What’s next for the ‘porkbusters’?
You could tell by the cut of their clothes and the scent of their body spray, not to mention their unburnt skin, that the people who joined last Monday’s protest march in Luneta against the pork barrel system were the same people who had joined Noynoy Aquino’s campaign rallies and motorcades in 2010. And had joined his mother’s funeral procession in 2009. And his father’s funeral procession in 1983, as babies and toddlers conscripted into their own parents’ cause. And the Edsa Revolution in 1986.
So why will Mr. Aquino deny the people who made him president, and reject their demand that he scrap the P25-billion Priority Development Assistance Fund in his proposed 2014 national budget?
Because if he does that, that budget will not pass. Without their pork barrel, the very members of Congress the President would be asking to approve a pork-free budget will have no funds to get reelected in 2016, or their wives or children elected in their place. Plain question, simple answer. (My granddaughter would say, Duh!)
The harder question is: Why does President Aquino have to replenish Congress’ larder with pork to get his 2014 budget passed? It’s a troublesome question for Mr. Aquino himself, for it invites an even harder one: Are there items in that budget that cannot withstand scrutiny? Which is what Congress is supposed to do, by tradition and by law—scrutinize how the President and his Cabinet intend to spend the people’s money.
There are, actually. So says former national treasurer Leonor Briones. In fact, she has found a few items there that did not withstand her own scrutiny, which she calls “vulnerabilities.” (She’s such a decent lady. I would have called them “anomalies.”)
One of those items pertains to special purpose funds and another to automatic allocations, amounting to P1.1 trillion when combined. More than four times the P25 billion that has sent people pork-busting, from cyberspace to Luneta. Professor Briones says those items do not go through the same rigorous examination as the budgets for departments and agencies. (Read her article for
yourself. Google “Three reasons why the 2014 national budget is prone to misuse.” And while you’re at it, I dare you to find anything written that says she can’t be believed.)
A similar situation occurs at the Bureau of Customs every day. If an import cannot withstand the collectors’ scrutiny, the importer gives them something to look the other way. It’s a deeply ingrained system in the bureau, they say, and Mr. Aquino has bowed to break it—and so far failed. Good luck, hoping that he would even try on his own to break the just as deeply ingrained pork barrel system in Congress, much less succeed.
So what can the “porkbusters” do next? Keep the pressure on, I think. Not on Congress but on Mr. Aquino himself. (Pressuring Congress to give up its pork would be as futile as trying to draw blood from stone. Or remorse from the soulless.) And not by blaming the pork barrel system on him but by blaming his government’s budget preparation system on his Cabinet. In the national budget process, Malacañang is the importer and Congress the Bureau of Customs. The people who prepare President Aquino’s annual “import” should properly declare each and every item, so they wouldn’t have to bribe the “collectors” to look the other way.
One thing going for the porkbusters is that the President is a man whose heart is in the right place. Breaking the pork barrel system, however, will take more than heart. It will take another part of the anatomy.
Then again, the President is the son of a man who braved a bullet, and of a woman who braved cancer for us, their people, both with scintillating grace. We can be certain that it runs in his veins, the courage to eventually break the pork barrel system for us, his bosses, with boldness and grace. Perhaps all the President needs right now is to hear the people’s cry for help.
It was our cry for help that summoned Ninoy from exile to deliver us from Ferdinand Marcos. (It was a cry muted by a repressive regime, but Ninoy was nothing if not sensitive to his people’s whimpering.) It was also our cry for help, this time expressed in anger and outrage, that summoned Cory from her sickbed to lend her awesome voice to our call for Gloria Arroyo to quit.
Last Monday’s protest marches around the country was a loud enough cry for President Aquino to break the pork barrel system, if not as a-million-voices-strong as previously billed. But it was not so clear how he might do it. Well, one way is for him to just do it. Submit a pork-free budget. Congress will play hardball and hold his budget hostage. But we can be certain that President Aquino will not blink, as his parents never did before much more daunting adversaries.
And if his budget secretary has done his freaking job—of preparing a budget that’s unassailable in scrutiny—President Aquino can be sure that the people will have his back.
In the meantime, his government can run on a “reenacted” 2013 budget. He won’t be getting the 14-percent increase he’s asking in his proposed 2014 budget, but that shouldn’t be too problematic. With all those efficiencies and frugalities he and his budget secretary keep claiming to have achieved, his government should still run well on “merely” P2 trillion.
Belts will have to be tightened here and there, of course, and the people will feel some pain. But it will be a very mild pain compared to the promise of a very large gain: After three years without pork, maybe half the members of Congress, probably more, will not be reelected in 2016! And they will be replaced by those who will be in Congress not because of pork, and not for the pork. Then Congress will soar, out of the gutter at least, if not yet to high heavens.
In one fell swoop President Aquino will bust the pork barrel system, break the vote-buying system, and topple political dynasties all over the land.
It will be Edsa again.
Romeo D. Bohol is a retired advertising copywriter.
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