CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/13 April)–Two really big issues every voter should confront as Election Day nears are political dynasties and the gratuitous Pork Barrel funds that congressmen and senators pig out on.
Dynasties insult us with the notion that our society of close to one hundred million people should be governed by hand-picked members of a ruling class consisting of a few dozen privileged families. Pork capitalizes the political career of people who win seats in Congress, enriches them with kickbacks and commissions, and wastes billions of our money on substandard infrastructure they have no business constructing while emasculating autonomy or self-governance.
The obscene spread of political dynasties—now in 72 of our 80 provinces as tallied by the Movement Against Dynasties (MAD)—is extremely worrisome. At least 90% of our provinces are plagued by families and clans out to dominate politics and the economy. How did we manage to let these ghoulish predators feed on the lifeblood of our society, sucking the spirit out of our democracy, spreading an epidemic of corruption and greed? Shame!
The rise of these shameless dynasties betrays how greedy and selfish a Filipino or his family can be in his own backyard. It makes one wonder about their education, where they learned their values, or how they can look in the mirror without feeling disgust. Such insensitivity and utter lack of delicadeza is simply un-Filipino.
No less worrisome: how can the sovereign citizens of Asia’s First Republic tolerate being dominated by greedy dynasties? It is unbelievable that a Filipino community can be so wrongheaded and corrupt that it would transmogrify democracy into oligarchy—a government in which power is in the hands of a few. The success of these dynasties in capturing political—and the economic power that goes with it—is emboldening many more to establish their own.
By our tolerance, we make oligarchy fashionable, and invite plutocracy—government in which power is in the hands of the rich and wealthy. We intensify the temptation and the urge to aggrandize power and amass wealth—and with it, corruption and thievery.
Thus it should surprise no one that government on virtually every level is being turned into a family enterprise, public service into a livelihood. Worse, we have allowed them to trivialize the noble craft of politics and statesmanship into a game of monopoly.
How can any Filipino, let alone a whole Filipino family or clan, be so selfish and thoughtless? Why would they want to establish a monopoly on government, making a mockery of democracy? Why would they deny other Filipinos the opportunity to serve society? Not only is this un-Filipino, it is execrable, and unacceptable!
It is time to send a message to all political families that to place their personal or family interests above the common good is selfish and uncivilized. If they don’t know that, then we must teach them a lesson by denying them the vote.
Let us reject any candidate who belongs to a dynasty or who is beholden to one. Let us stop emerging dynasties in their tracks. It is the least we can do. Let us call on every Filipino to shun them in order to restore decency and fairness in politics and Filipino culture as a whole.
Politicos prefer to call it Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). Using this term makes Pork allowances sound not so bad. It camouflages their profligacy. It makes their cavalier spending of hundreds of millions on self-serving projects somehow seem legitimate and altruistic. It provides cover for the kickbacks and commissions from contractors and suppliers.
As if that’s not bad enough, Pork Barrel money enables them to weaken public resistance to their candidacy: bribing voters, buying votes, blurring perception on what’s illegal or immoral, justifying cheating. These are the techniques of manipulating and corrupting an electorate’s civic values, breaking down their sense of fairness and honesty, bastardizing the political system.
Who was it who said that “Money is the root of all evil”? Actually it’s not money per se but the excessive desire for amassing money. Money enables a corrupt person to acquire or enjoy things and services that satisfy his greed.
Voters should know that Pork Barrel funds and/or PDAF-funded projects are determined by none other than the congressmen and senators themselves. They slice away chunks from the national budget and set these aside for their own use, doing it in the name of “development assistance.” And they get away with it by making the preposterous claim that only they know the needs of their districts and constituents. They make such claims even without bothering to consult or hold public hearings, as they should.
Then to the eternal discredit of the President, his office takes the word of the senators and congressmen at face value and actually grants them the gargantuan allowances they request. This is why every year the use, misuse, and abuse of Pork causes a flood of corruption that inundates our society worse than Typhoon Sendong and Pablo combined. Nature’s floods are seasonal and affect a limited geographic area only. But political corruption is year-round, infecting society systemically, insidiously… creeping into people’s consciousness slowly, imperceptibly, weakening their moral fiber, rendering them susceptible to other forms of corruption.
The Pork Barrel System legalizes what amounts to plunder and thievery by our putative representatives. They’re supposed to be our public servants; we, their Boss. But instead of serving us and our community, they use the Pork to manipulate us and the votes of our naïve neighbors. It is their classic strategy for maintaining their political career and sustaining their lavish lifestyle. Our money enables them to fill or replenish their barrels year after year. This subtle variation of “cooking people in their own fat” is a dastardly conspiracy against society hatched by vain, selfish individuals with bankrupt sense of values and ideals and no hint of statesmanship or patriotism.
It really is high time we do away with this legalized scam. This so-called “priority development assistance fund is a priority only for its abusers. It is development of their political careers. And it certainly is great assistance to their unending re-election campaigns!
For those who don’t know how this scheme came to be, it was cooked up by trapos renowned for their expertise in extorting big money from the public treasury. Most of them were Marcos-trained stragglers and scam artists from the Martial Law Regime. Searching for a formula to recover the perks they lost at EDSA in 1986, they zeroed in on Pork as a “countrywide development fund” based on practices that grew around the pork barrel program in the U.S. over a century ago. They desperately needed it to: (1) to boost their stock by claiming credit for projects, and (2) to camouflage kickbacks and commissions from contractors and suppliers.
But unlike Pork Barrel projects in the U.S. their version of it here was merely a numbers game: How many projects one can claim and brag about. In other words, quantity not quality or workmanship. This explains why the projects are invariably substandard: thinly-paved roads that give way with the onset of rainy season, bridges that crack before the year is out, streets without curbs, non-existent sidewalk for pedestrians, canals without cover, and so on. Cutting corners, scrimping on project specifications: they’re experts at cutting costs to maximize kickbacks and guarantee fat commissions. That’s why we have substandard but overpriced public works.
Trapos are clever! Who else can invent such a brazen, shameless way of abusing taxpayers? But remember: cleverness is not a valid reason for re-electing anyone, not especially trapos! They’re no good!
Having stated that, please go find decent, honest, and sincere candidates to replace these Pork-addicted trapos! And, while you’re at it, drive the dynasty candidates out of the arena of democracy! Never mind if they’re a member of your clan, or a close friend. The fate of our society is at stake. They’re greedy opportunists who couldn’t care less, traitors to Filipino values and institutions. They are a poison to an immature political system such as hours.
If they weren’t such a shameless breed, I’d say they should be ashamed of themselves! But would they give a damn? [MIndaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Manny Valdehuesa writes from Cagayan de Oro and is the president and national convenor of Gising Barangay Movement Inc. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.]