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Pork barrel defined Aquino presidency

Next to his disastrously weak prepa-ration for and response to super-typhoon Yolanda that killed at least 5,000 people, it is President Aquino’s gargantuan pork-barrel system that defines his administration.

His has been the administration that relied the most on the pork-barrel system; his was the biggest of such bribery scheme in Philippine history.

All the administration’s talk that it was a government of a high moral ground, of a daang matuwid in reality was a huge smokescreen that concealed Aquino’s scheme that made members of Congress his lackeys.

Take out the Supreme Court justice! Acquiesce to the jailing of an ailing President Gloria Arroyo despite the grossly weak evidence for the charges against her! Pass the reproductive health law! Ignore Aquino’s bungling of the Luneta hostage crisis and his unilateral cancellation of foreign-funded crucial flood control projects, of new ro-ro projects and bridges!

By giving away Congress a total of P90 billion from June 2010 to 2013, much of which its members pocketed one way or another, Aquino had them follow his wishes.

Pork barrel of P23 billion under Arroyo (2008-2010) and under Aquino (2011-2013) P86 billion. Amounts for 2011 and 2012 include P6 billion pork barrel annually taken from the funds for the Disbursement Acceleration Program. (Source: www.dbm.gov.ph

Pork barrel of P23 billion under Arroyo (2008-2010) and under Aquino (2011-2013) P86 billion. Amounts for 2011 and 2012 include P6 billion pork barrel annually taken from the funds for the Disbursement Acceleration Program. (Source: www.dbm.gov.ph

P25 billion yearly under Aquino
The figures show how much Aquino had relied on pork barrel funds. Averaging only P7 billion yearly during Arroyo’s term (and about P4 billion yearly during Fidel Ramos’s and Joseph Estrada’s administrations), pork barrel under Aquino had nearly quadrupled annually to P25 billion per year.

Aquino even gave away to senators another P12 billion in pork barrel for 2011 and 2012— taken out of a fund hijacked for a purported “Disbursement Acceleration Program”—just to be sure that the Senate removed Chief Justice Corona.

However, this administration has been such a bungling one that it was a comedy of errors. The study by the Commission on Audit’s special audit on Congress’s pork barrel, officially called the Priority Development Assistance Fund or PDAF, was ordered May 13, 2010 (under COA Office Order No. 2012-309) by the agency’s chairman then Rey Villar, whom Aquino kicked out and even charged in a case that included the former President.

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad—believed by many to be Aquino’s brains—thought he had a bright idea: the audit could be exploited to politically bury opposition leaders so that Aquino’s political heir, Mar Roxas, would win the presidency hands down in 2016.

So Abad simply refused to provide the COA with the documents on pork barrel use by administration lawmakers, especially of its senators, but gave it the minute details how opposition senators—especially Ramon Revilla, Jr., and Jinggoy Estrada, both of whom were presidential or vice presidential timber for 2016—used their PDAF. Thus nearly 100 percent of the PDAF of the two senators, as well as Juan Ponce Enrile and Gregorio Honasan, were audited, in contrast to the less than 10 percent of the administration’s senators.

Public enraged
To enrage public opinion, Aquino’s camp managed to get the staff of alleged pork-barrel scam operator Janet Napoles to provide the juicy, shocking details of the scheme and of the immense wealth—even a Manhattan apartment—she got out of it. The biggest newspaper Philippine Daily Inquirer, apparently in exchange for having exclusive coverage of the exposé, published these as banner headlines for several weeks, scandalizing the nation.

As a result, the opposition senators have been demonized in media so much that they now wouldn’t stand a chance in the 2016 elections.

But karma is a real bitch. The exposés indeed enraged public opinion—so much that cases were filed asking the Supreme Court to declare it unconstitutional, which Aquino and Abad had not anticipated. (We congratulate these patriots who filed the cases: Samson Alcantara, Greco Belgica, Jose Gonzalez, Reuben Abante, Quintin Paredes San Diego, and Pedrito Nepomuceno. Somebody should organize an event to honor them.)

And it was the details unearthed by the COA that prompted the Supreme Court to rule it unconstitutional. This is in contrast to a similar case in 1994 against pork barrel which the Court declared constitutional. Without such a COA audit as there was this time around, the petitioners of 1994 could not submit such details on its use by lawmakers, and had to rely on weak abstract arguments, for example, that “recommendations” on pork barrel use were in effect the legislators’ execution of the budget law, which was solely the executive’s realm.

Fatal blow, but also body blow
As a result, what Aquino intended to be the fatal blow to the opposition for 2016 at this early stage turned out to be such a body blow to his administration, that he suddenly left Tacloban for Malacañang in disbelief of the news that the High Court ruled pork barrel unconstitutional.

No longer does Aquino has the easy mechanism for bribing Congress to do his bidding. Without pork barrel, he is not even sure now that he can stop an impeachment move against him.

However there are a few, including a veteran solon who claim that Aquino will find another mechanism to replace PDAF. “Aquino has such huge discretionary funds by which he can bribe members of Congress,” the veteran solon said.

However such a more complicated system for bribing Congress would be difficult for this administration that really hasn’t demonstrated much gray matter.

Under the PDAF system, 270 representatives were allotted by law—i.e., the appropriations law—P40 million each per year, while the 24 senators were allocated P200 million.

It was thus a simple matter for Aquino to withhold the PDAF allocations to lawmakers not cooperating with him.

Messy and tedious without PDAF
Without the PDAF, it would be a messy, tedious system to use his discretionary funds to bribe or penalize 300-odd lawmakers. Each of these 300 would be bugging Aquino and his budget secretary to fund this or that project, after each of them had inserted their specific projects in the appropriations law.

They might be able to release funding for projects from which lawmakers can easily get kickback from. But Aquino and Abad would have to personally keep their “black books” to monitor each of these releases, and they can’t rely on the budget department officials to keep such records confidentially.

At least, I hope I’m right. So much of taxpayers’ money has been stolen by—I cringe using that term—”lawmakers.” But its debilitating impact on our nation is really much more.

The pork barrel system runs counter to all models of government’s role in the nation. Even if there is no theft of pork barrel funds, we cannot afford, especially with a very limited budget, to disperse funds into thousands of such projects as basketball courts, “multi-purpose” halls, small roads, and “training” projects. Since it is the entity which has control of the biggest fund in the nation, government’s role is to fund huge projects that the private sector can’t or won’t fund but which would stimulate economic activity—infrastructure mainly.

Even in terms of social services, why disperse funds for “medical assistance“ to thousands of politicians’ constituents when government can instead build more public hospitals or upgrade the existing ones? Our Air Force can afford only three C-130s, which slowed down relief and rescue efforts for Yolanda’s victims, when some of the billions of pork barrel funds wasted in the past three years could have added to its fleet.

A democratic republic is based on the independence of the three branches of government. We have had nearly an Aquino dictatorship since he controlled through his pork barrel the Congress. And he even used Congress to nearly browbeat to submission the Supreme Court, the third branch of the republic, by taking out its chief justice.

By ruling pork barrel as unconstitutional, the Supreme Court has strengthened our democracy.