All posts by Manuel Buencamino

Buencamino was a weekly columnist for Today and Business Mirror. He has also written articles in other publications like Malaya, Newsbreak, "Yellow Pad" in Business World, and "Talk of the Town" in the Inquirer. He is currently with Interaksyon, the news site of TV5. MB blogged for Filipino Voices, blogs for ProPinoy and maintains a blog, Uniffors.com. Game-changers for him, as far as music goes, are Monk, Miles, Jimi, and Santana.

Did the President commit an impeachable offense?

It is asinine to compare the impeachment trial of Renato Corona to a case pending before a court of law.

An impeachment is a political process exclusive to the legislative branch of government while a court trial is a judicial process exclusive to the judicial branch of government.

Second, guilt beyond reasonable doubt is the bar in a court of law, while Aye and Nay votes that may or may not have anything to do with the guilt of the accused and do not even require an explanation from the senator/judges determine the outcome of an impeachment.

Third, the penalty for conviction in an impeachment trial is removal from office. There is no imprisonment or fine that go with it whereas conviction in a court of law can carry a sentence of imprisonment plus fines.

Fourth, what is absolutely forbidden is to try to influence a proceeding in a court of law. It is a crime. But it is okay for anybody from the president on down to try to influence the outcome of an impeachment because it is a political process and the entire body politic has a stake in its outcome.

And so those who say that Pres Aquino committed an impeachable offense because he tried to sway senator/judges into voting to convict Corona are confusing a political process with a judicial proceeding, it is akin to mistaking a hole in the ground for one’s ass.

The final solution

“It is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” – Abraham Maslow

Mama gave her 12 year old child a laptop because he needs it for school. One day she catches him watching porn. She freaks. So she installs all sorts of parental controls in the laptop. But the kid is a horny techie and breaks through mama’s walls easily.

Mama catches the kid again. This time she is super freaked and takes the laptop away.

“Absolutely no more internet for you until you are 18,” she says.

“But I need it for school, mama.”

“Not anymore,” she replies, “I’m moving you to another high school where they don’t use the internet.”

“You’re moving me to Flintstones High?”

“Yes, because as far as I’m concerned that’s the only way to keep you away from porn,” she said with finality.

Later that evening mama is watching the news and she learns about Janet Napoles. She is aghast.

“My God! Those crooks should be jailed!”

Cynical papa who is sitting beside her on the couch replies, “Honey, you can jail those crooks but others will just take their place.”

“But we cannot tolerate corruption. We have to do something,” she protests.

Papa replies, “You could ask the government to put in stricter controls.”

“Good idea,” she says.

She gathered her friends the following day.

“I’m sure you saw the news. You must be as outraged as I am by the Napoles scam,” she said.

“Yes, how awful,” they replied. “We have to do something about it. We can’t have our children growing up in that kind of world.”

Someone stood up and said, “Let’s make our voices heard. Let’s march. Let’s call for plugging the leaks and jailing the crooks.” And they all began to chant, “Plug the leaks, plug the leaks, jail the crooks, jail the crooks.”

The problems of the world were solved and they all went home happy. Over dinner, mama told papa about the meeting.

“But you’ve been overtaken by events,” he said

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“The administration announced it is adding stricter controls,” he told her.

“That’s great news!” she exclaimed.

He replied, “I hate to be the one to tell you this but I’m pretty sure crooks will still find a way to get their hands on the money.”

Mama was appalled. She called another meeting to tell her friends the ugly reality she learned from papa.

“It seems that we can’t eliminate stealing just like that,” she told them.

“What do we do now?” they asked each other.

“We need to learn more about the issue,” one observed.

“Let’s invite experts to explain it to us,” another proposed.

And so experts were invited to a series of merienda lectures. Scholars from academe, political analysts, economists, lawyers, politicians, clerics, business and civil society leaders, communists, columnists, and anybody who had an opinion on anything showed up. And they lectured. And they ate. Between bites, one said this, the other said that, and on and on and on. There were so many opinions expressed and so many nuances pointed out that no one came out any wiser, only fatter from gorging on too many meriendas.

