Janet Lim-Napoles. Instead of a congressman allocating his Priority Development Assistance Fund or PDAF (the camouflage for the pork barrel) to an executive department, it is now the Cabinet member, Alcala, allocating funds to a congressman.

Farmers are so short of support services (e.g., farm-to-market roads, palay dryers, and warehouses within which rice grains can be stored to protect them from rats and other pests) that they cannot produce enough rice for our needs. But here was Alcala allocating “priority development funds” for farmers to a congressman who then allocated it to a Napoles NGO and, from there, to Napoles’ bathtub and then to her bank accounts.

Why does Alcala have a P1.67-billion budget that he can allocate to lawmakers and other government officials of his choice? Imagine what P1.67 billion can do to help farmers? But that money is helping only lawmakers and Napoles.

Obviously, that fund is being used by Alcala to curry favor with lawmakers and other public officials. Why does he have to do that? Is it to make sure that he would not be removed from his position? But the best gauge that Alcala is fit for the agriculture portfolio is his performance in making the agriculture sector produce enough for the nation. Alas, he is failing in that.

In fact, there is now a rice shortage and prices have increased drastically, bringing untold hardships to our people. Alcala claims there is no shortage and blames the rice traders for the price increases. If there is enough rice, where is it?

Hoarders, claims Alcala. Easy to say that. If you hoard rice too long, pests feast on it, the quality suffers, and you lose money on it.

The Bureau of Customs (BOC) has confiscated tons and tons of rice recently. It could have sold the rice to the National Food Authority (NFA) to replenish its stocks. But no, the BOC sold it at public auctions and the smugglers probably won the bidding. So the rice is back in the hands of smugglers. That is why smuggling has become a lucrative industry in the Philippines. If you are caught, you can get back your smuggled goods through public auctions.

Meanwhile, NFA has to import rice. And aside from the purchase price, it has to pay for shipping costs. So the cost of NFA rice rises, and NFA fails in its responsibility to have enough stocks to stabilize prices.

Had the smuggled rice been sold to it, NFA would not have to pay shipping costs because the rice is already here, and NFA can therefore sell it cheaper to consumers.

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Although a majority of senators (16) are already in favor of abolishing the pork barrel and the House of Representatives is circulating a statement asking the appropriations committee to delete the P25-billion appropriation for the PDAF, some congressmen are still fighting tooth and nail to retain their pork.

They claim that the pork has been helping their constituents by giving them scholarships and medical assistance. That may be true, but that is only a very small portion of the pork. The biggest portion goes to the pockets of lawmakers and to the bogus NGOs of Napoles.

The reason the pork barrel should be abolished is, it breeds corruption. It corrupts not only the lawmakers, officials and employees of agencies under the executive department and people like Napoles, but also a lot of others in even the private sector. Private contractors, the treasurers and cashiers who release the checks and funds, heads of agencies who sign the checks and release orders, chiefs of staff, secretaries and clerks are also corrupted.

There are government offices that handle scholarships and medical assistance, like the Department of Education and the Department of Health, and government hospitals. Why not give the funds directly to them instead of coursing the money through lawmakers?

But not the way the plotters in the House of Representatives want it. The move of the congressmen is to assuage the anger of the people but they would want to still retain their pork in a disguised form. The P25-billion pork barrel would be distributed to different government agencies but it would be reserved for projects to be chosen by the lawmakers. The lawmakers will have the right to recommend the use of these funds by their constituents. That is still pork barrel in disguise.

By all means, distribute the P25 billion to different government agencies but let them determine who or what entity should get a share of it based on merit, not just because lawmakers recommended them.

Why do lawmakers want that they themselves would be the ones to hand out doles to their constituents? Because that is a form of vote-buying. They expect the beneficiaries to vote for them during elections.

And that practice makes mendicants of our people. People run to politicians for alms at every excuse. They show dog-eared doctor prescriptions for medicines, death certificates for relatives (some beggars have relatives dying every month). They run to politicians for financial help during weddings, baptisms and birthdays. The begging has become a mild form of extortion. The politicians know that if they refuse to give money to constituents, not only will they lose votes, their rivals will get more support.

If we do not stop this practice, we will become a nation of mendicants.

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