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As I See It
Can Aquino really stop corruption?

By Neal Cruz
Philippine Daily Inquirer - 5/26/2010

Whether it is on the dining table or the national budget, pork is bad and unhealthy. In the body, it clogs the coronary arteries with cholesterol and leads to heart attacks. In the national budget, it fills up the pockets of congressmen with illicit money that belongs to the taxpayers. Even before he assumes the presidency, the pork barrel is already a problem with Noynoy Aquino. It is the age-old problem of thieves fighting over loot.

This is the problem: Noynoy won on a promise of change. People hearkened to his promise that he would eradicate corruption. “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap” (If there are no corrupt people, there would be no poor people) is his slogan. And since most Filipinos are mired in poverty from which they are trying to get out, the people believe that at last here is a messiah who is going to deliver them from poverty.

“Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap.” Sounds like Erap’s “Si Erap para sa mahirap,” but Noynoy’s slogan gives the people an idea of what causes their poverty: corruption. And what is more corrupt than the pork barrel?

The pork barrel is the appropriation in the national budget disguised as Countrywide Development Fund and Priority Development Assistance, but are actually a bribe to legislators. The fund is used for projects of congressmen and senators such as roads and bridges, schoolhouses, puericulture centers, basketball courts, waiting sheds, etc. Each senator gets P250 million a year and each congressman P70 million a year in pork barrel. There are at least 250 congressmen, including party-list representatives, and 24 senators. Do the arithmetic and you have an idea of how much of the people’s money is wasted on the pork barrel.

If all the billions and billions of pesos in pork barrel funds is used for public works projects year after year, the entire Philippines would be crisscrossed by concrete highways and there would be no shortage of classrooms every time schools open, as will happen two weeks from now.

But only a small portion of those pork-barrel funds actually goes to the projects. The rest goes into the pockets of members of Congress, public works engineers, private contractors, auditors, cashiers, clerks, etc. The pork contaminates everybody’s hands with unhealthy fat.

For decades, the people have clamored for the abolition of the pork barrel. It is one of the main causes of corruption and waste of the people’s money. Even before I became a journalist, the press was already fighting the pork barrel, but like cigarette smoking, it is very difficult to give up.

Now comes Noynoy Aquino promising heaven for the believers and hell for the sinners. Like a thoroughbred, he comes with a pedigree. His father is a national hero; had he not been assassinated, he would have become president. His mother became the president instead, and she was so loved by the people they would have made her a saint had they the power to do so.

That’s what made people believe in Noynoy. All candidates promise heaven and earth to the voters but Noynoy is different: he comes from good stock. He is the son of Ninoy and Cory, like Superman is the son of Jor El. How can he go wrong?

Now comes his first test: the pork barrel. What will he do with it?

He can abolish it and, in so doing, abolish most corruption and save trillions of pesos that otherwise would be stolen. Imagine what those trillions can do towards the abolition of poverty: a home for every squatter, schools for all students, hospitals for the sick, roads and bridges, financial assistance to the farmers and fishermen, jobs for the jobless. In other words, Heaven with a capital H.

But how will President Noynoy entice senators and congressmen to join his coalition, elect his chosen speaker and Senate president if he doesn’t have the pork barrel with which to bribe them? How can he make them go to Malacaņang where he can ask them to do this do and that if he doesn’t have shopping bags filled with money like President Macapagal-Arroyo used to do. This is the surest way for the president to control members of Congress. He either bribes cooperative ones with pork or punishes uncooperative ones by freezing the release of their pork. It is like beating the feeding trough to make the pigs believe that food is coming and then not putting any slop there. The squeals of the hungry hogs are painful to the ears, and that is what we will hear from members of Congress if the president does not release their pork allocations.

But already Arroyo is getting ready to fight Noynoy for control of the pork barrel. She warned the incoming president that there is a provision in the P1.54 trillion 2010 national budget that prohibits the president from impounding pork barrel funds without the approval of Congress. For the first time, control of the pork will be in the hands of the speaker, and that is the position that Arroyo may run for next. (She said she is not running for speaker, but do you believe her?)