Halfway through the merienda lecture series, mama told her group, “No more lectures! I have a simple solution. Let’s just take away the money!”

“That’s right!” the group replied. And they began to chant, “Take away the money! Take away the money!”

At long last the final solution to the problem of corruption was found. Take away the money. Everyone would be going home happy and self-satisfied. And then it happened.

There is always, in any gathering, someone who has to say the most uncomfortable thing at the worst possible time. She said, “Take away the money, take away the laptop. That’s how we solve problems?”

Bakit Kami Lang?

The theme of Sen. Jinggoy Estrada’s interminable privilege speech, “The untold PDAF story that the people should know”, is selective justice is injustice or as we say in Tagalog, “Bakit kami lang?”

He said, “We have been singled out, Mr. President, as our people should know, in the so-called 10-billion peso PDAF scam.”

As proof of being singled out, he pointed to 82 foundations, numerous local government units, and other members of Congress mentioned in the COA report as also having engaged in questionable transactions. “What makes us so special Chairman Pulido-Tan?” he asked the chair of the Commission on Audit.

Yes, Madame Chair, what makes him and his co-accused so special?

Nothing except that they were stupid enough to get caught. The others who remain uncharged had enough smarts not to partner with Janet Napoles. As we would say in Tagalog, Oo maraming gago sa gobyerno, hindi lang kayo, ngunit mukhang kayo lang ang gagong bobo. Sa karami-raming questionable NGOs na pagpipilian ninyo na maka-partner, bakit si Napoles pa ang pinili ninyo? Stroke of genius po ba yun?

Contrary to what Sen. Estrada believes, he and his friends were not singled out by “certain institutions, like the media, the Commission on Audit, the Department of Budget and Management, and even the Blue Ribbon Committee of the Senate”, they were singled out by whistleblowers who provided the authorities with a truckload of documents detailing their transactions. And so they became the low-hanging fruits in a vast orchard of crooks.

Sexy, Pogi, and Tanda will not be the only ones charged, there will be others, but the distinction of being the first fruits picked will belong to them. They could also earn a further distinction – if they pursue the line that they did not know that their most trusted staffers were engaged in unauthorized criminal activities – of being the first senators to be charged with plunder complexed with stupidity.

There was also another interesting, and probably unwitting, revelation by Sen. Estrada, one that raised the question, “on which side of the political fence was he during Gloria Arroyo’s nine-year rule?”

He said, “During the administration of President Gloria Arroyo, it was a known fact that those who were not friendly, or allies of her government had to beg for the release of their PDAF and infrastructure funds. Some of us just totally gave up and chose not to avail of our allocations because we knew that we will not get any releases because we are from the opposition. We know too that the executive has used the releases for PDAF and infrastructure projects as a form of reward or incentive to secure the support of legislators for or against certain pet legislations or for other political purposes.”

Ano ba yan pinagsasabi mo, Senator?

Sen. Estrada was with the opposition and yet he received hundreds of millions in PDAF from Gloria Arroyo. How did that happen? Was he or was he not with the opposition? Furthermore, did he recieve PDAF from Gloria “as a form of reward or incentive to secure the support of legislators for or against certain pet legislations or for other political purposes”?

Finally, I feel sorry for impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona who rejoiced when he heard Sen. Estrada say, “Hahayaan ko na ang taong bayan ang gumawa ng konklusyon kung ito ay totoo o hindi, pero ito ang aking maidadagdag sa kwento — after the conviction of the former chief justice, those who voted to convict were allotted an additional 50 million pesos as provided in a private and confidential letter memorandum of the then chair of the senate finance committee.”

Corona immediately issued a statement, “Nagpapasalamat ako sa Diyos sa bindikasyon na ibinigay niya sa akin sa araw na ito. Hindi ako nagulat sa rebelasyon ni Sen Estrada sapagka’t kinompirma lamang niya ang alam namin at ng marami sa ating mga kababayan.”

Sorry Chief but Jinggoy God took back whatever vindication He gave you.

