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There’s the Rub

Bottom of the barrel

/ 10:59 PM October 22, 2013

Frankly, I can’t understand Malacañang’s reticence about scrapping pork. A movement to that effect is being spearheaded by former Chief Justice Reynato Puno and is gaining popular support. They’re calling for a people’s initiative to enact a law to stop the pork barrel, arguing that the people cannot rely on Congress to do that, and that Congress will not “legislate against its own self-interest.”

Asked how the administration is taking this, Abigail Valte replied: “We have no worries. In any democracy, that is part of the Constitution. They are free to pursue any means or measure that they feel will push their advocacies forward. But in principle, the administration supports proposed legislation that aims to strengthen institutions mandated to safeguard public funds.”

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It’s really so much better to just say the administration is still studying it, or, even better, plain opposed to it. This one is not an answer, and the people won’t fail to hear the equivocation, if not the hint of humoring them.

I’m tempted to say that pork is doing P-Noy a lot more harm than good, but I am at pains to see the good. Whereas the harm is everywhere. Let me count the ways:

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One, this initiative isn’t coming from shadowy creatures that live in the dark, it’s coming from people who live in the light. Puno has the credentials. Whatever you say about him—and the PAL flight attendants for one will have much to say about his being beholden to Estelito Mendoza, which cost them their back pay—he also has a record of going against Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who appointed him. Not least on the issue of executive privilege: He dissented against the majority decision upholding it. To suggest that he and company do not really know what they are talking about, that they should leave pork to the wisdom of Malacañang, is to court disaster.

Two, it makes P-Noy himself an open target, putting a cross-hairs sign on his back. Up until the Million People March last Aug. 26, he had pretty much dodged the bullet or the public outcry over pork. He wasn’t the cause of it, it was Janet Napoles and the senators and congressmen who were implicated with her. And by extension Gloria under whose watch they had plied their dark trade. The marchers were clear: They were against pork, not P-Noy.

What changed things was P-Noy’s refusal to scrap it. What changed things was his insistence to reform it. The change wasn’t slow, it was swift. By the next two rallies, the marchers were laying the blame right at his feet. By the next two rallies, the marchers were calling him, arguably with much fanning by his enemies, “Pork King.” But the logic was as inexorable as it was simple: You do not abolish a perceived abomination, you perpetuate it.

The exposure of two things made things worse. A lot, lot worse. One was the P50-million additional Priority Development Assistance Fund given to the senators who voted against Renato Corona in his impeachment, the revelation made by a desperate Jinggoy Estrada. The other was the creature from the blue lagoon called the Disbursement Acceleration Program. Both didn’t just show the administration to be coddling pork, both showed it to be aiding and abetting pork. Both didn’t just put Butch Abad in the line of fire, both put P-Noy in the line of fire.

Three, skirting, resisting, or going against the widespread public clamor against pork will wreak havoc on the daang matuwid. The heart of the P-Noy administration is the daang matuwid. That has been the source of its strength, that has been the source of its power. That has been the good to the past regime’s evil. The administration doesn’t scrap pork and that daan will look like something in the aftermath of a storm or earthquake, overrun by tree and undergrowth.

It’s one thing to buck public opinion simply because it is public opinion, simply because it is popular. That is the principled thing to do. P-Noy is right to say that the nice thing about having a single term is that you don’t have to please anyone, you need only do the right thing. But it’s another to buck public opinion that’s not just popular but also reasonable. The P50 million and the DAP are neon signs that warn against the temptations, or outright dangers, of pork: If those things can happen to the best of them, they can happen to the worst of them. Bucking public opinion then is not principled, it is foolhardy.

It won’t just put P-Noy himself in the line of fire, it will put the daang matuwid itself in the path of a storm.

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And fourth, whatever for? That’s the astonishing thing. P-Noy doesn’t need pork, he is not seeking another term. He doesn’t need pork, he can get the senators and congressmen to do what he wants not by getting them behind him but by getting the people behind him. If his purpose is true and good, like impeaching Corona, the people will back him. He doesn’t need pork, he need not pursue his agenda behind the prying eyes of the public, he can always do it under the glare of their scrutiny: If that agenda is lofty and inspiring, they will fly their banners behind it. That is how legacies are made.

He doesn’t need pork, but his people do. Mar Roxas and Butch Abad do. The Liberal Party does.

They’re the ones who want another six years, they’re the ones who dream of another six years. They’re the ones who need to keep the senators and congressmen happy so they’ll support them. They’re the ones who need the money to get the politicians to support them. The question is whether P-Noy will remain true to the vision that made him soar or to the cabal that made him sink. Unfortunately, he seems to believe those two are one and the same, the latter the extension of the first. Which makes him need pork, too.

His people may think it grand. But most of us, that’s just scraping the bottom of the barrel.

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TAGS: Butch Abad, estelito mendoza, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Janet Napoles, Mar Roxas, Million People March, pork barrel, pork barrel scam, Renato corona, Reynato Puno
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