COMMENT: At Random: Patronage Politics (3)

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III. Heart of Corruption

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/27 November)– The DAP is justified for avowed economic and social benefits done through it for the country. HoOwever, wWithout the DAP, the same benefits can be attained through the proper implementation of the economic projects and social programs as provided in the GAA; following the GAA is following the “daang matuwid” (straight path).

As published in The Official Gazette, the DBM exposition cum apology betrays the DAP’s necessity and real intent.  If so, the DAP is a detour towards political patronage na ibaby-pass ng “daang matuwid” kung ito’y totoong matuwid (that the “straight path” would by-pass if this is truly straight).

The corruption that was to pass from the Arroyo administration to the next president made it imperative for Aquino III to campaign on the platform of change through “daang matuwid” in the 2010 election. Evidently, on winning, he was caught on a dilemma between daang matuwid and political patronage — straddling the two horses.

Equivocated

Aquino III equivocated. In his speeches, to backdrop daang matuwid, he condemned corruption in the Arroyo administration – corrupt election, corrupt implementation of government projects, fund scams, etc. – and laid all the blame on President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. [In fact, Arroyo has not only been blamed but is being prosecuted.  On November 18, 2011, a Pasay City court ordered Arroyo arrested for electoral sabotage and on October 4, 2012 for plunder.] But he did not banish political patronage – the heart of corruption.

As a three-term congressman and a half-term senator, he was familiar with the “pork barrel system” as practiced in the PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund). He knew how Arroyo used it to bend the members of the Congress to her wishes – how those loyal to Arroyo were pampered and those in the opposition like him were starved. Yet, continuing the PDAF, he did not ask the Congress to provide for its implementation following the daang matuwid.      

In fact, the use and implementation of the PDAF under Aquino III has become more open-ended and prone to abuse compared to that under Arroyo and to the CDF (Community Development Fund) under President Fidel V. Ramos. The differences are clearly seen in the GAA (General Appropriation Acts).

The 1994 GAA specified the uses of the CDF and the allocation for each representative, senator and the vice president – providing the manner of release and safeguard. The 2004 GAA – silent on the participation of and allocations for the senators and representatives – specified two categories of the uses with “Provided” clauses for the release and realignment of the funds. The 2013 GAA itemized the appropriations, specified the implementing agencies and requirements but did not state the allocation for the members of the Congress and their role in the implementation.

How were the representatives authorized P70 million PDAF and the senators P200 million? How were they authorized to identify and implement their “soft” and “hard” projects – as well as swap “pork” – at their discretion? According to the November 19 Supreme Court Decision on the PDAF, the allocations, including the P200 million of the Vice President were in the 2011 GAA – for the representatives, P40 million for “hard” and P30 million for “soft” projects; for the senators, P100 million for each of the project categories.

The pork barrel system, from the CDF of 1994 to the PDAF of 2013 had evolved into a potent tool of patronage and corruption, significantly under Arroyo and Aquino III.  Obviously, it developed by mutual understanding and tolerance not only among representatives and senators but between the Executive and the Legislative.

Justified, Defended

While in Brunei last October 11, Aquino acknowledged to reporters the abuse of PDAF by some lawmakers. But to be fair to “all Filipinos” he did not want to remove the P25 billion from the 2014 budget; the people need the PDAF of their district representatives to fund infrastructure and social service projects. For instance, there are PDAF 340,000 scholars. A rally in Makati City asked him to totally abolish the PDAF but not its funds — to realign these “to government agencies that provide healthcare, education and infrastructure”, etc.  (Philippine Daily Inquirer, Oct. 11, 2013)

He admitted to foreign correspondents the “reality that [lawmakers as] politicians need [PDAF] projects to seek reelection by those whom they have helped”; the difficulty of prohibiting them from discussing their pet projects with Cabinet officials; and, he needed their cooperation to expedite the passage of the GAA and other Malacanang pet bills.  Mutual back scratching!

Last August, in the discussion whether to abolish PDAF or not, he “made his stand on the matter clear: He wants pork to stay.” Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the President had “realized that projects at the local level were better left under the auspices of lawmakers who were more familiar with the needs of their constituents”.

President Aquino III has made this clear: Political patronage, fair or foul, is indispensable. What does this make of his daang matuwid?

Indefensible

When the JLN-PDAF P10-billion scam was exposed and the COA (Commission on Audit) reported that the scam started as early as 2005, involving more bogus deals other than those with JLN amounting to hundreds of billion pesos and naming 72 representatives and eight senators as culprits, the President found PDAF indefensible and declared it abolished. The Congress deleted the PDAF from the proposed 2014 budget but the House members realigned their allocations.

In realigning their allocations, the House members inserted conditions that in the implementation of the projects they have to be consulted. They still wanted to keep political patronage alive by impressing on the people in their districts that the projects are theirs.