During the interpellation period, Sen. Enrile, who as Senate President presided over Corona’s impeachment trial, asked Jinggoy God (JG) if He was making bribery accusations. JG said He was approached by someone but was not offered a bribe. Sen. Drilon then asked, “But categorically, You can state it was not a bribe?” JG replied, “It was not a bribe. It was never a bribe.” Then Enrile asked, “It was simply an appeal?” And JG replied, “It was simply an appeal. There [were] no talks of giving a reward.”

And so ex-Chief Justice Corona still awaits vindication. That’s what he gets for elevating Jinggoy Estrada to Godhood.

Now can we move on and let the NBI and the Ombudsman do their jobs? Jails are waiting.

Tanda, Pogi and Sexy in the dock

I predict Tanda will be acquitted. Pogi will admit he is Pogi. Sexy will also admit but he will face an additional charge of perjury.

Tanda has from the very beginning stated that he does not know Napoles, that he has had no dealings with her. In addition, he said that due to his age his doctors have advised him to stay away from pork. And so he passed the pork to his chief of staff. He is off the hook. But that has placed his chief of staff on the spot.

Prosecutor: “Madame, who is the Tanda referred to in the code book of Mrs. Napoles?”

Chief of Staff: “I don’t know.”

Prosecutor: “A number of witnesses testified that Tanda was Mrs. Napoles’ code name for your boss.”

Chief of staff: “My boss does not know Mrs. Napoles, he has never had any dealings with her.”

Prosecutor: “But documents show that his PDAF went to NGOs controlled by Napoles. If he never had any dealings with Napoles then that leaves you, Madame. Are you therefore the Tanda in the code book of Mrs. Napoles?”

Chief of Staff: “How dare you! I am not tanda, excuse me, may asim pa ako!”

Sandigan Judge: “May asim pa nga siya. (Stage whisper: “Miss, pwede mo ba ako i-friend sa FB?”) Not guilty! ”

Pogi was next on the stand.

Prosecutor: “Senator, are you Pogi?”

Pogi: “I hear that a lot, sir.”

Prosecutor: “So you are admitting that you are Pogi?”

Pogi: “Hindi naman po sa pagyayabang pero hindi lang si Janet ang tumatawag sa akin ng pogi.”

Prosecutor: “Aha! Meron pa palang iba maliban kay Mrs. Napoles?”

Pogi: “Of course, hindi lang siya, box office king ako, sir, malakas akong tumabo sa taquilla.”

Prosecutor: “The State rests, Your Honors.”

Sandigan jusdges: “Guilty!”

It is Sexy’s turn.

Prosecutor: “Are you Sexy?”

Sexy: “Well, I have been called sexy ever since I lost a lot of weight.”

Prosecutor: “Mr. Senator, remember that you are under oath, let me ask you again and I advise you to weigh your answer carefully, are you Sexy?”

Sexy: “Yes.”

Prosecutor: “Your Honors, I would like to cite the senator for perjury.”

Sandigan judges: “Kuya, are you sure you want to stand by your statement that you are sexy?”

Lady’s choice

What will have more profound impact on society, Janet Napoles going to jail or a bunch of senators and congressman going to jail?

Media has been fueling speculations about the Napoles surrender as if it was a privilege that was accorded to her because of her irresistible influence and connections or that it fits with some kind of Palace masterplan to destroy the opposition.

It was not a privilege. Napoles surrendered to the president because she believed he could guarantee her safety. She had accused the NBI of extortion. Who in their right mind would surrender to the very people you accuse of extortion?

She was also a threat to those legislators who are suspected of conniving with her. She could bring them down with her.

She tried to surrender to Cardinal Tagle but he, unlike other bishops, knows the line between church and state. He refused to become involved.

Ultimately, Napoles was the only one who could decide whether to surrender or not and to whom to surrender. When she decided to surrender to the president, he was left with one of two options, accept her surrender or keep looking for her. If you were the president what would you do?

The more important issue is the speculation that the surrender of Napoles was some kind of masterplan to destroy the opposition. The spin fits perfectly with the attempts of the suspected associates of Napoles to deflect the people’s anger.

