The mother of all corruption scams
The challenge posed by Sen. Panfilo Lacson to President Duterte constitutes the ultimate test of whether the chief executive is serious in his anticorruption campaign.
Lacson declared on Feb. 5: “Mr. President, you have displayed your strong political will on several occasions. This time, use your line-item veto power over the 2019 appropriations measure by removing all the ‘pork’ inserted by lawmakers who are incorrigibly insatiable and simply ‘beyond redemption.’”
The challenge is couched in calibrated language that positively encourages Mr. Duterte to do the right thing. But behind the tempered words is a virtual question of fidelity which sounds this way: Mr. President, will you protect the people’s money or will you allow its wanton embezzlement by “insatiable” lawmakers?
The challenge portrays the President as having in his hand a weapon to do good—a line-item veto power to remove from the proposed 2019 national budget all pork insertions which lawmakers use to misuse people’s money. The challenge also portrays lawmakers who have drafted the budget as incorrigible offenders. The challenge further portrays Mr. Duterte as a leader with strong political will when he chooses to be so.
The battle lines have been drawn for the President, the villains have been identified, and the President is being exhorted to unsheathe his weapon and to use it.
The insertion of pork in the budget is the mother of all corruption scams, judging by the way Lacson details the monstrous amounts involved. Estimates of the total amount of pork in the 2019 budget are as high as a whopping P300 billion. Every single year, our national budget is bloated with humongous amounts of pork.
In fact, the P160 million of pork per congressperson exposed by Lacson is merely the tip of the iceberg. The said amount is largely for infrastructure projects. Word on the ground is that lawmakers earn percentage kickbacks or other forms of benefit from all national budget funds that flow into their respective congressional districts, and which usually amount to billions of pesos. Favored lawmakers earn more than P100 million per year in kickbacks, or more than P300 million for a single three-year term.
Lacson and a very few other lawmakers deserve the people’s support in their crusade for the abolition of pork from the national budget. There’s conspiratorial hush-hush among lawmakers on their pork barrel privileges, and the practice continues notwithstanding a Supreme Court decision declaring it unconstitutional.
Lacson is correct when he said it would take a “very strong” president who will go “hammer and tongs against pork barrel” to finally put a stop to this yearly source of massive corruption. He is also right in implying that it must be a president who will not be afraid of the threat of impeachment from pork-addicted lawmakers.
President Duterte fits the leader yearned for by Lacson. When Mr. Duterte assumed office fiercely declaring that his “fight against… corruption will be relentless and sustained,” lawmakers were reduced to meek lambs trembling in fear. It was the perfect timing for Mr. Duterte to end the pork barrel system. But he squandered a historic opportunity, and the mother of all corruption scams continues to thrive and grow three years into his presidency.
Last Friday, both houses of Congress finally ratified the 2019 national budget after a long wrangling on how to allocate pork among lawmakers—akin to “hatian ng pizza pie,” as Lacson described it. Congress rejected the cash-based budgeting system that had been proposed by government economic managers as a scheme to minimize corruption.
When the 2019 national budget is submitted for his approval, President Duterte will have another chance to demonstrate, by real action, where he stands on the issue of corruption. If there is one area where the President’s overbearing ways are welcome, it is in reining in what Lacson describes as lawmakers who “need massive detox and full rehab… in their addiction [to] money.”
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