Benhur Luy’s appearance at the Senate last Thursday was an eye-opener in a far-ranging way. It raised a lot of questions, quite apart from imparting a lot of lessons.
One was to make us wonder if we’re not just looking at the tip of the iceberg. The pork scam alone is scary enough in itself. The questions of several senators about whether Janet Lim-Napoles was the real mastermind of the scam or whether she had a more powerful, though hidden, backer is worth dwelling on. As well indeed as the question, if not more so, of whether she was the only one engaged in the racket. Napoles had been plying her shadowy trade for the last 10 years. Surely her operations could not have remained in the shadows to the rest of the world, especially since, as Luy testified to, her services had come to the attention of the senators and congressmen by word of mouth? It’s a strange word of mouth that doesn’t catch the ears of other imaginative and more powerful crooks.
Even more especially since the rate of return on the enterprise was spectacular. You remember again the bundles of cash being stowed in Napoles’ bathtub for lack of a place to put them in. A rate of 40 percent on P200 million and P70 million, which are the senators’ and congressmen’s Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) per, is the sort of thing drug lords, gambling lords and warlords can only dream about. So how come nobody else horned in on the scheme?
Or didn’t they?
Two was to make us marvel at the utter waste of it. You recall the words of somebody who said “We are a rich country pretending to be poor.” There is a skewed sense in which that atrocious statement is true. We do have billions of pesos from taxes and borrowings, yet the bulk of the population exists in unbelievable gates-of-hell-type poverty. They are not pretending to be poor, they are poor, and they are so because their governors are pretending to be governing them while in fact they are screwing them.
The startling thing in Luy’s revelations is that now and then, a small portion of the PDAF trickles down to the real beneficiaries—talk of trickle down effects!—in the form of goods or services which are, however, overpriced, courtesy of Napoles’ own firms whence they come from—talk of business integration! It doesn’t lessen the evil, it etches it in stark outline. It drives home the fact that the hard rule, amid these soft exceptions, is for the entire amount to be lost in the bottomless pit of greed. Nothing reaches the constituent. You’re almost thankful for the crumbs that do.
It’s the contrast between grinding poverty—and never has “grinding” been more literal than in our case today, if you will only open your eyes and ears to it, as Cardinal Chito Tagle proposes—and gratuitous wealth, courtesy of the fencing off, arrogation, seizure of the means to alleviate it that take the breath away. It’s that vision, not unlike food being thrown into the garbage can in restaurants while street kids grovel outside, that has suddenly materialized before the public. No wonder they’re up in arms.
Three was to make us marvel at waste of yet another kind. Luy is pretty sharp and despite his participation in Napoles’ shady operation deserves the praise he’s gotten from the public. What he did, compromising not just his ritual kin or tita but some of the most powerful people of this country, was a brave thing.
Napoles herself is pretty sharp, whether she was the real mastermind of the scheme or not, and Luy is convinced she is so. For her to have conceived of it and run it for 10 years with an efficiency that puts corporations to shame speaks of exceptional talent, if not brilliance. And the senators and congressmen she ensnared into her plot or plan are even sharper, past masters in ways and means, in matters of law and politics.
So why is all this brain power being yoked to the service of crime rather than to doing good, to bringing the country down rather than to uplifting it? Matalino ang Pinoy: That’s not just something we say to make ourselves feel good, we see that when we go abroad, particularly in America, and excel there. Why is it that hereabouts we like to employ that katalinuhan largely toward these ends? Is it the system? Is it the culture? Whatever it is, look at the scale of perfidy in the Napoles scam alone—and despair. Or get furious.
Four was to confirm to us the immense value of televising hearings like this. I did say from the start it would be vastly educational, and it has been so. The argument that things like this will destroy the credibility of Congress is vapid. What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger, as Nietzsche said. A Congress that has weathered this storm will be far more credible. In any case, an institution deserves to exist only to the extent that it continues to prove it has a right to. Why should the survival of a Congress steeped in corruption be non-negotiable?
Quite apart from giving us a luminous picture of what the pork scam has been all about, the hearings on pork, particularly Luy’s appearance there, have been educational in a vital respect. They’re giving us an understanding of the concept of taxpayers’ money. It is something we, and not they, are entitled to. It is something we, and not they, own, in the same way that our meager bank deposits are something we, and not the banks, own. It is something we, and not they, ought to be able to use for our needs, and their denying it from us, their withholding it from us, is stealing.
That is what stops corruption, the people themselves refusing to be robbed. Luy’s appearance in the Senate is bound to precipitate a new wave of outrage, a new flood of protest, a new scurrying to occupy cyberspace and physical space. Well and good. That is how it should be.
That is how it should go.