Remember the initial reaction of the suspects when the Napoles case first hit the front pages? They asked why only us the opposition; what about administration allies? They also decried the drip-drip of information coming from the Commission on Audit and the Justice Department.

They had a good propaganda line until the COA report finally came out and the entire list of legislators and NGOs were published. That forced the suspected legislators to shift gears. They began to point to the P3B error involving Rep. Zamora and the Luis Abalos who turned out to be BenHur, as if those minor errors that the COA clarified immediately were enough to discredit the report in its entirety. They began characterizing the report as riddled with errors, asking how it can be trusted if such blatant mistakes were not seen right away. Well, you can’t blame suspects for exploring every avenue to save their asses.

As early as the midnight presscon of DILG secretary Mar Roxas one reporter already tried to put a negative spin on the Napoles surrender. She was so insistent on injecting doubt that an exasperated Mar Roxas asked her, “ano ba ito, sala sa lamig sala sa init?”

The reporter who I assume was only trying to put a dramatic angle to the story unwittingly plowed the field for Jinggoy Estrada to plant seeds of doubt in an otherwise straightforward surrender.

Today Jinggoy Estrada faced media and said, “I’m not saying that she will be used. But there are chances since she is already in government custody. As I mentioned earlier, some unscrupulous elements might just put words into her mouth.” In other words, it’s all part of a script?

It would be great if everyone involved in the scam were to land in jail, but what if you had to plea bargain with Napoles to get the senators and congressmen, would you? I would.

I would allow her to plea to a lesser sentence, even probation, if she can give testimony that will lead to a conviction for those senators and congressmen. Because that will have a more profound impact on the national psyche. In a few years, Napoles will just be another crook convicted of corruption but a bunch of senators and congressmen going to jail is for the history books.

Napoles could turn from a heel to a hero, if she makes the right choice.

Let’s fix the problem of pork without hurting those who really need it

We have become too fixated on the corruption relating to pork barrel and we have lose sight of the fact that there are people who really need help. There are plenty of them. And many of them have been helped.

Unfortunately, we have this black and white approach of “Let’s abolish pork. Period.” So everybody pays for the sins of the few.

But the only question worth asking is, did the intended beneficiaries get what they were supposed to get?

If the answer is yes, then don’t take their assistance away. If the answer is no, then look at why they did not get it and find a way to ensure that they get it.

The fault lies with the senator or congressman. The legislator requested the allocation, identified the beneficiaries, picked the implementing agency and recommended to it the NGO that will receive the funds.

Puno at dulo ang importante. All that matters is for the beneficiaries to get what they need. In full.

It is not the existence of pork that is wrong, what is wrong is the way that some have used it. The problem is the pigs not the pork barrel. What is there to complain about if assistance goes to those who really need it?

The million people march on the 26th asks (1) for the abolition of pork barrel; (2) for the investigation and prosecution of those involved in the scam.

I agree with the second reason. As to the first, let’s give it more serious thought -for the sake of those who have been helped and continue to be helped by small-scale infra-projects like irrigation systems, safe drinking water, waiting sheds, small bridges so that school children don’t have to balance themselves on makeshift bridges crossing streams on their way to school, rural clinics, etc.; and those who have been helped and continue to be helped by soft pork like medical assistance, vaccination programs, feeding programs, livelihood training programs, farm implements, scholarships, help to bury their dead etc.

It is the micro-level assistance provided by good pork that makes me hesitate adding my voice to the clamor for the outright abolition of all types of pork. Many of those who call for the abolition of pork are a step removed from the lives of the intended beneficiaries of pork. They can take the long macro-view.

Don’t get me wrong. I too beleieve that looking at the big picture is good. However, while we think big and long, let’s also not forget that millions of our people simply have to make it through the day.

Let’s make sure that those who live day to day, hand to mouth, can live long enough to benefit from the long-term all-encompassing solutions that we are cooking up for them.

