Tomorrow, a million people will supposedly troop to the streets, and into Luneta. This crowd is of mixed and divergent belief regarding the abolition of pork. Some, in favor or its rehabilitation, and some its outright scrapping. Nevertheless it is a protest against the use of the Priority Development Assistance Fund or PDAF, and a call for the abolition of the pork barrel system. The call comes from the discovery of the people’s money diverted to non-government organizations used as dummy to steal the national treasury. It comes after the revelation of Janet Napoles— an individual whose company and persona, allegedly is the heart of the conspiracy. It comes after the revelation of a Commission on Audit report on where the people’s money has been spent. The anger is palpable. It is a nice, but misplaced sentiment.
In 2010, Benigno S. Aquino III was elected President on the premise of his anti-corruption campaign. He likened the nation into a house, now run down. His job was to fix it. So in day one, that was what he set out to do; to put the nation’s affairs into the proper state, and right the ship of state’s course. And President Aquino has enjoyed one of the longest running positive trust rating, at least in the Fifth Republic, thus far.
Throughout the early years of the Aquino Administration we’ve seen some of the changes. Perception, and minds being altered. It can be argued that it is slow, and grueling work. And that bureaucratic inertia exists and tugs against change. Quite recently, the Public has been privy to some of the more detailed work that the Administration has done. The Commission on Audit began their special audit work — in 2010— at the start of the President’s term. They started looking into 2007— and into the end of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s term of office. The product is a volume of complex reporting with as much as detail as possible regarding anomalies. Big and small, the anomalies and the questionable transactions are there. The Commission on Audit spared neither the allies of President Aquino. Many Senators are on the list. Many members of the lower house are there.
The diversity of the crowd going to Luneta to vent, to express their anger, and frustration is not the gamechanger. The game changer was when the nation elected Aquino into office. The game changer was when the Commission on Audit conducted their audit, and subsequently published their report. The game changer was when President Benigno S. Aquino III went on television to announce the abolition of the PDAF system, and to replace it with a stricter, focused menu of pork. The game changer is government making public the list of where PDAF went to.
Think of the government providing information as the first step towards Freedom of Information. Think of this level of unprecedented transparency, as the first step towards Freedom of Information, and a clear indication of transparency and Open Government.
The data the government has provided the public is voluminous. Let us not kid ourselves that the data provide brings much color. It brings some color. In fact, it now becomes a challenge to civil society, of organizations such as ProPinoy, and journalists to look into these facts and figures and mine it for treasure. The onus is now on us, citizens. This is a taste of what Open Government is. It is a clear, and practical taste.
This treasure trove, the announcement of the President to abolish PDAF, and the working organs of government like the Commission on Audit I think, makes Monday’s protest less potent. Wasn’t the whole point of electing Aquino, president, this? What we’re experiencing, and discovering now? Wasn’t this why he became President in the first place? Wasn’t this the driving force of his entire presidency, including to this point? The need to uncover these secrets?
It surprised me that people rage… and what against exactly?
The President who, however imperfect the degree of change we think he has, and can accomplish, has walked his talk. This in spite of the detail like what the Commission on Audit for example revealed. Some of the difficulty in their audit were records aren’t there, or deliberately hidden.
Others are angry because this is the people’s money being spent incorrectly! Certainly, we have a right to be angry. As to what color, and to what degree? We can’t have a call to have every politician’s head chopped off, now, would we? Some are suggesting that every politician is dirty, and every PDAF money used was done for nefarious, and self-interest. That is unfair to the representatives in Congress or Senators who used their PDAF wisely. Correct?
To drafters/disseminators of unity statement: Please explain why no party-list/legislator who has spent pork had been called to task by you.
— Nik de Ynchausti (@iwriteasiwrite) August 24, 2013
Many of these groups that would meet in tomorrow’s rally for example have seats in Congress. A cursory look at their PDAF for example is that they used it for purposes no different from many of their colleagues in the Congress! Rafael Mariano of Anak Pawis, for example, used PHP 2 million pesos for 2 classrooms in Allacapan, Cagayan. The said fund was released Jan. 30, 2012. Allacapan might be familiar to you. It was the site of 8 elite cops killed, 7 others hurt by members of the New People’s Army. Total PDAF spent by Rafael Mariano for Anak Pawis in 2012 was 52,300,000. So far this year, Anak Pawis has spent PHP 20 million already. In 2011, PHP 26.780 million. The year before that in 2010, PHP 36,700,000, and in 2009, when President Gloria Arroyo was in office, they spent a total of 25.450 Million, mostly financial assistance to Local Government Units.
Teddy Casino of Bayan Muna, prior to losing in the 2013 election, spent PDAF monies. For example, PHP500,000 of the people’s money for scholarship program in Cebu. He spent 150,000 of the people’s money to fund “high value commercial crops” in Region IV. This was released on March 20, 2013. The total of Bayan Muna’s 2013 PDAF use so far tallied PHP 95,725,000 (they have three seats, in case you are wondering). In 2012, Bayan Muna spent 124,775,000 of the people’s money. The project range from building multi-purpose buildings, peace and order (purchase of a vehicle for barangay use), flood control, financial assistance, health and medicine supplies, etc.
This of course, isn’t to say that there is anything wrong, or anomalous about these figures or these projects. As I stated earlier, there isn’t much color in these figures to come to that conclusion. The figures the Department of Budget and Management have given out simply state who used how much and for what project. An audit by the Commission on Audit would help determine if there was any anomalous transaction. These figures are helpful first tentative step in figuring out the whole problem.
The whole point of putting these figures here is this: If we assume this fund was used appropriately, by at least these people calling for the government to scrap pork, why call it evil? Why call all pork evil, and all legislators, evil, when some, arguably these people think they used the money for “good”?
