Now that plunder and malversation charges have been filed against Napoles, Enrile, Revilla, Estrada et al., the people are closely watching what will happen next. Those who said that the antipork barrel movement is composed only of the middle class are wrong. Even the poorest of the poor are interested.
Whenever I ride a taxicab, I engage the drivers in conversation to gauge their feelings. A question inevitably asked about the pork barrel scam was: “Sir, may makukulong ba (will anyone go to jail)?”
The question illustrates the skepticism of the people regarding our justice system. They have seen in the past how the rich and influential manage to escape the punishments of the law. They cannot imagine the three senators and two ex-representatives going to jail. The small fry may go to jail, but not the big fish. Even Janet Lim-Napoles, alleged mastermind of the P10-billion pork barrel scam that started it all, told her employees that she expected to be “acquitted in four to five years.”
Yesterday, our househelp asked me: “Sir, bakit pag ordinaryong tao, sa city jail kinukulong, pero pag mayaman, sa special na kulungan (why are ordinary people detained in the city jail but the rich ones have special accommodations)?” She was obviously referring to the former president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, being detained in a suite at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City and Napoles in a bungalow in a police training camp in Sta. Rosa, Laguna. Will someone please answer that question?
And where would the three senators and the two ex-representatives (with more coming, according to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima) be detained if warrants are issued for their arrest? Will the government build more bungalows in Laguna? At the rate VIPs are being haled to court, hospitals, which are the favorite sanctuary of felons, may have to build separate wings for privileged detainees.
And the Department of Justice should alert the Bureau of Immigration on other VIPs who may be charged. Several of Napoles’ coaccused have already flown the coop.
* * *
Parts of the pork barrel scam may have been accounted for, but the pork barrel is still very much alive. Like vampires, the pork system refuses to die. Which is an apt description because the felons are sucking the blood of taxpayers.
The House of Representatives has made a big deal of abolishing the Priority Development Assistance Fund, the official name of the pork barrel, but it is still alive in the budget, in still another disguise. Through the years the pork barrel has undergone many transformations, but it remains a source of corruption and patronage.
This time, the House has distributed the P25-billion pork barrel budget to several executive agencies, specifically the Departments of Public Works and Highways, of Education, of Health, and of Social Welfare and Development.
You think the money is already out of the reach of lawmakers? Not a chance. They can still recommend beneficiaries to the executive agencies, which will use the additional budget from the PDAF for the lawmakers’ projects. That’s still the old pork barrel system in action. That’s still political patronage. As ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio and other party-list representatives said, “It would just politicize the delivery of social services, since legislators would still be able to to exert influence on the use of the funds.”
I agree with Tinio et al. that “this whole culture of recommendations and referrals from high-ranking public officials politicizes the delivery of social services.”
“It’s just as greasy and teeming with pork,” said Gabriela Rep. Luz Ilagan. “The mere fact that legislators still have the discretion to choose which projects to endorse is proof that the pork barrel is very much alive.”
“The entitlement to nominate is what transforms a fund into pork,” said Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares.
Those still fighting a rear-guard action for the pork barrel argue that the national government cannot know all the needs of far-flung communities, which are where the House members’ projects come in.
But that is why there are development councils in the regional, provincial, city and municipal levels. Why not use them? These councils are composed of local government officials, including congressmen. The councils discuss projects for their respective communities. Congressmen can propose their projects in these councils; when meritorious, the projects will be endorsed to the proper implementing agency.
The councils were established to avoid duplication of projects and the waste of taxpayers’ money. There are many instances when the congressman and the governor or mayor have similar projects, with each vying for credit, thus wasting the people’s money. The development councils are supposed to prevent that. Try them.
Lawmakers must not forget that their job is to make laws, not to be imitation Cabinet departments. The Constitution does not give them the authority to implement projects. That is the job of the executive branch.
But why do lawmakers insist on having their pork barrel? Because it is a rich source of kickbacks from contractors and suppliers and, yes, from scam artists. In fact, many politicians run for Congress because of the pork barrel. It is a source of corruption that is causing the rot of Philippine society.
* * *
Readers who keep asking me about the next gig of singer Margaux Salcedo, here it is: Sept. 25, a Wednesday, at the Manila Hotel, starting at 9 p.m. That’s exactly a week from today.
Margaux will sing old favorites. Happy listening.