There is a simple way to make pork work. Hold the legislators accountable. First and last. No fingerpointing to implementing agencies or NGOs. If something goes wrong along the way then it is the legislator’s fault. He has to fix it himself.

Because there is no excuse in the world that will justify why a legislator’s pork goes to other than his intended beneficiaries. The only way pork can be lost is if the legislator steals it or does not keep a watchful eye over it. If he does not have the resources to monitor his projects then he should not embark on them. He will just be throwing away money that can be spent on those who need it. He should just give his pork projects to some other legislator who can make it happen.

The important thing is for pork to get to intended beneficiaries. In full. It does not really matter how it gets to benficiaries as long as it gets to them. Beneficiaries don’t really give a shit how it gets to them as long as they get it, right?

Let’s call for full transparency on the part of the legislators. Every allocation, every project, every distribution, must be reported in detail, progress and completion reports, all readily available to the public as they happen. That way responsibility is clear and accountability can be exacted.

Let’s fix the problem without hurting those who need it most.

On Virgie and Jinggoy

A new video of controversial LTO chief Virginia Torres playing a slot machine in one of the local casinos surfaced a day after an earlier and poorly shot video of her doing the same thing was uploaded on YouTube. The new video made her response to the original video sound like a lie.

“Yes, I remember having dinner with a friend in a hotel. While waiting for the bill to be settled, I saw the slot machine on the lower floor and out of curiosity, I sat in front of one machine and marveled at the lights and read the instructions. I immediately left when the bill was paid. This happened way back.”

How can she get out of the jam she’s in? By revising her initial response with something more plausible, something that if it matches how she looks then so much the better.

“Yes, I remember having dinner with a friend in a hotel. While waiting for the bill to be settled, I discreetly asked the waiter for the location of the nearest ATM machine. You see I decided to pay for our dinner but I had no cash on me. The waiter pointed me to the lower floor. I went down to the lower floor where I was immediately overwhelmed by banks of ATM machines with colorful flashing lights and catchy sound effects. I had never seen ATMs like that before. I had no idea how to operate them so I sat in front of one machine to read the instructions. I pressed the buttons after I thought I understood the instructions. But nothing happened. And that’s why you saw me in that new video standing up and moving to another ATM machine. I was so embarrassed when I learned they were slot machines and not ATMs. This happened way back, when I first arrived in Metro Manila from Tarlac.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada who has been prominently linked to the pork barrel scam refiled a bill he calls the Magna Carta for Journalists.

“Marami rin kayong mga kasamahan at kakilala na talagang hindi naman lehitimong miyembro ng media. Maraming bogus na media personalities. Itong bill na ito I believe would promote the welfare of our friends from the media,” he said by way of explaining why the hell anybody who wants to be a journalist must first pass an exam prepared and administered by a panel whose composition and qualifications will ultimately be determined by Jinggoy, since he is the author of the Magna Carta for Journalists.

“Remember I am a friend of media,” he added, to reassure journalists that he had nothing but their best interest in his heart. Jinggoy is also a friend of Janet Lim Napoles, if I may also add. Let’s go to the pork barrel scam.

I cannot find any plausible explanation why Jinggoy thought washing his hands ala Pontius Pilate is the best way to address the question why hundreds of millions of his pork barrel did not go to intended beneficiaries.

“It is not up to the senators to determine whether an NGO is bogus or not. It is within the functions and the powers of the DA to determine if an NGO is bogus or not. Alangan naman na kami pa ang magsasabi na, “Oy, bogus ‘yan.” How will we know? Even if we endorse a certain NGO, we will have no idea whether it is bogus or not. It is done in good faith. If it endorses a certain project to a particular NGO, iniisip namin na accredited ng Department of Agriculture ‘yon. Ang office ko is not an implementing agency. The implementing agency here is the Department of Agriculture. Hindi naman kami nagpapa-implement. We are just here to determine the projects,” he said.

Every year, in the course of passing the national budget, Congress must review line by line not only the proposed budget but also how well the previous year’s budget was spent.

Senator, budget oversight is a duty, it is not a matter of caprice. You are duty-bound to care for our money as if it were your money and not to spend our money like it was your money.

