By TYRONE A. VELEZ
As the nation is fixed on how the plunder charges would progress against Janet Lim-Napoles and some lawmakers implicated on misuse of the pork barrel, government critics argued that the bigger issues of Presidential pork and patronage politics need to be addressed as well.
Ateneo de Davao University political science professor Ramon Beleno, told a recent forum on Understanding Pork, that “Napoles is not the center of this issue, but rather President Aquino on how he acts on this, and how he acts on his vast special funds.”
Bayan Muna Representative Atty. Carlos Zarate said that starting this week, as Congress begins deliberation on the national budget for 2014, the Makabayan bloc would push for the removal of pork for Congress and the Presidential lump-sum funds.
Zarate pointed out those presidential special funds should be considered as pork.
“Traditionally, pork only refers to the PDAF of Congress, but we consider the presidential special funds as pork, because it is a lump sum fund and is used at the discretion of the president.” The PDAF stands for Priority Development Assistance Fund, the official name of the discretionary funds of senators and Congress representatives.
Beleno said the pork barrel and other perks have been endemic in Philippine politics. “It’s been here since the 1930s.”
The Ateneo professor said corruption in government happens “because of lack of transparency, checking mechanisms and accountability on government projects”.
“When a project is being made, is the President or the congressmen made accountable? Are they or their projects being checked? How do we check the NGOs who accept the funds if they implement projects?” Beleno asked.
Zarate said the President’s special fund amounts to P1.3 trillion, way higher than a district representative’s annual pork budget of 70 million pesos and a senator’s 200 million peso fund.
“The Congress’ pork is just a kilo compared to the huge chunk of the presidential pork, which is about more than half of the proposed national budget for 2014,” Zarate pointed out.
He said that Aquino could use these funds for political favors.
“Why does the president have the school building funds? If he is to have discretion over it, he can allocate this to his allied Congressmen to win favors,” Zarate explained.
Zarate said the existence of special funds for the president is “inconsistent with Aquino’s daang matuwid (righeous path). It only perpetuates patronage politics as it perpetuates the hold of the executive over the legislative,” Zarate said.
Zarate said such schemes made him understand the term “bureaucrat capitalism” as what he had learned from his activist days, where government policies and projects are worked out for political and economic interest.
“It is a challenge to push for such reforms in Congress as it discusses its biggest legislation for the year, and that is the budget,” he said. But Zarate said the scores of rallies, forums and protests all over the country showed the clamor of change.
“Even the old lady selling banana-cue on the streets and the manong taxi drivers are talking about this, because they see this is about their money, about their want of change,” Zarate said.
Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, acknowledged the pressure by these anti-pork barrel demonstrations and told the Philippine economic briefing on Tuesday that government “must recognize that the people’s outrage goes beyond pork barrel”.
“Beneath their indignation is their deep desire for bold, meaningful and sustainable change: to reform public institutions, to ensure that public funds are used to uplift people’s lives especially the poor, and to make public officials,” he said.
While he said that the Palace has taken steps to address this, he did not mention anything about emerging clamors to scrutinize or abolish the President’s special funds.
Atty. Fatima Adin, spokesperson of the Pagbabago, an alliance for good governance, said an oversight committee should be formed to look at how government funds are coursed through in the national agencies.
“It does not mean corruption stops once we take the funds from PDAF and put in the agencies. We still need to monitor them through an oversight committee.”
Adin said that the best remedy is the passage of the FOI to ensure transparency of government transactions.
Ateneo Psychology teacher Hadji Balajadia said that the call for political reforms should not stop with the Supreme Court restraint on the PDAF, the trial on Napoles or by the events in Zamboanga. “This issue has raised a consciousness of collective outrage against corruption, where collective dissent such as social protests and online protests will amplify the voices of the people calling for the common good. We are pushed to a now or never point, to hasten political reforms or to tarry again.”
Balajadia said “Filipinos are a people of struggle, and also a people of hope. Let’s increase the circle of hope and solidarity. Giving up is never an option.” (Tyrone A. Velez, davaotoday.com)abolish pork barrel, Bayan Muna, pdaf, President Benigno Aquino III