When the Supreme Court last November 19 declared the PDAF including insertions in the GAA unconstitutional, several congressmen proposed the passage of a special appropriation act for the support of the PDAF scholars. This is an admission that “pork barrel” in any form is unnecessary for the lawmakers to sincerely provide for the economic and social benefits for their districts. Their “pet projects” so-called can be included in the regular budget for the proper government agency to implement.

Whether PDAF-related or not, a dubious SARO (Special Allotment Release Order) for P879 million was reported issued by the DBM last October. The Budget Undersecretary claimed her signature had been forged. Agents of the National Bureau of Investigation are investigating the SARO. (Philippine Daily Inquirer, Nov. 25, 2013). Obviously, the scam exposé, the COA report, and the ongoing investigation, have not stopped bogus operations of syndicates suspiciously embedded in government agencies.

Aquino III’s Dilemma

The PDAF scam, flourishing under the Arroyo government and continuing into Aquino III’s, has trivialized the daang matuwid. At the heart of the PDAF and the pork barrel system is political patronage. While the Supreme Court has declared unconstitutional the entire 2013 PDAF Article” and “all legal provisions of past and present Pork Barrel Laws” it had objected to and decreed that the pork barrel system “should never again be adopted … in any name or form”, it admitted that the Decision may not purge all wrongs of society nor bring back what has been lost” – is not a cure-all.

To preempt the possible reemergence of pork barrel in other forms and names, will Aquino III ask the Congress to pass a law prohibiting any form of political patronage using public funds? This will resolve his dilemma in favor of daang matuwid.

When PD No. 1869 as amended by PD 1993 created a “Special Fund” under the discretion of the President, it became to be known as the PSF (Presidential Social Fund). The Court struck down as unconstitutional the discretionary power granted to the President. Unlike the PSF, the DAP has no legal basis but its funds are under the discretion of the President – a source of presidential political patronage.

Regardless of how the Court will decide the petitions to declare the DAP unconstitutional, will Aquino III, at the sacrifice of his discretionary powers, ask the Congress to legally create the DAP? Doing so will guarantee that succeeding Presidents will not abuse the DAP. Even now, despite the assurances from the Palace of the President’s discipline, prudence and honesty in disbursing the DAP funds there are reports to the contrary that cannot just be ignored and dismissed.

Supreme Challenge

 The Court’s exhortation, Disconcerting as it is to think that a system so unconstitutionally unsound has monumentally endured, the Court urges the people and its co-stewards in government to look with optimism of change and awareness of the past,” must be seen to imply the state of corruption in the Philippines unfazed by the daang matuwid and rooted in political patronage. The PDAF is just a branch, not the tree.

Political patronage is everywhere.

Senator Joker Arroyo, the first executive secretary of President Corazon C. Aquino, has persistently criticized Aquino III’s cabinet as a “student council”—obviously rating them as neophytes, not seasoned leaders. That may be shrugged off with “So, what?” But that Aquino III has surrounded himself with his classmates, close friends and shooting range partners smells of cronyism, a species of political patronage.

Several of Aquino III’s secretaries, undersecretaries, bureau directors and top aides had been accused of wrong doings and had offered to resign; he expressed full confidence in them instead of dismissing them outright out for straying from his daang matuwid. Perhaps, he did not want to hurt the padrinos or patrons of these erring officials, he himself included.

How were PDAF scholars chosen? Parents or friends of the parents of aspiring scholars must have approached friends of a legislator or the legislator himself. Indigent patients get PDAF medical benefits in the same way. Local government leaders, favored contractors and agencies corner PDAF “hard” projects in the same way. This is political patronage for votes or kickbacks.

Even in local government or line agency offices, how do employees and officials acquire their positions and promotions? Not just by the right qualifications and meritorious work. Some kind of “patronage” minus or including “political” makes the big difference.

There are many, many more instances.

It is argued that patronage cannot be avoided. Agreed! The arts, sciences, inventions, sports, scholarships, charity and other human endeavors thrive and develop through patrons called philanthropists. Philanthropy, the noble form of patronage, has existed for centuries.

Politicians may be encouraged to continue with political patronage – supporting scholars, providing healthcare, building barangay roads, etc. for votes – as long as they do it with their own money, not the public money. That is noble, not corrupt. What is most condemnable is for politicians to create agencies to support their reelection and perpetuation in power – exploiting the Filipino culture of utang na loob (Tagalog) or kabalaslan (Ilonggo) — and for the President to justify this asking the people to understand.

President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III has been elected on the platform of change. While three years into his presidency, the PDAF-JLN scam has marred the portrayed image and claims of change, the imperative to uproot political patronage, or patronage in any other form, to eradicate corruption remains the President’s supreme challenge.

Is daang matuwid real or just a gimmick?

[“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz is the recipient of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Titus Brandsma for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You may e-mail your comments to [email protected]]

 

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