Public Lives

What the pork barrel scam reveals about us


For more than 10 years, a good number of lawmakers, with the aid of the fixers who assisted them, were able to pocket the entire cash value of their Priority Development Assistance Fund, without anyone in government publicly protesting that there was anything wrong in what they were doing. That is astonishing. It reveals a high tolerance for corruption that contradicts all the norms of modern government enshrined in our Constitution. It exposes the feebleness of our institutional control systems.

No amount of tweaking can cure the loopholes in the system unless we begin to understand where corruption comes from, why it persists, or how it is maintained through time.

First of all, I think it is important to go beyond explanations that view corruption in simple moral terms—for instance, as the product of greed or evil or of a deeply flawed character. Such descriptions do not prod us to inquire into the social conditions that make this phenomenon possible. The word “corruption” itself has no analytical value. It doesn’t tell us what social factors drive it, and how it is able to engage the seeming cooperation of so many people. We must go beyond labels, and analyze the complex series of acts to which it refers. We need to ask how it is possible for something so despicable (as we view corruption from a distance) to elude detection and condemnation.  We need to know what it is about our society that makes corruption functional.

My own view, as a student of society, is that what is called corruption refers to a wide range of acts, many of which hide behind the veneer of public service. In general, corruption is a way of doing things that ignores the differentiation of functional responsibilities which one takes for granted in a modern society. Thus, almost all instances of corruption involve the abuse of power or prerogative. Office-holders overstep the boundaries of their formal duties, or allow others to take over or subvert the functions and decisions that rightfully belong to their office.

The motives behind corruption vary. Most people do it for the money or the power they derive from it. Others participate in it out of fear or pakikisama (social acceptance).  The range of possible motives is an interesting subject to study. But, my own interest is in knowing how people are able to carry it out in spite of the control systems supposedly in place.  How is it that others who are not themselves corrupt learn to tolerate it? It is remarkable that none of the whistle-blowers in the pork barrel scam are public officials. The practice could have continued undisturbed if Janet Lim-Napoles had not unwittingly triggered a whole train of events when she allegedly threatened and detained Benhur Luy. Benhur Luy himself might not have turned into a whistle-blower if his parents had not asked the National Bureau of Investigation to rescue him.

There are other equally remarkable things in this sordid affair. It is fair to assume, I think, that every lawmaker who has spent some time in Congress knows more or less how the PDAF is abused, and how easy it is for even the most honest among them to be tempted into misappropriating these funds. It is, of course, admirable that legislators like Sen. Panfilo Lacson and Sen. Joker Arroyo consistently refused to touch their PDAF. Yet, it is remarkable that neither one saw it fit to blow the whistle on their colleagues in such a way as to cause a serious investigation of its abuse.

Perhaps they thought it was futile to do so.  After all, the Supreme Court itself had previously ruled that the PDAF was legal, noting that the lawmakers’ participation in its utilization was limited to recommending projects. In theory, this was indeed a minor concession to lawmakers, not enough to violate the constitutional separation of legislative and executive powers. In practice, however, everyone knew that lawmakers were actively recommending not so much the projects as the contractors that would handle them. We now know that some lawmakers habitually funneled billions of pesos in public funds to moribund government corporations that were nothing but empty shells. It is remarkable that, with their retinue of researchers, they could pretend not to know that the implementing agencies and NGO contractors they chose were the least reliable partners they could possibly enlist if they had meant to put their PDAF to good use.

There were other “red flags” all over. They were seen, but willfully ignored. The executive agencies knew what was going on, but, in the general scheme of Philippine politics, they had reason not to raise a stink, unless the people above them were prepared to do battle. It is no joke crossing swords with lawmakers, who tend to close ranks when they feel their institution is under attack. Every lawmaker learns not only the art of shadow-boxing but also the all-important science of avoiding antagonistic confrontations that could boomerang while yielding little political value.

The Commission on Audit, on whose vigilance rests the government’s self-imposed pledge to be honest, legally has the power to demand complete liquidation reports for every peso of public money spent, but, unless it can draw support from other branches of government and from an awakened citizenry, it is no match against the power of legislators.

In sum, the pork barrel scam shows us the ugly side of a premodern political system that is basically unchecked by the rule of law, even as it has freed itself from the moral restraints (e.g., delicadeza and sense of honor) that used to bind rulers of an earlier time.

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  • judefawley

    This country’s social attitude remains Feudal. That’s why corruption is rampant. This country needs cultural overhaul. It needs reformation. You won’t understand this country unless you go to developed countries and study their culture, their way of living, their people’s general attitude and compare it to ours. Dr Jose Rizal would not have studied this country well had he not left it and headed for Europe. He would have nothing to compare this country with.

    You have to ask question like: What is the relationship between “general social attitude” and development? How come Japan developed so fast after World War 2? What is the relationship between Japanese people’s attitude and progress? What is the general philosophy of Japanese people that helped quickly developed their country coming from a wasteland?

    The problem with Philippines is that we follow an obsolete philosophy, that is, Scholasticism. The general attitude of Filipinos remain Feudalistic in nature. Power and dependency type of social relationship, which is the nature of Feudalism, continue to have strong influenced in Filipino people. We need to changed this. We need to be more individualistic.