You cannot claim to be too busy to comb the budget because oversight comes first, before all the other legislative work that you do like refiling a Magna Carta for Journalists bill. Seeing to it that the administration implements existing tax and spending measures or any new ones that you may pass is your number one job. Everything else follows. Think about it.

Sure implementing agencies are responsible for projects identified by legislators but is it too much to expect a legislator to at least scrutinize his own pork barrel, specially during budget deliberations?

Why are legislators so sensitive when asked about their pork barrel? I think the answer is obvious and that’s why I believe calling for the abolition of pork barrel misses the mark.

The problem is not the pork barrel, the problem is the pigs who gorge themselves on it. Get rid of the pigs.

Get rid of the pigs and pork barrel will cease to be a problem. Get rid of the pigs and pork barrel will function as it is supposed to, as a fund that addresses particular local needs that the national government missed.

Big sticks, chopsticks, and a cake

In World War II Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Josef Stalin forged an alliance to defeat Adolf Hitler. It was a reality sandwich they had to eat – as distasteful to the capitalist leaders as it was to the communist leader – because there was nothing else on the table.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin served a similar sandwich last week. Thank God it was nowhere near as foul-tasting as the sandwich that those three WWII musketeers ate.

Gazmin said, “At this point in time, we can’t stand alone. We need an ally. If we do not do this, we will be belittled by bigger forces. That’s what’s happening now. China is already there, they are sitting on our territory. They are not leaving. What will we do? Will we just wait until they are already by our doorsteps? Right now, they are already at our garage…While we are filing cases and at the same time building up our capability to address our security concerns, it’s important that we collaborate with other countries friendly and sympathetic to us.”

That was a warning to China’s leadership, reminding them that although we may not carry a big stick, we have friends who do and are just dying for an excuse to bash Chinese heads. It’s about time, isn’t it?

Unfortunately, some Filipinos with a weakness for chopsticks believe that the administration’s policy of “speak softly but ride with friends who carry big sticks” is unpatriotic and should be opposed at every turn.

The Communist Party of the Philippines claimed we are “provoking China to be more aggressive in its defense of its territories and push beyond its sea borders”. So China’s behavior is our fault

Bayan Muna’s Renato Reyes tried to scare us, “Is the Philippines really prepared to face a confrontation of that scale? Or will be be dragged into a war between two competing superpowers?” We’re shaking in our boots, Sherlock.

Party-lister Neri Colmenares went jingo-ballistic, “While we should strongly assert our territory against China we should not allow a bully to replace another bully. It also serves the imperialist agenda of the US making its pivot to Asia to reinforce its hegemony and promote the US war industry. We denounce President Benigno Aquino III’s subservience, undermining of our sovereignty and the peaceful resolution of the dispute.The U.S. troops should be pulled out and we will file a resolution to junk the Visiting Forces Agreement.”

He also used Gazmin’s statement to distract us, “This is an insult to our veterans and comfort women who suffered under the Japanese during World War II.” As if scars deserved more attention than the thousand cuts China is inflicting on us even as he speaks.

Gabriela’s Luzviminda Ilagan, thinking she was among pre-schoolers, played show and tell, “What’s in a name? Access arrangements, military exercises or routine port calls – they all mean the same thing, translating into unhampered use of facilities and structures in Philippine territory for foreign military use.”

KMP’s Antonio Flores turned constitutionalist and warned, “The President is courting an impeachment complaint for culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust for trampling our sovereignty and rabid puppetry to the US.” Seriously, dude, a puppet capable of betrayal and rabidity? I hate to be the guy to break the news to you but Pinnochio was not a real person.

However in fairness to the CPP-NDF there is some bite behind their bark. Yes, there are potential downsides for the weakest member in a partnership where each party has to mind its selfish national interest even in the face of a common threat. Yes, the partnership with Japan and the US could leave us with the short stick.

But we are not going into the partnership with our eyes closed. We know the greater risk is not to do anything, specially in the face of threats from a country that lives by Erap’s code, “A hungry stomach knows no law.”

