THE WORM’S EYEVIEW: Let’s hope pork is really out

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/11 August) — If pork is really out, the playing field for elections will become more or less level; not immediately but eventually.

Let’s not forget that the dynasties are still in place, bulging pockets and all; and all are jealously guarding the privileged positions they acquired using years of pork barrel benefits.

Dislodging these pork-fattened opportunists will take great effort and imaginative campaigns by cash-strapped challengers. The trapos still enjoy the advantage of having so many of their kind dominate the top levels of government.

With the might of pork barrel in full play in past decades, plus the unspent balances on the commissions and kickbacks obtained from Janet Lim-Napoles, there’s no telling what conspiracies are being cooked up even now; so there’s no room for complacency.

Without pork, and the gimmickry it affords, it’s hard to imagine what qualitative change, if any, will take place in our political system.

Then there are the trillions budgeted for next year, and more to follow in succeeding years; who knows what creative gimmicks will succeed the “junking” of pork and the controversial disbursement acceleration program (DAP).

Everyone should be alert. For it’s a sure thing that an even more determined pursuit of power and privilege will be waged by relatives, clones, and proxies of the incumbents on all levels.

The pursuit acquires more urgency as political dynasties face mounting threats and challenges to their hegemony. Executive and legislative posts will be fair game on all levels. Provinces, cities, municipalities, and barangays will be flooded with proxies and surrogates of top-level incumbents.

Positioning them strategically is the key to the decisive votes of every community. That’s why even the barangay government has assumed strategic value.

Landing a seat in the barangay government is a coveted sinecure, a source of livelihood, and a convenient enterprise for unemployed and unemployable members of political dynasties.

Their successful bids for barangay posts ensure the dominance of trapos throughout our political system.

The dominance started in great numbers the introduction of internal revenue allotments (IRA) to all local governments starting in 1992.

Awash with new-found cash, the lowly barangay began to look like the proverbial Horn of Plenty to the unemployed and unemployable, driving them to pursue barangay positions with deadly intent.

That made the early and mid-1990s seem at first like a euphoric period. With so many candidates running for barangay and municipal offices, it seemed that grassroots democracy was finally awakening. The local polity was coming to life!

But as is the nature of euphoria, it subsided when it became obvious that it wasn’t what it seemed to be. Democracy had nothing to do with it. It was the money that became available with the widening of the democratic space.

And as the prospect of money is wont to create excitement, there was excitement galore—pretty much like the feeding frenzy of an agitated school of sharks that just smelled blood in the vicinity.

Only, it wasn’t blood in this case, but money—internal revenue allotments (IRA) in the tens of millions that not many citizens knew about at first.

Actually the agitation was in the camps of the trapos and political wannabes who were gearing up to be candidates, eager to get their hands on the money and the new-found power of barangays under R.A. 7160 that took effect in 1992.

The law had transformed the barangays into corporations and full-fledged governments, as well as economies (with land, labor, and capital) in their own right—with their internal revenue shares as capital for investing in development.

The downward flow of cash created a stir never felt before at the grassroots. But it was very unfortunate that the excitement gripped the lower classes only; the middle and upper classes either didn’t care about what was happening in their neighborhoods, or simply ignored them.

The availability of the bonanza against the backdrop of uncaring A & B citizens created a situation conducive to corruption and abuse.

Soon, even previously disinterested sectors got interested in politics, launched their candidacies and, succeeding, proceeded to establish their own political dynasties.

That was the situation during the better part of the 1990s and the 1st decade of the 21st century. It has remained pretty much the same to this day—showing our bureaucracy to be packed with unfit officials that win seats with gimmickry and abuse. And pork was the culprit.

Manny is former UNESCO regional director for Asia-Pacific; secretary-general, Southeast Asia Publishers Association; director, development academy of Philippines; member, Philippine Mission to the UN; vice chair, Local Government Academy; member, Cory Govt’s Peace Pane; awardee, PPI-UNICEF outstanding columnist. He is president/national convenor, Gising Barangay Movement Inc.