Jego Ragragio rightly put what has happened to the Million People March in the proper context. He’s right. The whole event has “veered off course,” and no matter how much people ramble that the President’s speech and directive to abolish PDAF didn’t snap the potency of the march, well, it has! What again is the whole point of holding a march against something that no longer existed or exist in its somewhat weakened and diluted state? The organizers choose to “shift goal posts”, Jego wrote, and hence you now have a diversity of issues and personas.
Jego is an ordinary citizen much like the rest of us. We want change. Here are the things that he wants:
That said, the following are the ideas I am representing when I go to Luneta:
1. I want transparency on the part of the people and agencies who will identify, process, and implement district projects. No matter the alternative proposed by Malacanang or by Congress, I want a means by which all of the steps may be scrutinized by anyone willing and interested. This means the passage of a Freedom of Information Law that restricts access only to information affecting civil rights and liberties, and places a strict burden on government to justify non-disclosure.
2. I want accountability. I want the full extent of the PDAF scams probed by all agencies with the power and authority to do so. If it takes an independent commission, then so be it. I want both houses of Congress to transparently investigate their past and current membership, and expel incumbents later charged and found guilty.
3. I want Congress to pass a law institutionalizing a lean, metrics-based, process-based, epal-free method by which district projects can be formulated and implemented with the cooperation and consultation of the affected LGus, then handed over to the involved LGUs for continuation, all without having to pass through the possibility of a Presidential line-item veto, to preserve the separation of powers.
How about you? Are you angry at the thievery? Are you pissed off that we’re having trouble making people accountable? Do you have your own thoughts about how we can replace PDAF and other lump-sum discretionary funds? Then please, join us at Luneta on August 26. This is your chance, don’t let others purport to speak for you. Because you have the right to get angry, the right to be pissed off.
Now here’s again the tricky part. I’m going to come out and say, I agree with the things Jego wants. There are other brilliant ideas of course like Senator Bam Aquino’s People’s Fund.
Then there is Nik de Ynchausti who wrote:
— Nik de Ynchausti (@iwriteasiwrite) August 24, 2013
One that goes back to the whole premise of the rally. If you look at the things Jego wants the government to do, well, they already announced that they were going to do it. Here’s an info graphic from Manolo Quezon’s blog to explain the what happens after PDAF gets abolished (click image to expand):
Many people are going to show their indignation. People are rightfully angry. If they weren’t, Noynoy Aquino wouldn’t have become president to begin with! And his popularity rating wouldn’t be as high. So for the longest time, we were all only guessing at how bad it was. Now we have real numbers, and real figures and the shock of the extent of it all, well, that’s why people are angry, aren’t they?
There is no doubt that the system has been abused. There is no doubt that there needs to be justice. Many of those serving as officials of the government, if proven, should be ousted. Monies need to be recovered. Change needs to happen.
If we can agree that there is room for some pork what are the mechanics of that change?
What happens when pork disappears? Who gets control of where the monies will be spent? How does this affect the various projects in districts that would help people directly?
Pork isn’t evil. As I cited above: it is being used by every legislator to advance some advocacy. Not every legislator is evil. To generalize would be irresponsible. Not every pork project is bad. Whether those funds are misused or not— that’s for investigation, prosecution, and recovery.
Tomorrow’s million man march will be the first such large scale protest attempted in the Aquino Administration. It already seems like a fiesta. The old militants are alive, and jubilant that finally, once more, they can take to the streets in an orgy of hate against whomever is in power. Little forgetting of course, that they too have a place in Congress and that in the many years they have been in power, have not advanced scrapping of the pork, and in fact used it for their own projects. The hypocrisy isn’t lost for ordinary people, unused to joining street protests. It seem like a tired way of doing things?
How do we solve the problem and fix the system so this doesn’t happen again, to begin with? Solving the problem so that when the next President comes, we have institutionalized the system that works for us. You know, that weirdo, old fashioned idea called, “We the Sovereign.” In PNoy speak, it goes: “Kayo ang boss ko”.
Oliver Reyes Tweeted this, and this view is shared by many of us:
— Oli R. (@ageofbrillig) August 24, 2013
If you haven’t read “The Abolition of Pork” by the Explainer, Manolo Quezon, now is the right time to do it. He points out that “you need a conspiracy to get away with all these scams”:
The President’s example about the two opportunities for mischief in reenacting a budget is, of course, different from the Napoles scam –but what they have in common, what both required, is something the President pointed out: you need a conspiracy to get away with all these scams. Normally, the Constitutional checks and balances –within Congress (between its two chambers), between the Legislative (Congress) and the Executive (the President, and the departments under him), and watchdog institutions such as COA and the Ombudsman– should work to make violating both the spirit and the letter of our laws difficult to escape. But if all conspire together, whether actively, or by turning a blind eye, or being timid, then you can get away with fiscal murder.
I won’t go into the grisly details of the Napoles scheme, but will only point out that it required not just willing accomplices but also a lot of other criminal activity, from forging documents (letters from LGUs) to creating dummy NGOs, etc. But the whole Napoles scam brings us to PDAF itself and we need to look at a little history.
As a citizen, the change that I want to happen the most is in us, actually. Here we have information to verify, or at least— the information to take the first, tentative steps to identifying the real culprits in stealing and to help advance our cause: the proper use of our hard earned monies. Are we wasting this opportunity given by an Open Government? For me, indignation is one thing. The anger? This mob mentality of “off with their heads”? That’s not helping. Are we thinking the next step after, or like Juan Tamad waiting for someone to solve the problem for us? Anger is the path to the dark side, and this is why the hypocrisy of indignation must stop, and why we must shift gears and solve the problem of how government spends our monies.