For whom the bell tolls
I had hoped the bells would ring a little more loudly and a little more widely than they did last Friday noon. The call for the ringing of the bells came from the Church People’s Alliance against Pork Barrel early last week, whose very name suggested what it wanted the bells rung for. Several churches in Bataan responded, though their collective sound was barely heard even in Bataan. But hope springs there’s always a next time, possibly with the participation of the Metro Manila churches themselves.
Shortly before last Friday, there was a bit of verbal sparring between Church and State. “We are sending the message that pork barrel should be abolished because it has become the deadly instrument of corruption,” said Bataan Bishop Ruperto Santos. “In its place, we should have a more effective, direct and clean way of delivering service, assistance and justice to our people, especially the poor.”
To which Edwin Lacierda replied: “Ring the bells against corruption. Ring the bells against those who stole the money in the PDAF, those who diverted the money to the (Janet) Napoles NGOs.”
Well, the one does not contradict the other, the one does not preclude the other. You can ring the bells against both. And other things besides.
I agree with the struggle to stop pork completely. It has become indefensible in both theory and practice. The last straw on its back was the use of the DAP funds to reward the senators who voted against Renato Corona with P50 million additional PDAF. Arguably, removing the one person that stood in the way of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s prosecution was a welcome move. But the means left much to be desired. It drove home the point that if the best of them could be tempted to use pork to cut corners, the worst of them would not need any temptation at all to use it to obliterate those corners completely. The senators in the Napoles scam showed the extent to which the obliteration could be wrought.
The theory itself is flawed. At the very least, the legislators are not the best people to know the needs of their localities, they are the worst. As studies show, where they do not plow their pork into their own pockets, they plow them into high-profile but not high-impact projects in urban, vote-rich areas to assure reelection or the successful foray of their children into politics. At the very most, we retain pork on the ground that the current President is reasonably trustworthy and won’t abuse it or allow others to abuse it, and even if that were possible, what happens after he goes? The power to use, misuse, and/abuse won’t just end with him, it will pass on to others. Who may not exercise the same restraint.
While at this, an important caveat. “We should have a more effective, direct and clean way of delivering service to the poor,” says Bishop Santos. Ah, but there’s the rub: What is that way? That’s really what we ought to be furiously debating now alongside the furious demands for the scrapping of pork. It’s what we ought to ring the bells for, even if it is more of an imperative than a threat. What do we install in place of pork? Time to drop the suggestions in the complaint box. I’ll put mine at another time.
Lacierda is right about one thing: You want to ring the church bells, the alarm bells, the Balangiga bells, ring them at the Napoles scam. That isn’t just the right perspective, that’s the urgent perspective. It’s urgent because the startling thing is that overnight, the focus of public attention has shifted from Napoles and the senators and congressmen who figured in her scam to government itself. Doubtless government has given them some reason to. But that reason pales before the blinding one of the Napoles scam. That reason is a molehill beside the Mt. Everest of the legislators sending taxpayer money into the black hole of Napoles NGOs. And their pockets of course.
Overnight, the issue has turned from epic corruption, wrongdoing, and betrayal of public trust to questions about the ethics and legality of the DAP. Overnight, the social and mainstream media have slackened on Janet, Jinggoy, Bong, and Johnny or stopped dead in their tracks like a deer caught in the headlights, staring only at the DAP, blinking only at Malacañang’s conduct in the impeachment. Overnight, the public itself has stopped seething at Janet, Jinggoy, Bong and Johnny, demanding that they be brought to the dock to face justice. Overnight, no one is thundering that if found guilty they be punished, they be made to return their loot, that is not their money, that is our money.
It’s enough to make you believe their PRs are working overtime, though it has to be said for them that they know how to do their job, even if that job, which is to bury the scandal in a not very shallow grave, buries the people. Certainly it’s been enough to put government on the defensive, though that must reflect badly on its own communications arm, which is far bigger than any of its detractors’ PRs, however big-time they are. Surely government is not without means to fight back? Surely government is not powerless to straighten what’s been twisted, to set what’s been skewed aright? To wit, deal the monstrously wicked first and the marginally so only second.
That is what you need to ring the church bells for. That is what you need to ring the alarm bells for.
While at this, the Church might also want to ring its bells for its bishops who told us not too long ago to “move on” in the face of “Hello Garci” and other atrocities, the same bishops who now tell us to move on with Janet, Jinggoy, Bong and Johnny, but to stop, halt, refuse to budge over the DAP. John Donne did know a thing or two: “Therefore, send not to know for whom the bell tolls.
“It tolls for thee.”
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