Fellows Speak

I Am Not a Thief
Ben Lim
Nov. 3, 2013

Posted by CenPEG.org
Nov. 8, 2013

Some forty years ago, U.S. President Richard Nixon in a nationally televised press conference to defend his record in the Watergate scandal told reporters: "People have got to know whether or not their President is a crook. Well, I'm not a crook. I've earned everything I've got." And despite his denial, nobody believed him, and less than a year later he had to resign as President of the United States. Nixon in his pleading, however, admitted that he had made a mistake in not supervising his people “more closely.” The U.S. Congress in its articles of impeachment against Nixon charged, among others, that he had acted in such a manner contrary to his trust as president which is to protect and defend the constitution. Instead he approved, condoned, and acquiesced in the surreptitious payments of substantial money for the purpose of influencing or obtaining the silence of the Watergate perpetrators.

Last Wednesday our own President Simeon Benigno Aquino III went on national television and made almost the same declaration as Nixon: “I am not a Thief” in an attempt to ward off charges of corruption scandal on government spending of hundreds of millions of pork barrel money, that now threatens not only the fate of legislators, but his own political future. But instead of admitting his mistake in not supervising the release of pork barrel or Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and all President’s Special Fund (PSF) such as the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) scrupulously, PNoy lashed out at the opposition, charging that they were stirring up controversy to divert attention from their own corruption scandal and threatened to go after them: “The issue here is theft. I did not steal. Those who have been accused of stealing are sowing confusion…I have never stolen. I am not a thief. I am the one who goes after the thieves…If you think that this will stop me from going after you, if you think that you can divert the public’s attention, if you think you can get away with stealing from our countrymen, you have sorely underestimated me.”

PNoy’s finger pointing led Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares to retort sharply: “It’s an insult to the Million People March, abolish pork movement, bishops and religious leaders, CJ Reynato Puno, and other NGOs to say that they are thieving politicians or are being used by politicians. The speech meant to deodorize pork when no amount of PR and sweet talk will change its nature as inherently anomalous.”

And while many commentators agree that PNoy may not be a thief, many also believe that the greater number of his appointees and cronies are; they cannot forget the missing container vans from customs which have not been seriously investigated until now, overpriced Muntinglupa prison carpet, the use of Conditional Cash Transfer money for election campaigns, cronies in government owned corporations awarding themselves enormous bonuses from the sweat of Filipino workers, etc. etc.

The electorate agrees with Rep. Colmenares that PNoy’s defense is contradictory and hypocritical. It is the civil society or the Filipino public that is calling for the abolition of all pork barrel type funds including the President’s special funds that are no different from congressional pork barrel. They countercharged that PNoy dissembled when he deliberately confounded the call by professing to clarify that public outrage of the thievery by government officials from the national coffers and their demand for its abolition is only limited to PDAF.

PNoy should have learned from various press reports on the “Million People March,” that the anger of the Filipino public was directed not only at Napoles, legislators who stole from PDAF, but also on the President’s irresponsible release and use of pork barrel funds, as well as his moves to undertake damage control when the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) admitted to using the DAP mechanism to give away additional pork barrel to each of the 20 senators who voted to convict then Chief Justice Renato Corona in 2012. Malacañang apologists even contradicted one another in their bold but unheroic statements. Rumor has it that many were asked to go on spiritual retreat to mend for the political pieces they broke, so henceforth no crap will flow from PNoy’s fountain of truth. 

From his “I am not a thief” speech, the electorate noted that PNoy and his Malacañang advisers have embraced the Arroyo syndrome  -a refusal to heed the voices of the people and a stubborn insistence that Malacañang is always correct and above board in the handling of public funds. He intentionally overlooked theft by his appointees and cronies. PNoy does not seem to understand that Filipinos are enraged and indignant by the theft of pork barrel, misuse of the President’s Special Fund and Disbursement Acceleration Program and wanted them abolished until he and the Congress can craft a system that will stop any future leakage of taxpayers’ money.
Worse yet, Congress and Malacañang appear wholly lacking in their sense of hearing, for in the 2014 budget, instead of abolishing the pork barrel fund, they appropriated P310 billion for un-programmed or special purpose fund, refusing to heed the call of the electorate to abolish all pork barrel type funds in their present form.

PNoy may not be a thief, but he was complicit when he used pork barrel funds for the purpose of inducing Congressmen in the House to impeach and Senators to convict Chief Justice Corona. Moreover, based on the charges he made against pork barrel releases of his predecessor Gloria Arroyo, PNoy is not unaware that the release of pork barrel funds to the legislators for political ends, could and would be stolen.

SWS and Pulse Asia revealed recently that PNoy’s popularity ratings have plunged precipitously and more than three quarters of the country want all pork barrel type funds abolished. Even Malacañang’s own poll revealed that PNoy’s popularity rating dropped from an all time high of 79% to 35%, indicating that his Teflon coating has been scrapped off by his refusal to listen to the Filipino people.

PNoy overlooks that it is his politics of partisanship - his roles in covering up, looking the other way or pointing his finger at the opposition for the corruption and lies of his own appointees that have let the majority of the Filipino people, who initially trusted him, to distrust him now. Unless PNoy works hard to rise above partisanship, listens and serves the interests of the majority of the Filipino people, he may end up in the company of Richard Nixon or his predecessor, Gloria Arroyo, in the dustbin of history.  

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