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Abolish Congress and the Presidency

The exposés on the misuse—outright robbery actually—of pork barrel funds by members of Congress have scandalized the nation by its magnitude and gall. It has shocked the nation so much that terms for Congress like “the country’s biggest criminal syndicate” (as my colleague Tony Lopez called it) and “Houses of Corruption” have become viral in social media.

It’s not even the usual suspects, like Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla whom this administration thinks they are, who are involved. Even lawmakers who have not been tainted by any charge of corruption before are exposed as skimmers of pork barrel money. How could a congressman like Matias Defensor, for instance, allocate P99 million of his Priority Development Assistance Fund to the Matias Defensor, Sr., Foundation? How could P550 million in pork barrel funds, P19 million from former Speaker Jose de Venecia, be given to Aaron Foundation, whose address the Commission on Audit found is an empty lot in Gagalangin, Tondo?

So-called religious types in the present administration like Joel Villanueva (son of “Brother Eddie”), who boasts that he has rid TESDA of corruption, and Customs head Ruffy Biazon (said to be an ardent “born-again”), going by the COA’s data, helped themselves to pork barrel funds when they were congressmen.

Will the Ombudsman be able to pin down the roughly 150 lawmakers involved in the scam? Check out the realities. The Ombudsman receives 15,000 graft complaints yearly to add to its pending cases, which appear to be so huge that the office’s annual report doesn’t even bother to count them.

How many staff does the Ombudsman have to investigate these complaints? Some 200, only 40 of whom are lawyers and the remaining 160 basically researcher-clerks, which means one staff (lawyer or not) handles 75 cases per year. How many Ombudsman lawyers are prosecuting the 2,500 pending cases at the Sandiganbayan?

Some 80 lawyers, or one lawyer per 30 cases. Do those numbers make you confident senators and congressmen exposed to have stolen taxpayers’ money will land in jail?

But complaints at the Ombudsman indeed do get prosecuted and the corrupt convicted but mostly after 20 years, as the Ombudsman’s annual report boasts in its 2011 report: a complaint over the misuse of Mt. Pinatubo rehabilitation funds, in 1992.

Let’s face it. Corruption is so prevalent in our country and our institutions to combat it are utterly helpless. While the Million People marches do fan people’s outrage against corruption in Congress and a corrupt government, these, unless they topple a government, merely make front-page news for one day and forgotten the next.

As is being exposed, President Aquino’s “matuwid na daan” slogan is inutile in curbing corruption, having been merely his Lord Voldemort kind of Killing Curse against his predecessor in his fairy-tale land.

It is certainly not that we Filipinos are more corrupt than people in other countries.

In this day and age, we cannot but rely on reason to guide us, and in this case we have to consult findings of political scientists who have comprehensively studied the phenomenon of corruption. One such study was conducted by three political scientists for the World Bank, titled “Accountability and Corruption: Political Institutions Matter.” The study was rigorous in that it calculated the actual relationship of several factors to corruption in some 200 countries for over two decades.

The study found that there are four institutional factors that reduce corruption, the first three being democracy (as opposed to dictatorship, and our Marcos authoritarian era is certainly a proof of this), freedom of the press, and at least 20 years of uninterrupted democracy.

We all have these three factors, certainly with our rambunctious, even if often biased press, and we’ve had 27 years of uninterrupted democracy.

The fourth institution that reduces corruption, which we don’t have, according to the study, is a parliamentary system. The study found incontrovertible evidence that countries with presidential systems tend to be more corrupt. While it is beyond the study’s aims to explain why a parliamentary system tends to be less corrupt, other studies point out the following reasons.

Because an administration can be changed anytime by a vote of no-confidence, the disincentive against corruption is greater. In presidential systems, a ruling power can simply hold on to power until its term ends, with impeachment being a messy, protracted process that is seldom undertaken.

Parliamentary systems provide more checks on the executive since its ministers—drawn from members of parliament—can be called to task at any time by Parliament, which basically consists of their peers, to explain an allegation or even a rumor of corruption.

There is no Senate in a parliamentary system, especially our unique kind whose members are elected on a national scale, unlike that in the US in which senators are elected per state. The Senate, as has become evident in the pork barrel exposes, is proving to be a den of thieves, whose criminal activities presidents have turned a blind eye on, since they’ve always needed senators’ support not only for their legislative agenda but for their nationwide political bases.

Parliamentary systems tend to be decentralized systems. The body of lawmakers in a parliamentary system is basically a collection of local political leaders, expected to take care of their local constituents. Why would they need a circuitous pork barrel system when they can demand agencies to equitably distribute their projects to their districts, if these are being neglected?

And finally, a parliamentary system ensures that the country’s chief executive is not some aging actor whom the masses confused for his screen roles or the son of a recently deceased heroine voted into office on a wave of condolences.

A parliamentary system is one in which the most capable of running the government is chosen by his or her peers, who can’t be fooled by name recall or movie stature. In a parliamentary system, you certainly won’t get incompetents who acquire vast political power as senators just because of their famous fathers or just because they tried to undertake a clumsy coup against an unpopular administration.

“Abolish Congress, have the lawmakers commit hara-kiri in front of the TV cameras,” Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago said the other day when asked what her solution was to curb corruption in Congress. While she probably said that in jest, she may have inadvertently hit the nail right on the head.

Abolish Congress, but abolish the presidency too, and move to a parliamentary system.

It’s not coincidence that we’re listed high in the corruption lists of Southeast Asian countries and at the same time the only country with a centralized presidential system. (Indonesia is presidential but has a federal system in which regions have vastly bigger powers than in ours.)

If all this outrage over the pork barrel mega-scam will lead to anything really good, it is for us to shed our biases and recognize that we do need to change our system to a parliamentary one.