    In the western countries like the US and Canada, children, at the early age, are encouraged to be independent. By the age of 16, they already live on their own! They have their own apartment. They pay their own bills. They have work. They are independent. How come this cultural attitude is not encouraged in this country?


    So much blah…blah…blah….Question answered by another question. The article is like one written by clueless high school student who got nothing in mind but just questions. The law and court rules supports corruption therefore the citizen has no other way but to go along with corruption too. This is what the law say’s = “Support Corruption”, who can go against the law? Only the few powerless True God fearing minds. They can not kill the lawyers for God commands “thou shall not kill”. What then shall we do? God enticed Jingoy to bring them all down.

    Citizens listen, be a true God believer then the country will save from the corrupt devils…. But then 70+ % of Catholics supports RH law. Do you still wonder why corruption prevails ??? ……

    • Matt Artagham

      Keep your own BS to yourself. On your way to Manila Cathedral to be a true God believer, do me a favor and pass by the banks of Pasig river. You will see homeless INFANTS! And in 20 years what are the chances that infant will be able to contribute to society? Very slim. That infant will just produce another infant adding to the viscoius cycle of mass poverty that feeds to thirst of these Corrupt devils you hate. That is why 70% of Catholics support the RH law. God too has a sense of logic. It is not fair for the infant to be born and not have any chances of basic things in life like a roof. Gone are the days of the blind belief of “go out and multiply”. Hello to contribute so mankind can live a dignified life. The Philippines is at least decades backwards in RH. Having said that, if you can afford to raise children and give them basic things to live a dignified life, no one will stop you from making them. You can fight corruption without professing religion. And professing religion will not stop corruption. Pumuta ka sa Bicutan lahat ng devils nagiging pastor. Talk about irony.

    • Matt Artagham

      Regarding your “nothing but questions” obviously too deep ang writer na Ito para sa yo. Obviously Hindi mo alam na Hindi lahat ng opinion writers dito sa pdi sinasabing diretso ang opinion nila. This writer is a school teacher who poses questions so people , whether they agree or disagree, to search inside about how they feel. And do not disrespect high schoolers. One thing we should do is to respect our children for what they are. With an open mind we can learn a lot of things about them and how we can guide them (not make them) to turn into happy and decent human beings. People let’s keep talking to our children as important members of society.

      • ARIKUTIK

        Thanks for the information, “the writer is a school teacher…” that explains it all why he writes like one talking to clueless kids who are not allowed to answer > “Hey, your a Donk, why ask us. What are you brainless?”. The most despicable though of this teacher IS > You must respect the school faculty, No Matter What. This was the message 99.99% of everything this writer is webbing as in all are monkeys except princes i serve. An endorser of “planet of the apes”, where monkeys rules over humans.

      • prodigality

        ah, religious morons. so consistent.

        80% of Filipinos call themselves Christian. Do you still wonder why corruption prevails “??? ……..”

      • Angelicus1

        Did you miss what Pope Francis recently said? That it is possible to go to Heaven without believing in God (much less the Catholic Church). Honest, Pope Francis said that. Go google it. 80% of Christian believing Filipinos cannot even behave in a moral way… that shows there is NO GOD in their hearts, regardless of Church attendance and all the Rosary beads and candles and paying lip service. Honest, the Pope thinks so.

    • Angelicus1

      Hey, you are True God believers already. How much more believing do you need? You are talking too much to God via the Catholic Church and you have been blind to things of this world. What’s worse, you guys have not done anything to stop corruption. What is your conscience like? Honesty, Integrity, Character… sometimes these are more important than throwing “bones” at the poor ( help them help themselves instead). No more doing a “to do list” to save yourself a seat in the Afterlife. This here Life on Earth should come First. Fix it. If you think everything is honky-dory because you’ve been an obedient Catholic, think again.

      • ARIKUTIK

        The kingdom of God is both heaven and earth. The land will not be destroyed until there is one true God believer. The church bell tolls to stop corruption, believers must support the church. The poor will remain with you for God dwells in their heart. Those who worship gold is where evil dwell. The cohorts of P.Noy maligns the church. Therefore P.Noy is evil and worshiper of gold. DAP is P.Noy’s Golden Calf.

  • Eustaquio Joven

    A citizenry that allows its government to grant P1.4B to an NGO for its alleged pro-poor programs without even giving it a quizzical eye, has lost its power of discernment and sense of priorities. It will be victimized by scams and scams without ever being able to do anything about it.

  • Angelicus1

    That the Pork Barrel scam has been allowed for decades is a testament to the BLINDNESS of the Filipinos.


      Pork Barrel had been despised for decades of long ago but now the church bell tolls calling for the believers to shun corruption. If they listen, there is salvation.

  • Anqui

    The scam on the PDAF has been part of political culture way back when we become an independent nation. It was from the money stolen by politicians to be reelected, and when they retire the torch was passed to members of the family. It become so apparent in the last decade that language “political dynasty” was borne when families like Estrada, Ortega, Arroyo, Garcia, Singson, and many more captures the headlines of newspapers.

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