Let me begin this post with an apology to my readers.
I’m sorry I haven’t updated this blog. I’ve been in a two and a half month hiatus due to the start of the school year and a chronic case of writer’s block. Despite the many events in our country worthy of social commentary (such as the Gilas Pilipinas qualification in the FIBA World Cup, the suggestion to replace our country’s name to Filipinas, or the falling out between the Philippines and Taiwan over the shooting of a Taiwanese fisherman) and forcibly squeezing my brain for any ounce of creative expression, I wasn’t able to produce anything substantial.
I don’t know; but I guess the combined force of Typhoon Maring and Habagat was enough to wash away this writer’s block. After days of subsequent class suspensions and getting bored checking Economics examinations at home, I finally had the energy and inkling to write—an inkling brought about by my lingering irritation to Janet Lim-Napoles, the brains behind the P10-billion pork barrel scandal which involves several of our legislators in both houses of Congress as well as some executive officials in the Aquino Administration.
The scandal exposes the snarly roots of the corrupt system of providing legislators with government money to “help” their so-called “constituents”. While it is worth noting that not all legislators misused their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), it is also worth noting that some legislators have proven that they can serve without it. Hence, the very nature and purpose of the fund is now in question and the public is so enraged that is it willing to go to great lengths to question it. On Monday, August 26, 2013, a nationwide rally calling for the abolition of the pork barrel system is about to boil.
Soon, word-of-mouth of this event came to me via Facebook and twice I’ve been asked by college friends if I am going or not. I initially declined, dubious of what the event would achieve with a mere picnic wherein people will wear white and post passive aggressive tweets/memes/status updates about their rage against pork barrel system and corruption in this country. If we are trying to abolish a corrupt system which started out as a constitutional provision, then we should call for a legislative action to remove it once and for all. Hence, what I wanted initially instead was for the concerned public to amass around both Houses of Congress to call for the passage of a law abolishing the PDAF and pressure our solons into passing them with lightning speed.
However, upon doing additional research on the issue, I realized that there is no need to pass a law that would get rid of the pork barrel system for good.
In a letter to the Philippine Daily Inquirer six months before the PDAF mess exploded, estemmed lawyer and former COA commissioner Bartolome Fernandez Jr. lamented that to end the pork barrel system, the President could simply stop including it in the General Appropriations Act (GAA).
“The GAA is prepared by Malacañang every year. This is clear from Section 22, Article VII of the 1987 Constitution: “The President shall submit to the Congress within thirty days from the opening of every regular session, as the basis of the general appropriations bill, a budget of expenditures and sources of financing, including receipts from existing and proposed revenue measures.” As thus constitutionally mandated, the budget to be submitted by the President to Congress becomes the basis for the preparation by Congress of the annual GAA. From the constitutional standpoint, the preparation of the budget is a presidential duty and responsibility.
Clearly, the PDAF emanates from the President himself. In a real sense, the President, not Congress, is the initiator and creator of the fund. Now, if he is minded to do away altogether with this fund, the President can always desist from including it in his proposed GAA. By the simple expedient of deleting, omitting or leaving out any such outlay from the proposed GAA, the President can “abolish” the pork barrel system. As simple as that.”
Upon reading this letter, it became clear to me what the Million People March symbolizes: it calls upon the only person who can decide on this issue—the President—to exercise the necessary political will to stop the allocation of taxpayers’ money into a fund which these solons can only manipulate and reek profit from. Indeed, President Aquino’s election promises are being put to the test. He will have to bet against his party’s future in 2016 if he is to heed the people’s call to action.
But as I told a college friend a day ago, this rally is just a start. In fact, we Filipinos have this penchant for starting something and yet failing to create a satisfactory conclusion. The people of 1986 once said that it was the start of something new and yet it failed to bring about a massive change in the system of partisan politics in this country. It even solidified and institutionalized it because of the very flaws in the Constitution and the faltered political will of our leaders.
Thus, closing the valve on corruption will not end with the abolition of the pork barrel scheme. The snarly roots of corruption involve not only legislators but also every fabric of our executive and judicial system. There should be a means of ensuring accountability of public officials, not just in the national level, but down to smallest unit of local governance.
If we are only going to rely on Congress, the Ombudman, and the Sandiganbayan to prosecute government officials involved in such wrongdoing, justice will always be delayed and thus denied to its victims. If the power to impeach is given not just to Congress but also to provincial, municipal, and even barangay legislative councils, then graft and corruption cases need not pile up in the file cabinets of the Ombudsman and the Sandiganbayan. For the first time, we could see a governor, mayor, or barangay captain impeached by members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, Bayan, and Barangay. By empowering the localities, we make them responsible for the local taxes they are paying and we’re making their local executives even more accountable in using these taxes wisely.
So yes, I am going to the Million People March on Monday. I'd like to discuss and polish these ideas with you once we meet. I am joining this mass action even though I am fearful that it might suffer the same fate as other mass actions before. I am joining it because it is a chance for every Juan (including me) to put their two cents about this issue on the table. If every Juan’s two cents stacked on top of each other, it would create a tower powerful enough collapse on this vicious web of corruption, eradicating it for all time.
I am hoping to see and be with you all there. TSS
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All images created by the author.