CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/04 February) — Thus far, the central government’s negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have not yet impacted our lives as Mindanaons directly, especially those of us in the north and eastern parts. But like it or not, what the Bangsamoro Basic Law will contain will change our views and relationships.
For one, it will make us feel and appear as second-class citizens, with them as the privileged ones enjoying an enviable share and control of the wealth of their region.
But nothing else is certain until their basic law is enacted. We won’t know what will characterize their region’s governing structure, policy framework, or operating mode. We can only hope the basic law draws wisdom from the lessons of recent history: what to avoid or discard, what to refine or strengthen, what to adopt.
It would be ironic if the very sector of Mindanao society that views literal pork as anathema or a curse were to adopt its figurative sense as an instrument of development or governance.
Avoiding the temptation of allocating pork barrel allowances to regional officials is one lesson the basic law’s drafters must heed. Any attempt to allow it in any form should be rejected outright. To compromise on this will inevitably corrupt and undermine the regional entity to be established.
Funds are needed for programs and projects. But to make discretionary use of public funds as a major driver or determinant of development and governance will attract and enable scam artists and dirty politicians to dominate regional politics and economics.
Our society tolerated the cavalier use of pork barrel for so long that it thoroughly corrupted the national polity with no exception, corrupting the three branches of government.
Excessive access and misuse of pork barrel allowances bastardized local legislative councils and executives and infected the bureaucracy. And it trashed the electorate and cheapened their votes, giving rise to the culture of corruption and impunity.
Ultimately, pork bastardized our democracy and made a travesty of our electoral system. Dynastic rule has become widespread. Only the extremely wealthy can afford to run. Vote buying and selling are rampant. Rigging elections has become a hobby (in Mindanao especially). Votes are gamely manipulated.
Such is the power of pork to corrupt. Moreover, once installed, it’s difficult to remove or withhold. It’s like a festering sore upon the body politic that won’t heal because of the political maggots that feed on it.
Thanks to the cases surrounding Janet Lim-Napoles—and the Senate trio of Tanda, Pogi, and Sexy—most Filipinos now know how pork can corrupt officialdom all the way to the top. It is like frying the electorate in their own fat, corrupting them without incurring any consequences.
Bangsamoro as Model
Pork or any form of it should have no place in a community that implores Divine Providence for guidance in establishing justice, equality, integrity, and honesty as its governing cornerstones.
This is an important lesson in an age of palusot, especially in a region where corruption is extremely profitable, impunity is par for the course, and elections can be bought.
Like the recently-convicted provincial board members of Sarangani, sworn officials—no matter how many times they take a formal oath—are helpless against temptation where public funds are readily available and easily manipulated.
The Bangsamoro must secure themselves against such temptation, avoiding traditional politicians (trapos) and predatory leaders who cannot resist it.
To be corruption-free and a model of good governance for the rest of Philippine society must be the Bangsamoro’s highest ideal!
Manny was former UNESCO regional director for Asia-Pacific, secretary-general of the Southeast Asian Publishers Association, director at development academy of the Philippines, vice chair of Local Government Academy, and PPI-UNICEF awardee for outstanding columnist. He heads Gising Barangay Movement as national convenor and president. [email protected]