FOR the first time in his three-year presidency, President Noynoy Aquino failed to heed the clamor of his supposed bosses. And he’s paying for it today with the first truly multi-sectoral protest rally at the Luneta to rock his administration.
Unlike the anti-RH rally organized last year by the Catholic Church, today’s protesters clamoring for the abolition of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), better known as pork barrel, cut across religious, political and party lines. Their numbers are likely to be bigger, as are their motivations for joining such a rally.
And like all protest movements, today’s assembly is attracting people with “pure” intentions for genuine reforms as well as those with other agendas. In other words, this initial rally could spark a series of bigger rallies that could ultimately destabilize President Aquino’s government and waylay his call for a so-called “daang matuwid” into a “daang matagtag.” His entire anti-corruption platform hangs in the balance should he continue to ignore legitimate calls from Filipinos to junk pork.
Taking a leaf from his late mother, President Aquino proved stubborn to the very end until he and his people began to perceive a real threat that has been snowballing for weeks in social media. It culminates today with a Million People March of angry men, women and children in white.
He could have doused the flames that initially fueled the controversy by addressing it and promising much-needed reforms during his State of the Nation Address last July 22. During that time, the pork barrel scam allegedly perpetrated by businesswoman Janet Napoles and with the active participation of several lawmakers was still unraveling.
It began with a series of special reports published by the Philippine Daily Inquirer about an attempt by agents of the National Bureau of Investigation to rescue Benhur Luy, a former member of Napoles’ inner circle whom she reportedly had abducted and held against his will in one of her condominium units for several months.
As we all know by now, Luy and his mother eventually spilled the beans about the whole pork barrel scam by turning whistleblowers. With certain lawmakers’ knowledge, and through an elaborate scheme using bogus and non-existent NGOs, Napoles was allegedly able to tap into these politicians’ pork barrels to the tune of billions of pesos.
But what did the President do? Thinking perhaps that the controversy would blow over, not only did he choose to remain silent about it. He even defended the pork barrel system as an ideal system for lawmakers to identify and act on the needs of their constituents.
“What do you want me to replace it with,” he was quoted to have said.
And when he did promise to scrap PDAF a few days ago, it was more of a move to take the wind out of the sails of today’s Million People March. Who is he fooling? There won’t be PDAF, but there will still be pork. In fact, the presidential pork in 2014 has ballooned to a staggering P450 billion or one-fifth of the entire national budget.
Legitimate taxpayers, including the poorest of the poor who don’t pay taxes, but still pay their dues in the form of VAT, have had enough.
It was no abolition as the President’s budget secretary later revealed, but more of a realignment of an already approved budget for 2014. In short, pork will still be there. Instead of getting automatic appropriations, senators and congressmen would now have to line up to the President to get their share of the grease.
In short, the President, in a system where only personalities and not party platform and ideology exist to discipline and put a sense of fear and order among politicians’ ranks, will still have the power to either withhold or dispense pork as he pleases.
Any president, even someone as popular as President Aquino, needs grease money in the form of pork barrel to ensure that his programs and pet projects sail through both Houses. On the surface, his insistence that PDAF be retained seems logical, even understandable. But if you look closer, what he is proposing is a recipe for an even bigger disaster.
Granted that President Aquino, unlike his predecessor, is beyond reproach when it comes to matters involving the people’s money, but what about those who stand to benefit from his largesse?
Since he only has three more years to go in Malacañang, what will happen to us if his successor is as corrupt and as wily as the worse of them?
And despite his promises to run after perpetrators and put a new, more stringent system in place to ensure that Napoles would be the last of her kind to screw the country, why are we not at all appeased nor convinced?
It’s because it has been done before, di ba? Has anyone gone to jail? The only thing that stopped with the change in name and system of dispensing pork barrel was the construction of overpriced waiting sheds and basketball courts in the middle of nowhere.
You can call pork barrel by any other name. As long as there’s big money involved, the corrupt would always find a way to get their grubby, little hands on the booty.