China will eat us up if we remain defenseless and alone. We need backup for now. Backup that carries bigger sticks than our adversary. That is why Sec. Gazmin enunciated the policy of partnering with bigsticks who also see China as a threat to their national interest.

An alliance with Japan and the US against China may not be the ideal policy but it is the only one on the table. The CPP-NDF has not presented an alternate plan. All it has done so far is to tell us what we must not do and who we must not offend.

I suspect it is because a nationalistic CPP-NDF security plan will simply mirror the administration’s “subservient” plan. Once in power they will find that the Philippines is still the same defenseless little country at the mercy of big powers. It will still be unable to defend itself by itself.

Consequently, all that the CPP-NDF will be able to do is rearrange seating arrangements. Japan and the US will become the threat and the “friendly and sympathetic” country will be China. Sorry but musical chairs is a parlor game, it is not a solution to our national security deficiencies.

I favor a plan that addresses the cause rather than the symptoms of a problem. Let’s stop the flag-waving for a minute and look for the root cause of the territorial disputes. It’s money. There is a lot of money beneath that sea, enough for all of us to live comfortably.

So let’s walk away from the “over our dead bodies” mentality. That insanity only leads to a lot of dead bodies and no money. Let’s all sit-down and agree on an equal-sharing arrangement. Because a slice of the cake is better than nothing at all.

Mahimbing na natutulog sa pancitan o kasali sa pagnanakaw?

It seems the strategy of those involved in the PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund) scam is to finger-point until our heads spin. I guess we have to break some fingers to get to the truth.

The annual pork barrel for Congress is in the billions, P200-M each for 24 senators and P70-M each for 288 congressmen.

What does it take to get that money flowing?

1. The lawmaker informs the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) that he wants to avail himself of his pork allotment. He identifies “the beneficiaries and submits nominations for the DBM’s approval.”*

2. The DBM, in turn, “vets the items, approves, releases the money to the implementing agency.”*

3. The implementing agency then vets the NGOs (non-governmental organizations) that seek funding for the projects that the lawmaker identified.*

4. Finally, NGOs submit papers to the implementing agency and the lawmakers to show the projects were implemented.*

Sa madaling salita, ang mga mambabatas ang nagbubukas ng gripo at ang mismong mga mambabatas din ang pumipili kung sino ang babalde sa pinaagos nilang PDAF.

Wala sanang problema sa kalakaran na ganyan kung umaabot ang lahat ng goods and services na pinopondohan ng PDAF sa mga lehitimong benepisyario. Pero hindi ganun ang nangyayari.

Marami dun sa mga lehitimong benepisiaryo ay walang natatanggap o, kung meron man, iyon ay kulang-kulang. Kaya naman marami sa kanila ay galit at nagtatanong, “bakit wala o ganito lang ang laman ng aming balde, Ginoong Mambabatas? Sino ang bumalde nung PDAF na para sa amin?”

Nakalulungkot at nakagagalit ang naging paliwanag ng mga mambabatas. They cried foul and postured like they were victims of politics or unscrupulous NGOs and bureaucrats.

They said, it’s a demolition job meant to destroy my political career”…”why investigate only the opposition?”… “I only met Napoles through a common friend”… “I never met Napoles”… “I only allocate my pork, it’s the COA (Commission on Audit) and the implementing agency’s job to scrutinize how my PDAF was spent”… “my staff takes care of everything, I trust them”… at kung ano-kano pa. At kung sino-sino pa ang tinuturo.

Compare those replies with the statement of Rep. Sid Ungab, one of the lawmakers named in the scam. It was alleged that he coursed his PDAF through an NGO identified with the Napoles group.

He said,

“My office always ensures that all the projects we undertake are fully implemented and executed, as in this case, we were in close coordination with the DA (Department of Agriculture) when each phase of the project [such as delivery of materials; inspection of the said materials and distribution] was being executed. The appropriation was fully liquidated, documented by the DA as the implementing agency, and the project was fully implemented and delivered to its intended and actual beneficiaries. I personally attended the distribution of the farming implements and materials to the actual beneficiaries so I am shocked and quite upset by this news.”

