GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/29 November) – More than half-way (three years and five months) into his six-year term, President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III is facing one of the greatest, if not the greatest, challenge of his presidency – making his government and the Filipinos follow the daang matuwid (straight road) as the only way of governance and national life. So far it has been followed more in speeches than in reality – evidently, in the breach.
“Daang matuwid” is a metaphor for “corruption-free government” in contrast to the “corrupt-ridden government” that he had pictured the government of President Gloria Macaagal-Arroyo to have been. To round out the metaphor, it implies that Arroyo had followed the “daang bako-bako” or “crooked road”.
Corruption, he says, is the root of poverty. To drive home his point, he trumpets his slogan, “Kung walang kurap, walang mahirap” (Without corruption, there’s no poverty; literally, if there are no corrupt people there are no poor people).
By his “Daang matuwid” platform complemented by his slogan “Kung walang mahirap, walang kurap”, in plain words, he has promised to rid the Philippines of corruption in order to liberate the Filipinos from poverty. More than half-way into his presidency, how much of his promise has been fulfilled – of self-imposed challenge done?
His SONA (State of the Nation Address) on July 22, 2014 was a litany of his government’s social and economic accomplishments on the daang matuwid making the Philippines “the fastest growing country in Asia” along with China. By whatever design in mind, he named agencies that had strayed from daang matuwid and warned them to reform or else … Yet, he made no mention of the P10-billion scandal involving the Priority Development Assistance Fund of the members of the Congress exposed in the first week of July.
However, no presidential silence could stop the full eruption of the scandal after its exposure. Soon the report from the Commission on Audit showed the P10-billion PDAF scam involving bogus NGOs (non-government organizations) of Jean Napoles-Lim (JLN) and some members of the Congress was just a small fraction of the hundred billions of pesos systematically looted from the government under Arroyo – the looting continuing into the Aquino III administration.
Last November 19, the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the 2013 PDAF and all other forms of “Pork Barrel” before it. The Court also struck down provisions of presidential decrees which had granted discretionary fiscal power to the President over certain government incomes. In effect, the Court Decision has shown Aquino III as not mindful of straying from his “daang matuwid” in tolerating laws and practices that had been abetting corruption.
Three days ago, reports showed how closer to home are the agents of corruption scorning the daang matuwid. The PDAF-JLN operations must have been totally stopped. But syndicates embedded in agencies of the Executive Department are still active. And, operating at the very heart of the department releasing government funds – the DBM (Department of Budget and Management)!
In separate stories, Philippine Daily Inquirer (November 26 to 28), reported the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) is investigating the newly discovered fake SAROs (Special Allotment Release Order) uncovered in Regions II, IV-A, VI and XII. They are four of the SAROs covering P879 million for farm-to-market roads in twelve regions of the Department of Agriculture. Those for Regions II and IV-A were dated October 10, 2013 and presented to the DA regional directors there on October 18.
DBM Secretary Florencio Abad readily identified the SAROs as fake since they bore his initials when he does not initial or sign SAROs. The signatures of DBM Undersecretary Luz M. Cantor were falsified. The fake SARO forms were photocopied from originals in the DBM office. That for Region II was hand-carried by a staff member of a congressman from that region.
As Abad himself admitted, fake SAROs are done by syndicates that ask advance money from local government beneficiaries of the SAROs to expedite the processing. This implies that syndicates are also embedded in other offices of the government. As shown in the PDAF-JLN scam, diverting funds from the rightful beneficiaries is a complex syndicated operation.
What do the newly uncovered fake SAROs mean? For the daang matuwid to prevail as the only way of governance, all government offices – national and local – must be rid of all traces of corruption. The offices of the local government executives and sanggunian (legislative councils) appropriate, release and use their local funds independent of the DBM and the Office of the President. Corrupt individuals and syndicates can feast on local funds.
In its November 19 decision, the Supreme Court only prodded the Executive and the Legislative by declaring unconstitutional the pork barrel system and legal provisions of Presidential Decrees that had abetted corruption. The Court could only do that much – prod. If, like horses, prodding does not make them run, what else can make them do?
To completely eradicate corruption, the Congress must repeal laws and amend others that legalize corruption. Together, the Executive, the Legislative and the Judiciary must cleanse their offices of individuals or groups that promote or engage in corrupt practices. The daang matuwid must be built not just by the President but by all leaders in the three branches of government on the national and local levels. “Kung walang kurap, walang mahirap” is the slogan for all, not just for President Aquino III.
In the poem by Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken”, a traveler stood by two roads then decided to take the one “less travelled by”. In the end the traveler mused: “I shall be telling this with a sigh/ Somewhere ages and ages hence:/ Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, /I took the one less traveled by,/ And that has made all the difference.” He did not regret his option.
In another poem by Robert Burns, “To a Mouse”, the poet, as a farmer plowing in wintry November 1785, turned up a mouse’s nest. The poem reflects the difference in the life of “mice and men”.
In Highland Scot English, which we paraphrase, he addressed Mousie as it stood quivering: “You are a thief and I can kill you.”
But while commiserating with Mousie for losing its nest planned for winter, he shared with Mousie’s misfortune: “Mousie, you are not alone in proving that foresight may be in vain. The best laid schemes of Mice and Men may go amiss and leave us nothing but grief and pain instead of the promised joy.”
And he sort of envied Mousie: “Still, you are blessed compared with me! The present only touches you. Me? When I look back I see dreary (failed) prospects; when I look into the future, I cannot see but guess and fear.”
The corrupt in the Philippines are thieving mice, not upright men. As the “plowman”, should President Aquino III envy mice’s “better” fortune and commiserate with them when punished for their crime? Or, like a mouse, kill them?
Like the traveler, will President Aquino III be able to stand alt the end of his presidency on June 30, 2016, look back and say, “I do not regret having chosen the daang matuwid”– the road not taken. To be able to say so, there’s a lot for him to do in the remaining two and a half years of his presidency. Perhaps, as herculean a job as cleaning the Augean stable!
[“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 firstname.lastname@example.org]