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Is Miriam the only real senator left?

For all intents and purposes, a resounding yes. Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago is the only one in the 24-member chamber shocked and aghast—as the entire Congress and nation should be—that President Benigno Aquino’s 2015 budget is a document of deceit and defiance against the Supreme Court’s decision in November 2013 declaring the pork-barrel system unconstitutional.

“They are getting ready to institute the same pork-barrel practices under the 2015 budget,” the senator was reported as saying in one newspaper report.

The newspapers, though, had not quite captured Santiago’s outrage. “Pambihira ang budget na ito, nakakahiya,” she said in her privilege speech in one of her rare appearances at the Senate since she was diagnosed with cancer. That should be accurately translated: “This budget looks terribly irregular, it’s scandalous.”

“Akala ninyo wala ng pork barrel? [So you think there’s no more pork barrel in the Budget (after the Supreme Court banned it]? There is, and it’s huge,” she said.

“I am so outraged at what has been attempted to be done by this budget,” she angrily said. “The executive department is intruding into the powers of the legislative branch.” Santiago warned that the 2015 Budget was cleverly crafted to contribute to the Administration’s campaign war-chest in the 2016 elections, particularly for interior and local government secretary Mar Roxas’ bid for the presidency.

Santiago labeled as pork-barrel funds some P37.3 billion allocated in the proposed budget as “lump-sum” funds to the departments of health, public works and highways, labor and employment, social welfare and development, and the Commission on Higher Education. They are called “lump-sum” as the uses of these funds aren’t specified, giving President Aquino the discretion to spend them as he wishes.

SOURCES: Proposed 2015 budget submitted to Congress.
* According to Senator Santiago, allocated for the departments of health, public works and highways, social welfare and development, labor and employment, and the Commission on Higher Education.

I have devoted three columns explaining that Aquino, in order to defy the Supreme Court ruling in 2013 banning the pork-barrel system, simply tweaked it and renamed it. Aquino called his pork-barrel fund “Bottom-Up Budgeting Projects” allocation in 2014, totaling P20.1 billion, and “Grassroots Participatory Budgeting Projects” in 2015, amounting to P20.9 billion. (See “Aquino defies SC, renames pork,” Sept 1; “Largest pork barrel ever: P21B in 2015,” Nov. 2, 2014; and “Soliman, Abad dupe ‘Open Government’ body,” Nov. 4, 2014. )

That the Grassroots Participatory Budgeting scheme is a sham and that it is in reality pork-barrel system in disguise is obvious in the fact that it asks us to believe that P20.9 billion in local projects such as “barangay halls,” “organic farming,” “livelihood projects” – the kinds of projects used in the now infamous Janet Napoles rackets – were determined by assemblies of civil-society organizations. That may be true in a few, exceptional cases where NGOs have been operating for decades. Local power, though, in probably 95 percent of the country’s 1,600 cities and municipalities, is undoubtedly in the hands of the local socioeconomic elite, mainly congressmen and local executives. If Aquino-Abad’s “Grassroots Participatory Budgeting” were real, we would be the most democratic and egalitarian nation on earth, making Sweden and Australia — countries that tried to adopt such budgeting system but gave it up later — look like feudal systems.

What Aquino and his budget secretary Florencio Abad have done is merely to have the legislators list the local projects they want before the budget is enacted into law, and pretend that NGOs and local governments proposed these projects in assemblies in cities and municipalities. Have you, dear reader, heard of such assembly in your city or town?

Santiago, in her speech, revealed the mechanics of the Grassroots Participatory Budgeting system: The budget department had asked congressmen to list their projects and had provided them forms designed to make such chore easy.

Former Iloilo Representative Augusto Syjuco filed Tuesday a petition in the Supreme Court, in part asking it to stop the “Grassroots Participatory Budgeting” allocations since they contravene the Tribunal’s ban on the pork-barrel system.

The new pork-barrel system amounting to P20.9 billion plus the P37.3 billion in lump-sum funds, which Santiago exposed, total P58.2 billion in pork-barrel funds – an astronomical sum compared with the P5 billion annual average since Aquino’s mother Cory instituted it in 1990 as the “Countrywide Development Fund.” Such magnitude is necessary because of the fact, as Santiago alleged, that the funds could be used in the 2016 elections: Some to build up patronage and some to skim off for campaign expenses.

Aren’t the rest of the senators shamed by Santiago’s exposé, made at the most difficult time of her life when she should be at home with her family or in some hospital to make sure her stage-four lung cancer doesn’t get worse?

Aquino’ three stooges – senators Antonio Trillanes, Alan Cayetano and Koko Pimentel have spent most of this year leaving no stone unturned for them to claim that Vice President Jejomar Binay is corrupt and, therefore, shouldn’t consider running for president. They must have spent months poring over probably fake documents their obviously mercenary witness showed them. And they haven’t studied the most important piece of legislation the Senate passes every year – the General Appropriations Law?

Never mind, of course, the three jailbirds — Enrile, Estrada, and Revilla: You can’t fault them for thinking now of nothing but how to get out of jail. Never mind Aquino’s political lieutenant, Senate President Drilon, who is battling for the first time in his life serious corruption charges, and those two kids, Sonny Angara and Bam Aquino (include there JV Ejercito) as they were just asked by their elders to fill up the Senate seats.

Forget Chiz Escudero, who’s busy with his wedding-of-the-year preparations and who seems to be more interested in a movie career if some film company would just give him a break, and Teofisto Guingona 3rd, who oddly with his “what-me-worry?” smile seems to be absent-minded in most Senate sessions.

But what happened to the senators we would have thought had the brains, independence and courage to protest this ignominy that is the 2015 budget – the economist Ralph Recto, the level-headed Sergio Osmena, the once swashbuckling Greg Honasan, the business-minded Cynthia Villar and the mestiza Grace Poe? Nancy Binay should be told she is not in the senate just to defend her father while Ferdinand Marcos Jr. should remember his father was a studious, bold opposition leader at least for a time. Are Loren Legarda and Pia Cayetano still senators?

History will condemn the 16th Congress as the worst ever — Aquino’s rubber stamp, especially for the 2015 budget.

It will celebrate, though, the heroism and audacity of Santiago, the only senator who, despite her stage-four cancer, did her sworn duty as a public servant and stood up to protest Aquino’s most corrupted budget.

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