And it turns out that Noynoy himself had filed a bill in the Senate that prohibits the president from withholding the release of budget allocations. In short, President Noynoy cannot use the pork as a carrot to attract members of Congress to elect his chosen Senate president and speaker, and pass his legislative agenda. What a quandary Noynoy has boxed himself in.

So I don’t expect President Noynoy to get anywhere in the anti-corruption drive, at least in the first year. Many people would be disappointed. The poor would still watch helplessly as the corrupt run laughing all the way to the banks abroad.

Copyright 2010 Philippine Daily Inquirer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

The Politics of Pork

Leonor Magtolis Briones
The rallying cry of the Noynoy-for-President campaign was “No to corruption!” It was a campaign line which many Filipinos responded to. Many voted for him on the assumption that he would take concrete steps against corruption. Now that the elections are over, those who voted for him are asking how he can fulfill his campaign promise of “no to corruption” even as he seeks answers to the formidable challenges confronting his administration. Challenges to the new administration As the day of Noynoy’s inauguration draws near, the media have been trying to identify the challenges to his administration. Speculations are rife about the composition of his Cabinet, especially his economic team. I myself have been interviewed by the media on what awaits Noynoy’s presidency. The list is long. The rebuilding of government institutions is a difficult challenge. During the past decades, many of the institutions which formed the warp and woof of governance have been steadily eroded and weakened. These include the Legislative branch of government, the Executive, the Judiciary, the government corporate sector and even independent institutions. Worse, the erosion of public trust in these institutions has led to cynical public acceptance and toleration of inefficiency and corruption. Concerns have been expressed about political stability in the light of the protests, cases filed and complaints about cheating, violence and vote-buying during the last elections. We all know that disturbances in the political system have repercussions on the economy. Foreign investors want a stable environment. More important, citizens want an environment of peace and justice so they can move on with their lives. Public finance The most urgent problem facing the new administration is in the arena of public finance. A huge fiscal deficit awaits Noynoy. At the end of the first quarter alone, the deficit already ballooned to over P100 billion. Serious revenue shortfalls were covered by massive borrowing. At the end of the first half of the year, it is expected that deficit levels will be much higher than targeted, since these were spurred by excessive election spending. Because of the huge fiscal deficit which is right now funded by borrowing, the levels of public debt are rising inexorably. How will Noynoy and his advisers resolve the deficit? Everyone agrees that borrowing will not be a sustainable solution and that increases in revenue will tame the deficit. The issue is: Who will bear the burden of the deficit? As recommended by the International Monetary Fund, should it be the Filipino consumers, many of whom are poor? If this is Noynoy’s answer, then an increase in value-added tax rates will provide the much-needed additional revenue. The issue of equity will surely be raised by a disappointed and enraged public. If he wants to fulfill the constitutional mandate for a progressive system of taxation, then Noynoy will have to rationalize the perks and incentives which are given to the private sector. Noynoy will have to choose between the millions who look to him for relief from poverty and those who probably contributed to his campaign. Indeed, who will bear the burdens of the Noynoy administration? The politics of pork In the public mind, pork barrel is associated with abuse and corruption. When Butch Abad announced that pork barrel would be used as “pressure point” to ensure a pliant Congress, he was announcing a typical tradpol strategy which GMA practiced with impunity. Does the use of the politics of pork make the Liberal Party any different from the GMA, as well as earlier administrations? If the politics of pork and the corruption associated with it will be used as a tool by the Liberal Party, what does it mean for its election slogan of “no to corruption”? Rep. Edcel Lagman has pointed out that the 2010 pork barrel of congressmen cannot be impounded because of Section 67, “Prohibition Against Impoundment of Appropriations” in the Appropriation Act. The veto message of the President actually imposed a conditional veto on this provision. It refers to additional appropriations approved by Congress in lieu of debt service. It must also be determined whether this provision also applies to pork barrel. The best way to determine whether President Arroyo honored the impoundment provision or actually withheld the pork barrel of the opposition in 2010 is to check the records of DBM. The elections are just over and there are already indications that the promise of genuine reform might be derailed and that the politics of pork is alive and well.

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