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There’s the Rub

A bad time

/ 07:56 PM October 07, 2013

It was the complaint of several speakers in last Friday’s rally in Ayala. That government was prosecuting Janet Lim-Napoles and the senators and congressmen who conspired with her to defraud the public of P10 billion was well and good. That none of them were current government officials and allies was unwell and bad. It spoke of selective perception. It spoke of selective morality.

Come now Joker Arroyo and Miriam Defensor-Santiago bolstering that argument. There’s someone in government, they say, who should clearly be joining the ranks of the prosecutable. His transgression may not have to do with the Napoles scam, but it has to do with pork as well. His offense may not have to do with outright pillage but it has to do with abuse of power as well.

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That someone is Butch Abad, the budget secretary. He is the inventor of the DAP or Disbursement Acceleration Program, a lump sum given in a, well, accelerated way to legislators. The need for it arose from government’s, specifically the Department of Budget and Management’s, experience in its first year-and-a-half of being reticent about public spending, causing the economy to contract. Freeing public spending, quite apart from other policies, almost immediately sent growth soaring.

Right diagnosis, wrong prescription, critics now say. Sure, spend more, but spend wisely. The DAP is a rotten way to spend. Any way you call it, it is pork. Any way you slice it, it is ham. The very thing the country now derides.

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In fact, says Arroyo, the DAP is illegal. Its creation was never authorized by Congress or by law. It was only justified by the Administrative Code, a thing none of the last four presidents ever used.

Joaquin Bernas and Ben Diokno agree. Malacañang, they say, has no authority to transfer items in the General Appropriations Act from one department to another. Santiago agrees with them too, and charges that the giving of DAP funds to the senators who voted to convict Renato Corona is bribery, its author deserving of prosecution. “You can see the criminal mind of the one who thought of this,” she said of Abad.

What to make of all this?

Well, first off, a sense of proportion. Arroyo and Santiago are not exactly the most credible persons to talk about law and morality and what needs to be done with public officials who flout them monstrously. Their utter silence, if not blindness, to the doings of the second most corrupt despot in this country, including the theft not just of money but of the vote, not just of the Treasury but of the Palace, testifies to it. There’s something way, way off-key when you see people finding everything wrong with P-Noy and nothing wrong with Gloria.

Proportion does matter. Scale does matter. Size does matter.

But of course too when the pot calls the kettle black, the pot may be accused only of hypocrisy, not of defective eyesight. Or, more properly in this case, when the Ampatuans call the Reyeses murderers, they may be accused only of myopia, not of total blindness.

The people who call for Abad’s head have something going for them. The DAP may pale before Napoles’ scam, it may pale before the Malampaya scam, it may look like a molehill against the mountain of the past regime’s crookedness. But it looms large against the canvas of P-Noy’s anticorruption campaign, it cuts a wide detour in P-Noy’s  daang  matuwid. The problem won’t go away, whether the effort to make the public notice it comes from pure or impure motivations, from tainted or principled reasons. The least Abad can do is resign to spare his boss the embarrassment or loss of esteem in the public’s eyes. The most Abad can do is to appear before the Ombudsman for being a bad boy.

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Abigail Valte defends him by saying, “What is important in this case is not just the fund but if there is misuse.” Not really. The point is whether the fund itself has a right to exist, its use or misuse being just secondary. It’s like Edgardo Angara’s creation of his own NGO where he put part of his PDAF into. The point is that a senator putting up his own NGO, not to speak of putting his pork there, does wrong. Or indeed does crime. Whether he used his pork wisely or not—and the waywardness of the primordial act raises serious questions about it—is incidental. It merely constitutes possible additional ground for prosecution.

You can always justify the most patently unethical, or wrong, thing. Abad has. His daughter currently heads the Presidential Management Staff, giving the country to see a father-and-daughter team holding gatekeeping positions in government. Is his daughter qualified for the position? Maybe. Is she the only, or most, qualified person for the position? No. Greed takes many forms. This is one of them.

Just as well, Abad has poured hundreds of millions of pesos into Batanes, a small place that storms like to visit. Is Batanes deserving of uplift as one of the country’s fairly depressed areas? Yes. Is Batanes the only, or most ravaged, area deserving this scale of uplift? No. Again, there’s greed and there’s greed. This is another one of them.

The first doesn’t speak well of his character, the second of  his ability to husband resources. And now this.

What fate lies in store for him, however, remains a question mark. The P-Noy administration is the only administration whose people do not ask to take a bullet for their president, they ask their president to take a bullet for them. One thing is clear, which is that the fate of the government’s prosecution of Napoles and the erring senators—no, more than that, of its  daang  matuwid  itself—rests on how well it resolves its present crisis with the DAP and its uses. The best position from which to throw a stone, as the bishops like to preach but are loath to practice, is being reasonably sinless.

A good thought for a bad time.

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