THE TENS of thousands who joined the Million People March at Rizal Park last Aug. 26 were proof of a citizenry angered by the pork barrel scam. What is surprising is the relative silence of the business community vis-à-vis the raging scandal, save for a few statements “strongly [supporting] initiatives seeking to do away with the PDAF.”
Information from the ongoing Senate inquiry into the Priority Development Assistance Fund has indicated that billions of pesos in public money were channeled to questionable nongovernment organizations ostensibly to benefit certain lawmakers. This could have easily roiled the business groups into lambasting the abuse of taxpayers’ money by the very people tasked with safeguarding it. However, only a few of these groups have publicly denounced the behavior of the lawmakers implicated. The outspoken Makati Business Club joined the Transparency and Accountability Network, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, Citizen’s Congress for Good Governance, and Bishops-Businessmen’s Conference on Human Development in issuing a statement last Aug. 17 that the highest priority for the government now should be to strengthen existing safeguards to ensure the judicious use of not only the PDAF but also other sources of public funds that finance or subsidize small and big-ticket projects. “We thus strongly support the conduct of an impartial and comprehensive investigation into the issue and call on those connected to the scam, whether a private citizen or a public figure, to submit themselves to such a probe,” they said.
Last week, the Chamber of Commerce of the Philippine Islands (CCPI), which called itself the oldest business support organization in the country, went a step further and urged the government to abolish the pork barrel in all its forms and names and “convict all those linked to the scam of misusing the controversial fund.” In its statement dated Sept. 5, it noted that the pork barrel was another “pernicious example” of the country having “a wayward governance—a nation betrayed.” In a letter to members, CCPI president Jose Luis Yulo Jr. said the pork barrel scam was “yet another example of how we have strayed from being a leader in Asia next to Japan, to one among the bottom of the pit.”
The only other time that we recall the business groups going public on the issue was when President Aquino announced that his administration was doing away with the PDAF but that lawmakers would retain the privilege of choosing projects and allocating funds for these undertakings that, henceforth, would be itemized in the budget. Miguel Varela, president of the influential Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, lauded the President’s move but said businessmen expected the government to lay down guidelines for appropriations and fund releases. Melito Salazar, president of the Management Association of the Philippines, suggested that the new mechanism for financing congressional projects be made open to public scrutiny. He said the public was angry not just over the misuse of the PDAF but also over the corruption that came with the use of the pork barrel during the Arroyo administration.
But why was there no remark whatsoever on the reported involvement of certain legislators in the scam? Why the tepid—some say safe—response from the business community in general? What do the employers’ group, the exporters’ association, or even the various foreign chambers have to say about the whole scandal? The silence is truly ironic because corruption has emerged as a major issue or stumbling block to investor interest in virtually all business surveys through the years. Many business groups have perennially complained about corruption in the Bureaus of Customs and of Internal Revenue. They were very vocal on similar issues in the past.
Why are they not taking this opportunity to join hands with the citizenry in fighting to do away with a major source of corruption? Why are they on the sidelines, as though fearful of tangling with politicians?
The business community must rise to the challenge now and condemn the theft of taxpayers’ money by both private persons and public officials and push for the prosecution of all those involved in the scam. It cannot sit idly by. It should be as outraged as everyone else.