(This article was first published in print in issue 7 of the Philippine Collegian on 2 August 2013.)
Perhaps the P10-billion pork barrel scam is only the latest addition to the government’s notorious portfolio on corruption.
The recent exposé that involved businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, who allegedly benefitted from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of several senators and congressmen was hardly a surprise. If anything, such an anomaly only validated what has long been known of the government— self-serving and corrupt.
Much media hubbub has surrounded the controversy, which has polarized public opinion into at least two camps—to junk or retain the PDAF while instituting reforms in implementation— most of the time, simplistically reducing the issue to the junk-revise dichotomy. Such an outcry is perfectly understandable considering the P27 billion PDAF in the national budget, an amount as vast as it is prone to abuse.
What’s often left out is the systemic nature of the PDAF and its vile role in the country’s political-economic setup of shortage and patronage. That ultimately, an unchallenged, almost conventional wisdom underlying the pork barrel scheme stems from a grand scandal, where the government is unable to serve the general welfare of its constituents; and instead of fulfilling such responsibility, the best the system could do was to give politicians ultimate discretion on how to spend public funds.
The political implications of the PDAF or any other funds hinged on individual discretion are of course beyond standard graces. Reports of strategic usage of such funds to perpetuate hold on political power have long sealed the dominant impression on pork barrels as an economic leverage rather than a development tool whose noble end-goal is to improve the lives of Filipinos.
It is thus unsurprising that the pork barrel system survived for decades despite perennial and valid criticisms against its vulnerability to corruption and key role in animating patronage politics. Everything fits fine for those who privately gain from public coffers, who would latter indecently claim ownership to such funds by favouring beneficiaries and patrons based on personal whims.
Just a few months ago, although a completely different background story, issues over misuse of funds and ethical conduct hounded the remainder of then-Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile’s tenure.
After all, the pork barrel in whatever form, reinforces the feudal relations prevalent in Philippine society in which legitimate rights only become accessible insofar as it is compatible with the interests of the self-serving elite holding public office.
Even the self-proclaimed champion of good governance himself, Pres. Benigno Aquino III made his position clear to maintain the pork barrel, which has earned a reputation as a stable source of corruption. As a response that befits the anti-corruption stalwart, Aquino ordered his administration to conduct an “exhaustive, fair and impartial” investigation. Yet, similar initiatives in the past speak for itself in truly delivering results.
With all his pretensions of “daang matuwid,” Aquino didn’t even mention such an issue in his State of the Nation Address—perfectly understandable, lest he wishes to earn the ire of Congress. Not incidentally and unsurprisingly, Aquino himself is silent on funds under his own discretion.
Halfway through his term and beset by perennial problems of high commodity prices, low salaries and unemployment, it is increasingly becoming clear that Aquino’s much-hyped anti-corruption crusade failed at two levels: to eradicate corruption as the supposed “root” of poverty, and bring genuine change to the impoverished majority.
Indeed, the PDAF system, with its inherent susceptibility to corruption and abuse, reflects the imbalance of power in the state. The highly regarded checks and balances between branches of governments is clearly a farce in the face of exchanging economic benefits for political gains.
More so, to continue defending the retention of PDAF in the face of “scarce resources” of precious government funds reeks of hypocrisy and utter disregard to public interests. Never mind that for the longest time, the budget for social services in which the people directly benefit suffer insufficient funding. Never mind that these same bureaucrats adhere on neoliberal paradigms at the expense of people’s welfare and beefing up their pockets.
Such a morally bankrupt system is beyond redemption. With all the evidences and experiences that have fortified the people’s perception on the PDAF, the logical—and moral—way forward lies in junking this widely discredited scheme and explore alternatives that can redeem whatever decency is left of the government. ●
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