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There’s the Rub

Inconvenient truths

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s revelation that her office has widened its investigation of lawmakers who misused their pork from 2007 onward, based on work by the Commission on Audit, drives home some inconvenient truths.

The first is that the exercise is, if not exactly like looking for 10 just men in Sodom and Gomorrah, gives a sensation not unlike it. “There are now,” says De Lima, who cochairs the Inter-Agency Anti-Graft Coordinating Council with Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, “teams of the field investigation officers working on a number of lawmakers who are part of the 180-plus over and above those who had already been charged.”

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Some 180 people are close to two-thirds the number of our congressmen. Even assuming that not all of them are congressmen, and not all of them are guilty, 180-plus is still an eye-popping number. Little wonder a group of baboons has also been called a congress.

Does this justify the complaint of Jinggoy Estrada, Bong Revilla and Juan Ponce Enrile that they are being singled out for persecution?

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Not at all. At the very least, the Janet Napoles case is a high-profile one and rightly so: The rip-off was mind-boggling, the pork almost entirely lost to Napoles and the participants in her racket. And the evidence against the three is more glaring, more direct, more damning. There are documents and witnesses aplenty to lock them up and throw the key into the sea.

At the very most, the dodge that others are just as guilty, if not guiltier, is just that: a dodge, or palusot. It’s really the silliest thing in the world, though that seems to be a favorite hereabouts. Whenever an official is accused of wrongdoing, his automatic response is to say that others are doing it, too, and worse. Well, the fact that others are guilty doesn’t make one innocent, it only makes the others prosecutable. The fact that others are guiltier doesn’t make one more innocent, it only makes the others more prosecutable.

Others have done the same thing and worse? We’ll get to them, too. There are the three Furies, De Lima, Morales, and Grace Tan, to hound them to the ends of the earth.

The second is to show how baneful the pork was. All this should settle once and for all the debate about pork. In theory, it was the most wonderful thing in the world. It allowed those reasonably close to their constituents to determine their needs and direct huge amounts of resources, paid for by the taxpayers at large, to them. Additionally, it expedited or fast-tracked services. In practice, all pork did for the most part was to expedite or fast-track corruption.

What made pork such a humongous bane was that it gave lawmakers a sense of entitlement to the money. In theory, the money wasn’t theirs, it was something temporarily entrusted to them to be used for the taxpayers themselves. In practice, it was theirs, to be used as they pleased, including dropped into the bottomless pit of their pockets. In theory, they were supposed only to give the general outlines of how their pork was to be used. In practice, they named the beneficiaries, the amounts to go to them, and often enough the people to implement them—or, as in the case of Napoles, to not implement them at all. In theory, they had only recommendatory powers over pork. In practice, they had complete control over it.

Like traffic lights in this country, the limitations on the uses of pork ended up being only a “suggestion.” The public was right to get incensed and rise to protest it late last year, even if a great deal of it was instinctive, even if a great deal of it was intuited. The extent of the rot, which the Department of Justice, COA and Office of the Ombudsman are trying to do something about today, testifies to it. In this country, invitations to corruption—and no invitation to it was more engraved than pork—are readily accepted.

The challenge remains to make sure pork does not metamorphose into, and materialize in, other forms.

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The third is the gigantic amounts involved in the pillage. In the case of National Agribusiness Corp. alone, four senators—the three implicated in the Napoles scam plus Edgardo Angara—and 79 congressmen are accused of using a total of P1.7 billion of their pork in questionable projects. The sum is so staggering it has taken the aspect of something abstract, unreal, ungraspable.

The only way, really, to have an idea of the magnitude and reprehensibility of this theft is to contrast it with the efforts of the Tacloban folk to rise from the rubble left by “Yolanda.” Not by depending on relief or the kindness of strangers but by dint of their own labor, by dint of their refusal to give up. Such as the Logatoc sisters, Gina and Gertrudes, who have organized 30 women in Guiuan to negotiate better terms with small lenders and to pool their resources. Such as Tess Policarpio who, though wiped out by Yolanda, is attempting to revive her handicraft shop after being importuned to do so by her weavers, and is seeing the first signs of recovery. Like the Logatoc sisters, she only wishes that the government could help her get lower-interest, if not interest-free, loans.

You look at the contrast between these two pictures and your blood boils. The one is inspiring beyond belief, the other is damnable beyond words. You have on one hand a mass of people impoverished by fate and devastated by providence, or the lack of it, heroically struggling to get back on their feet with a little help from their friends and government. You have on the other a tiny few living off the fat of the land, mindlessly lighting up their cigars with thousand-peso bills. That’s how you grasp the monstrosity of billions going up in smoke.

That’s not just an inconvenient truth, that’s an infuriating one.

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TAGS: column, Commission on Audit, Conrado de Quiros, Department of Justice, legislators, pork barrel scam, probe
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