COMMENTARY: About “Pork”: Integrity will Prevail

Today we come together as Filipino citizens who believe in the Philippines and believe in one another. We come together with love for our country and love for one another, refusing to yield to the temptation of losing hope, of forfeiting our future, of living to simply bow our heads in shame. We Filipinos do not define ourselves by the likes of Janet Napoles; we do not define ourselves by corruption; we do not define ourselves by lies, manipulation and fear. We define ourselves by our love for ourselves, our families, for our nation, and in our love for our God, who has blessed us all in so many diverse ways, but has blessed us most specially by creating us Filipinos and Filipinas. We define ourselves by the future we lock arms together today to defend and embrace. It is a future where the Filipino and Filipina of hard work and integrity are found only in foreign countries, but have a true home here on our native soil.

We come today to seize that future by refusing to be cowed by the magnitude of the corruption that has been recently unveiled by the whistleblowers, by the Commission on Audit, and by Napoles herself. Her flight speaks louder than her lies. She has fled in guilt, shame and fear. We come to make her type of corruption a thing of the past, and to commit ourselves personally to a future of integrity, a future of pride for the Filipino/a .

First, today: We want the TRUTH. We deserve nothing but the absolute truth from our leaders in government. How are public funds being spent? Napoles has brought the “decaying rat” from the stinking closet into the open. She has exposed the dishonor in the pomp and ritual of the “honorables”.

She has shamelessly used the deprivation and suffering of the poor to enrich herself and her “honorable” solons and senators through ghost NGOs and ghost projects fed by their double-dead “pork.” The extent of her corruption is staggering, going into billions of pesos. Large as this is, we are now made to understand that the Napoles scams that involve 23 congressmen and 5 senators account only for a small fraction of the total amount of pork mishandled and abused. In the name of all Filipinos who – whether they like it or not – pay taxes, pay excise taxes, pay VAT, documentary stamp taxes, and income taxes, in the name of all the hardworking Filipinos who labor with their bodies in factories and offices or labor at their professions, whose meager salaries are withheld each and every payday, today: we want the truth! We want to know who have benefited, who have received the cuts, who are responsible for the corruption, how it all came about. We want to know if it can be cured. If not, the consequence is clear: the PDAF – the pork barrel must go.

The President has said the PDAF must go. That’s not what he was saying when the stinking rat was first brought out of the closet. Now that millions of Filipinos are showing outrage for the extent of the scam, he has changed his tune. The PDAF must go in its present form, but a new PDAF will arise that will be better protected against misuse and more transparent. But the People are wary. Pouring perfume on a stinking rat does not eliminate the rot. It is not the sweet perfume that wins, but the stench.

The cure seems to be to do away altogether with unbudgeted, discretionary, uncontrolled, inauditable spending, to insist that the legislator legislate, and the people in the executive implement laws. If so, then the President himself is not exempt from our demand. His Special Purpose Funds amount to P449.95 Billion constituting about a fifth of the entire P2.268-T proposed 2014 budget. If news reports are to be believed, the DBM has failed to submit a report on how Malacanang spent its special purpose funds. Mr. President, this makes us, your BOSS, very uneasy. Mr. President, we ask you to report on how you have used you Special Purpose Funds. We admired you for your “daang matuwid” programs. But Napoles has pulled the stinking rat out of the closet. When no reports on public spending have been given, we begin to smell the rot of corruption, even where we thought we walked together on the straight and narrow.

We call for accountability and justice. We call for an independent, impartial, credible and competent body to investigate how the PDAF and other sources of funds for public use have been used or abused by our public officers. We demand nothing less than prosecution to the fullest extent of the law for those individuals who have gravely abused their discretion and violated the People’s trust. We want transparency in all government transactions, including public biddings on projects, making sure that the money disbursed actually goes to the intended projects or beneficiaries. Short of a legislated Freedom of Information Law, we demand that measures be adopted now, to afford each and every Filipino the right to “audit” how government funds are being spent.

We demand change. Not just perfume on the stinking rat. Government spending must be based on intelligent foresight, detailed budgetary planning, integrity, transparency, control, and accountability. Otherwise, the stinking rat will nibble away, will gnaw at, if not devour, the deliverables in basic social services, education, classrooms, health care, government hospitals, roads, bridges, and utilities that the people need. It will consume allocations needed to address damage caused by natural disasters and calamities. It will eat away at the basic salaries and benefits of our public school teachers and other government workers. We are tired of this. We are sick of it. We demand change!

We come together today to seize our future free of pork-related corruption. It is our future which we claim “as Boss.” It is our future which we claim as Filipinos and Filipinas. We are not defined by the corruption of Napoles. We are defined by our love for one another, and by our love for our country. We will fight for this future, as we fight for our love. Today, we will not let anyone derail it. Integrity will prevail. (Fr. Joel Tabora, SJ, is the president of Ateneo de Davao University.)