I wrote this commentary for Philippine Online Chronicles.
Archbishop Jose S. Palma, D.D., outgoing President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), is inviting all groups and sectors opposed to the pork barrel system to join a national consultation on the people’s initiative on November 8-9 in Cebu City.
This endeavor seeks to unite the broadest number of people, sectors, and organizations against the pork barrel. First proposed by former Chief Justice Reynato Puno, the people’s initiative is seen by many as a way to push for the scrapping of the corruption-laden scheme.
This is in response to the growing realization that the President and his allies in Senate and Congress will do anything to retain their pork barrel as manifested in the railroaded approval of the pork-laden 2014 national budget and the President’s brazen defense of pork.
The Filipino people have to do it themselves.
A people’s initiative requires the gathering of the signatures of ten percent of all registered voters and three percent of registered voters of each legislative district in order to enact the abolition of all forms of pork barrel through popular mandate.
President Aquino’s Halloween “big announcement” broadcasted live on primetime television last October 30 is a desperate attempt to shore up his regime’s fortunes amidst its growing isolation in the midst of widespread disgust over systemic corruption in government.
Aquino wants us to believe that only former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and members of the opposition are stealing from the people using pork barrel while his very own Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) is not pork barrel.
Of course omitting that if by pork we mean discretionary lump-sum fund allocations that lack oversight mechanisms and is vulnerable to political maneuvering and corruption then the schemes fall under such a definition.
“Stealing is the issue here. I am not a crook,” a defensive Aquino rants. But this only succeeded in unmasking Aquino as a certified haciendero brat threatening everyone to back off from his pork lest he throw a tantrum fit.
The pork barrel king is left with no clothes. Despite protestations of innocence, Aquino cannot deny that his administration has made use of pork in order to influence legislation in favor of his ruling clique’s own political agenda.
Janet Lim Napoles’ P10 billion heist would not have been possible without the Aquino regime’s sanction of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).
More than this, Aquino himself cannot deny having sole discretion and control over enormous lump sums from the special purpose fund, the unprogrammed funds, presidential social fund, intelligence fund, Malampaya fund, and the notorious DAP, among others.
Aquino’s Halloween speech thus comes out as a panic reaction to growing public outrage and the prospect of a broad nationwide people’s protest movement joined by millions of people.
Such a movement will not only push for the abolition of all forms of pork barrel through people’s initiative in accordance with Republic Act No. 6735 but can also serve as a vehicle for a for massive education campaign and popular organizing nationwide.
Such a movement can complement and lead ever larger and more militant protest actions for meaningful social transformation.
The latest attempt to resolve serious questions through superficial public relations stunts just follows a long string of statements of an arrogant Aquino consistently backing the old system of patronage and bureaucratic capitalism.
This is not only limited to his vigorous defense of the pork barrel but can be seen in his rationalization of the excessive bonuses showered to Aquino-appointed officials in the SSS, MWSS, GSIS, among others.
And we are not even talking about the IMF Direction of Trade’s findings on smuggling under Aquino being three times worse than during the administrations of Estrada and Arroyo or the allegations of corruption involving his sister Ballsy and other top officials.
The recent spate of calamities from typhoons, floods, the Bohol earthquake, and the destruction in Zamboanga has left millions affected yet the Aquino regime has made little effort for disaster prevention and preparedness while allotting a mere P7 billion for disaster response.
Even as Aquino allies ensured the perpetuation of pork in the proposed 2014 national budget, social services such as health and education suffer from insufficient budgetary allocation, including cuts for 79 state universities and colleges.
Apart from various forms of pork barrel, debt servicing, military spending, public-private partnership giveaways for big corporations, and conditional cash transfer doleouts will still get the lion’s share of the 2014 national expenditure program.
Ultimately, massive corruption is rooted in an unjust social system dominated by big tycoons, big landlords, and political clans who use government positions to plunder the country’s wealth and resources and loot public money to further their private interests.
So long as this ruling classes of exploiters continue to dominate society, patronage politics and bureaucratic corruption will persist. Pork abolition is thus only the first step in the direction of pushing for meaningful changes favoring the interests of the Filipino people.
All in all, it is getting more and more difficult for the Aquino regime to simply placate public sentiments and pacify growing outrage through public relations gimmickry and mass media manipulation. The truth can only remain hidden for so long.
Especially if a people who are seeing through the empty promises of “walang kurap, walang mahirap” and “matuwid na daan” are hungry, jobless, suffer from soaring prices, and lack of access to education, health, and other social services.
The immediate demands are for the resignation of public officials in the pork barrel scam, the punishment of all those involved in corruption and the massive looting of the people’s coffers, and the abolition of all pork barrel by whatever form and name.
Information at all government levels must be made accessible in the interest of transparency and accountability. Pork in all branches of government must be re-channeled to social services for the immediate benefit of the Filipino people.
In the long run, we must address not only pork barrel and the systemic plunder of public funds but also the need for a new democracy built around social justice through land refom, national industrialization, and a self-reliant economy.