By Amira Ali Lidasan
Davao Today

I have yet to see and hear in the media a Moro politician speak openly for the abolition of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF)or commonly called Pork Barrel. Since this debate raged on in Congress, the Moro politicians have been silent about PDAF. Worse, some sang the initial tune of President Benigno Aquino III and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte – that is in defense of the pork. While it is true that the PDAF has helped many indigent constituents of senators and congressmen, we cannot erase from the equation the strings behind the pork and the corruption it bred in its implementation.  The P70 million each congressman gets is not without a price,  that is loyalty to whoever is the one controlling the PDAF. This means not grilling the President’s Cabinet members who presents the executive’s proposed budget during congressional deliberations and/or approving all bills and policies that the executive proposes even if they are detrimental to the rights of the Filipino people in general or Moro people in particular.

I remember when our peace movement Kalinaw (Peace) Mindanao was lobbying during the 11th Congress against the All-Out War Policy of then President Joseph Estrada against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front that resulted to thousands of evacuees in Maguindanao and North Cotabato and damaged millions of pesos worth of properties and livelihood of Moro civilians.  Many Moro politicians were afraid to sign the petition in fear of Estrada’s reprisal – which is to deprive them of the support for their constituents.  Only Representative Mamintal “Mike” Adiong, Sr. gave his support by approving a fact-finding mission, in aid of legislation, to Camp Abubakar.  At that time, he was the head of the Committee on Human Rights of the House of Representative.

Today, most of the Moro congressmen are privileged to have PDAF, since most of them were recruited to the Liberal Party. In the 16th Congress, they also gave their all-out support to Speaker Belmonte and they fell within the ranks of the majority.  Two of the Liberal Party Moro Representatives even justified the retention of PDAF because poor constituents, especially in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) badly need it.

But do the poor Moro people of ARMM and Mindanao in general do get their aid? And did it change their lives from indigent to fairly able to live comfortably because of the congressmen’s assistance? It is sad to note that despite of the many PDAF projects supposedly implemented in the region, not to mention the international funding agencies and official development aids pouring in hundreds of millions worth of projects and relief in Moro areas in Mindanao, these communities remain highest in poverty incidence and its people lowest in literacy rates. In 2012, ARMM was listed as having the highest poverty incidence among families in the Philippines according to the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB).

For how can bits and pieces of infrastructure programs and soft projects such as handicraft-making resolve poverty in Mindanao? For every road built, engineers and bidders from the Department of Public Works and Highways as well as the barangay captain get kickbacks out of the cash allotment. Are you not wondering why the roads in Mindanao are forever being “improved”? From bidders to purchasers to the non-existent non-government organizations, the line of kickbacks goes on to the detriment of the real beneficiaries.

When a non-Mindanaoan visits the five provinces of the ARMM they are surprised to see expensive and luxurious mostly black SUV’s parked around the government offices. This does not fit well with the image of being the country’s poorest region. In Moro areas, a Moro politician’s basis for greatness is in his or her power to accumulate capital from the people’s purse and sweat – for those working in their plantations, mining fields and tilling their large tracts of lands. Remember the Ampatuan family who built dozens of houses, or should I say palaces, in Maguindanao, Davao and other areas in Mindanao. And who could forget their convoy of SUVs causing traffic whenever they visit their mansions in Davao City?

Why do rich landed Moro families in Mindanao who control all government positions in their districts would still dip their hands in a plate full of pork? Three weeks ago, the Sandiganbayan ordered Lanao del Norte Rep. Abdullah Dimaporo arrested in connection with the P728-million fertilizer fund scam. He faces criminal lawsuits for graft and another for malversation of funds. He is the second district representative of Lanao del Norte, while his wife is the
representative of the first district and their son is the governor of the province. The whole Lanao del Norte was tailor-made for their family just like the whole government seats of the second district of Maguindanao was for the Ampatuans.

Maintaining a dynasty in the government seat in Mindanao is also a source of accumulation of capital within the ranks of Moro politicians. A province is made known by families that take hold of local government units, from grandfather to grandson and granddaughter. Aside from district representations, these landed families also run under partylist organizations representing the “marginalized” Moro people in Mindanao. So a certain Moro family in one province gets loads of pork as representatives in addition to cash from the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) for the LGUs.

President Aquino also has another way of pulling strings through porky lumpsum budgets. This time, the pork is for counter-insurgency purposes such as PAMANA and the CCT. PAMANA (Payapa at MAsaganang PamayaNAn) is the national government’s program and framework for peace and development, which is essentially President Aquino’s pork released through the Office of the Presidential Adviser for Peace Process. This is Aquino’s carrot and stick approach to Moro conflict areas, whose implementation passes through the hands of Moro politicians and non-government organizations with Moro-sounding names and Moro leaders. This year, President Aquino also allotted a big chunk of his pork for the Sajahatra Bangsamoro solely for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) combatants.

Moro politicians also have control of the conditional cash transfers (CCTs) from the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) of the Department of Social Work and Development (DSWD). It looks like Secretary Dinky Soliman chose to ignore the LGU racket behind CCTs because her department still asks for higher budget for the program. The incumbent LGU not only controls who the beneficiaries are–mostly allies and relatives–but they also get a percentage from the
beneficiaries’ monthly allowances.

It’s a shame that Moro politicians who were fattened with the government’s pork barrel system forgot that pork is Haram (not allowed) in Islam. The President’s PDAF is the executive’s way of controlling the Moro leaders and consolidating them, aside from their membership in the Liberal Party. Is it in preparation for 2016 politics? For whatever purpose, it is still a form of control of the executive not only to the legislative but also to the LGUs, and adding its counter-insurgency programs, even to the struggling people. The President wants everything to come from him and then deprive government agencies the budget needed for social services. One glaring example is the privatization of government hospitals, which include general hospitals in the cities of Cotabato, Zamboanga and
Davao. The government’s excuse is lack of funds. Had Napoles’ P10 billion scam from PDAF allotted for the government hospitals, then this administration would have avoided several deaths of poor patients whose families can’t afford to pay for hospital bills. Had the millions in the fertilizer fund used to build classrooms and hire additional teachers, then ARMM would have slowly crawled out of illiteracy.

Today, August 26, the Moro people have the right to join the One Million March to Luneta, as taxpayers and citizens who wants change in this system, as Moro people who are victims and are used by the pork barrel system. Moro government employees, workers, farmers, students and scholars of their parents, Overseas Filipino Workers – all have the reason to go to Luneta, to seek redress from a government riddled with corruption.

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