Ungab’s statement is unequivocal. Straight to the point. No side-stepping. No excuses. No finger-pointing. It takes balls to do that because it is easy enough to check if he is telling the truth. His beneficiaries were identified by the whistleblower so anybody can go and ask them if they got the goods and services he claims they got. I hope, for his sake, that he is telling the truth.

But my point is, bakit walang mambabatas ang nakasagot ng diretso tulad ni Sid Ungab? Nagpaikot-ikot at nag-tuturo sila; natakot ba sila na baka meron mag-check kung nagsasabi sila ng katotohanan?

Marami pang tanong ang bumabagabag sa aking isip nung humiga ako para magpahinga kaya siguro napanaginipan ko na na-interview ko ang isa sa mga senador na pinaghihinalaang nagbulsa ng PDAF.

Sa aking panaginip tinanong ko siya ng diretsahan.

“Paano nangyari na ninakaw ang milyun-milyong piso na ipinagkatiwala sa iyo ng taong bayan, nakatulog ka ba sa pancitan o kasali ka sa pagnanakaw?”

Parang nabigla siya sa tanong ko kasi ang sagot niya ay, “Who me?”

Sumagot naman ako ng “Yes you, Your Horror” bago ko ipinagpatuloy ang pagdiin sa kanya.

“Meron bang maglalakas loob na mag-scam ng PDAF kung kayong mga mambabatas ay marangal, tapat sa katungkulan, at mahigpit magbantay sa pag-gamit ng PDAF?”

Parang napikon siya sa sinabi ko. Sinumbatan niya ako.

“Are you calling me a thief and my colleagues thieves?”

Lalo ko pa siyang diniin.

“Bossing, walang pork barrel scam kung walang mambabatas na katulad mo.”

Tuluyan na siyang nagalit.

“That’s an insult! That’s not fair! Why single me out, why put the blame solely on us legislators, aren’t the NGOs, the bureaucrats, and the local government officials also guilty?”

“Opo, Ginoong Senador, guilting-guilty rin sila, kaya kailangan bunutin natin mula sa ugat ang korapsyon.”

Mukhang napahinahon siya sa sinabi ko.

“I agree,” sagot niya, “We must pull out the roots, that’s the only way to solve the problem. I will call for a congressional hearing so we can identify the roots.”

Napailing ako.

“Bossing, bakit ka pa magpapa-congressional hearing? Manalaming ka na lang, makikita mo na ‘yung ugat na kailangan bunutin.”

*Information on the PDAF process came from a Rappler.com report.

Short notes III: Reality check for those who want pork abolished

It ain’t gonna happen. Congress will only change its name. We had CDF then PDF and now PDAF. Anybody want to suggest a name for pork’s next incarnation?

There is a legitimate reason for pork.

“The PDAF makes possible the implementation, in every congressional district, of small-scale but significant projects which can not be part of large-scale projects of national agencies. These projects, which are generally in the form of infrastructure, health, education and social aid packages, directly touch the lives of our district constituents and make the government a meaningful presence in their daily lives.”

Yes, PDAF can be the source of massive graft and corruption but it can also make a difference when used properly. Just because there are crooks in some districts is not reason to punish those districts that have honest public servants. Cynicism and simplistic thinking will not get us anywhere.

Abolishing pork is a simplistic solution that comes from a know it all mentality that has no respect for the constituents of a district. Simply eliminating pork disempowers citizens. It takes away their prerogative to deal with their representative as they see fit.

Citizens do not lack for a course of action. They can sue their representative or never vote for them again or better yet, salvage their representatives and hang a sign on their necks saying, Magnanakaw huwag tularan. Why take that power away from citizens, why do for them what they should be doing themselves?

How will our people learn, how will they develop into mature citizens if know-it-alls are always trying to impose what they think is best for those they deem too stupid and ignorant to know what’s best for themselves?

There is a legitimate reason for pork. Let those who need it learn how to make full use of it. Better to abolish know-it-all ism instead.

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