WORM’S EYEVIEW: Are we really the Boss or are they pulling our leg?

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/21 May) — The president has taken to calling us his “Boss.” We say we are your Supporters. We support and endorse your avowed policy: Matuwid na Daan. We pray for its success and wish to help accordingly. Thus, we would to express our concern about a very real threat to its success, namely: the patronage system known as Pork Barrel or Priority Development Assistance Fund. Events of late and front-page revelations of its cavalier handling at high places portend frustration and likely failure ahead. So let us face the issue squarely.

Too long has Pork corrupted our polity: legislatures, bureaucracy, electorate. It is like a festering sore upon the body politic that doesn’t heal because of the political maggots that feed on it. Everyone knows that Pork serves mainly to feed the vanity and political agenda of its users. That it is used to manipulate the poor and the impressionable among our electorate is reprehensible. This cynical scheme to extract benefits from the public service by frying the constituency in its own fat should have no place in a society whose Constitution implores Divine Providence for guidance. It is time we get rid of this major corruptor of our democracy. We just haven’t matured enough or learned enough to handle abuses of this kind.

Pork is not evil per se; everyone knows there is Pork in other societies. But in them its handling is protected by a regime of transparency and accountability that works. It works because it is anchored on an ethic backed by the Rule of Law. To abuse Pork in those societies isn’t worth it. For in addition to a system of checks and balances that won’t tolerate it, they have a hard core of vigilant, no-nonsense citizens who will not forgive betrayers of the public trust. Such is the force of established tradition and culture which, sad to say, we Filipinos have yet to institutionalize.

Every parent knows the folly of giving large allowances to kids or to persons with immature impulses; they’ll only squander the money or blow it on unworthy causes. As with parents, so with society—especially a relatively young society like ours whose institutions are very much still a work-in-progress. It is folly for our society to slice huge portions of our scarce resources and let people of uncertain integrity or legitimacy handle them—not especially in an age of palusot, where impunity seems fashionable, and where elections can be bought. Even duly sworn officials seem helpless against temptation, too readily violating their oath. Under these circumstances, the better part of valor is to withdraw the excessive Pork allocations and use these—perhaps P50 billion or more!—for the purposes of your reform agenda.

Accordingly, as our electorate prepares to put a new Congress in place by May, we urge you, Mr. President, to disown and abolish the Pork Barrel System. Now, not later! We ask that (1) the funds earmarked for it be turned over to our communities through their respective local development councils (Sec 106-115, R.A. 7160); and (2) that this be effected using a formula similar to the one apportioning internal revenue allotments (IRA) for barangay, municipality, city, and province (Sec. 284-288).

We believe that your doing so will fulfill the unfinished agenda of EDSA I which your mother, our beloved President Cory, could only dream of, namely:

Energize national development from the grassroots up. The masses, poor as they are, cannot induce real development by themselves. Solidarity within the community is essential. All sectors in the 42,000+ barangays that are the wellsprings of productivity and progress need to be involved. All must learn to reach out across economic classes, occupations and professions and collaborate in the tasks of community development. Especially critical is the involvement of the resource-rich and better-educated in every community. It is bad that, thinking their barangay too small, its funds too little, they ignore its governing processes, rarely participating in its programs.

They deprive the community, in its striving for development, of their ideas, resources, technology, and work ethic. Challenged by the task of redeploying funds from Pork for their community, their interest will perk up and move them to join hands with the rest to assure better management and greater productivity. Their involvement will give impetus to the flowering of developmental initiative at the grassroots.

Institutionalize Autonomy/Good Governance. Added funds for operations and projects will boost prospects for more development and necessitate the activation of the non-performing mechanisms for planning/public administration at every level (Sec 106-115). For instance, the law requires that at least ¼ of the LDC membership must be from (and be nominated by) local NGOs or institutions; but this is blithely ignored. As a result, local governments do not benefit from their experience and capabilities. Let us end the monopoly of trapos over local governance; ever wary of “threats” to their entrenched power/positions, they exclude the creative or the highly competent in the community from the circle of governance. Because of this, LGUs continue to be victims of patronage and the dependency syndrome, forcing people into mendicancy.

Minimize graft/corruption, maximize savings, have more money for development. Letting the community take charge of the funds, with its LDC directly overseeing programs, will stop thievery or waste associated with the brokered distribution of Pork and the corrupt auctioning or awarding of projects. Funds that are lost to bribes, commissions, and crooked procurement will be conserved and made available for more development programs and projects.

Let legislators focus/concentrate on legislation. Freed from the mundane tasks of identifying, prioritizing, funding, and supervising local projects, congressmen and senators will become professional legislators, more serious about enacting laws with far-reaching impact on nation-building—no longer inclined to usurp the work of the Executive, and less likely to indulge in “epalism” by jockeying for credit from public works projects and other gimmickry.

Make communities more productive. As the corporate functions of local governments, especially the barangays, gain appreciation and attention from the community’s professionals and institutions, more productive enterprises will arise. Then the land, labor, and capital of LGUs will be better utilized. Production-marketing activities will be more efficient. The local economy will expand. The Gross Barangay Product will then assume importance as it gains credence as a gauge of local development and a booster of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product.

Engage more Filipinos in nation-building. With progressive residents (the passive factor at grassroots level today) mobilized and involved—democracy will become inclusive and vibrant, providing a framework for consensus building, collaboration, solidarity—a strong, community-based political will. It will be reflected in politically-stable, relatively crime-free communities: the result of a citizenry fired by an assertive brand of sovereignty that demands/contributes to a better quality of life, high standards of performance, improved health and sanitation, orderly neighborhoods, political stability, and so on.

Make democracy the partner of development. People-power in bloom will lead Philippine society closer to attaining the ideal of a government of the people, by the people and for the people. Democracy with a dynamic, productive mode will more surely promote human development and a strong the base for what can be rightly claimed as a Strong Republic. There will be direct democracy and a parliamentary government in the barangay as ordained by law. As the primary level of our political system, the barangay will function properly as a government, a public corporation, and an economy—exemplifying a small republic from which the Philippine Republic draws its strength, one that creates its own prosperity and makes the state policy of autonomy a reality.

Finally, if the people are adequately informed of their essential role and powers as sovereign citizens, Filipinos will not have to reach so high up the political ladder to address their concerns; They have but to convene the Barangay Assembly, which is their parliament and of which they are members (Sec 397-398) and through it transform the grassroots into the true base of People Power in the House of Democracy that President Cory built from the wreck of Dictatorship. Only then can we claim confidently that barangays are the durable foundation of our sovereign state, the formidable base of a Strong Republic.

Mr. President:

These items on the unfinished Agenda of EDSA and of your Excellency’s mother, President Cory, beloved heroine of Filipinos everywhere, remain pending. She could only dream about them during her time. It now remains for you to make them real in the land which gave birth to People Power.

Please abolish that ignominious Pork Barrel now. Let us admit that our society still is ill-prepared to fully secure the public trust against abuse, irresponsibility and/or reckless thievery! (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Manny Valdehuesa is the president and national convenor of Gising Barangay Movement Inc. He can be reached at valdehuesa@gmail.com )