Fellows Speak

President Aquino’s Trip Up:  
Can He Start Over?

By Ben Lim 
August 26, 2013

It is interesting but perhaps not surprising that, despite repeated commissioned survey pronouncements that PNoy still enjoys high trust rating of the Filipino people because of his anti-corruption or “tuwid na daan” (straight path) policy, he should be suddenly confronted with such a large number of protesters at Luneta and Mendiola from all sectors of the Philippine society for his ambivalent stance on the Priority Development Assistance Fund PDAF) popularly known as pork barrel.

 PNoy learned of the planned “Million People March” called by civil society through the social network, to express their outrage against the abuses and corruption in the legislative and the executive branches of government, where Congressmen and Malacañang officials pocketed the PDAF money in the name of helping the poor. PNoy tried to ride on the call, declaring that “it’s time to abolish” the corrupt system.” He must have thought that by expressing his support, he could abate their anger, possibly win some of them over, and hope that the call will weaken and remain a wishful provocation in the network.

In the meantime he could, once again, refocus the blame using the Commission on Audit (COA) report from 2007-2009 by pointing a finger at the Arroyo administration for the plunder of the national treasury through the PDAF: “There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this policy. But what is wrong – indeed, what has outraged our people – was the collusion among a former president ready to trade favors just to remain in power, legislators and members of the bureaucracy, who were willing to conspire, enabled {by} a passive and indifferent citizenry. All these factors put together make the PDAF prone to abuse.

“There are those who treat PDAF as their own private fund, to use as they please. This is clearly wrong. What is involved here is the people’s money; it should be used for the benefit of the people, and not for the benefit of a few greedy individuals. The shocking revelations of this misuse—the latest being the COA special report on the 2007-2009 PDAF which was released this past week—are truly scandalous, and so the time has come to do two things.”

From PNoy’s above pronouncements, he made clear that abuse and corruption of pork barrel were things of the past. Unfortunately for PNoy, corrupt practices under his administration are widespread and unchecked, they are taking place before their very eyes, and thus many view his statements as cover-up moves. The COA report does not include records under PNoy’s administration, at least from 2010 to 2012. Worse when civil society asked that similar appropriations such as lump sums, special funds, and intelligence funds, etc., in the President’s office be abolished, PNoy resisted, even turned 180 degrees around and justified the necessity of pork for his office. His reversal not only convinced civil society that he is a two-faced president but wanted to perpetuate the status quo. He was just trying to influence them to drop their plan to go to Luneta to call for the abolition of pork barrel.

Peachy Rallonza-Bretana, who set the date and place for the rally, wrote: “We acknowledge the President’s response to the people’s mounting anger. This is a positive sign. But ‘pork’ is not just PDAF. Pork means all modes of public spending that has little or no accountability. This includes the billions and billions of pesos in discretionary funds in all branches of government….Successive governments, including {the Aquino administration], have failed to safeguard our interests by allowing and supporting all kinds of corruption in the pork barrel system. We, the taxpayers, are always told to be patient because the government lacks funds. Now we know why—our money, billions of pesos [of it, has] been siphoned off by the corrupt [into their pockets].”

 In effect, PNoy in his attempt to cover his administration from charges of graft and corruption by riding on the anger against pork barrel, turned what originally was a planned rally in general against government abuses of PDAF, into a rally against him. Clearly also he underestimated the capacity of civil society to rally people to rise against government abuses and his refusal to listen to their demands, ironically, guaranteed their success. Instead he has revealed, like his predecessor, Gloria Arroyo, that he won’t hesitate to use the police and the military, to quell any type of rebellion against his administration. Perhaps PNoy also believed in the propaganda of his commissioned pollsters that his popularity rating is still sky high. Indeed it is likely that in the next few days his pollsters will once again undertake damage control by proclaiming that although his popularity rating has plunged by a percentage or two the trust rating of the people remains in altitudes beyond imagination. 

This type of self-serving damage control to elude the historic core of the matter is not new to Filipino politicians, especially when confronted with existential issues. Sadly existential issue when not met head on can recur and when they come into fuller view, can lead to the end of PNoy’s credibility and even his presidency.

If as Malacañang communicators insisted that both sides are on the same political wavelength and their objective is a legitimate, credible, and sustainable way of reforming pork barrel, Malacañang should show good faith by agreeing to abolish its own pork and related appropriations. On the part of the civil society they should help find ways and means for Malacañang to deliver services directly to the people more efficiently and without consequent abuses, scandals and corruption. No doubt, some will deduce from this that nothing or little can be done or that the demand lacks political maturity or a refusal to accept reality. On the contrary, it is a conclusion that betrays lack of imagination. New elements can be introduced aside from Malacañang’s line item budgeting, such as total transparency by making known the details of project, the cost, and informing and enjoining the participation of the intended beneficiaries in monitoring the projects to be established for them. By involving people’s participation, the proposal would, no doubt, expand bureaucratic steps but it could insure lesser abuses while defusing the conflict between Malacañang and civil society.     


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