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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A Dysfunctional Philippine Government

For the past few weeks, the incessant and appalling anomalies in the Philippine Legislature has reached its apex after the bombshell expose’ of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam popularly known as the “pork barrel” fund. By now, the spiraling effect of the far-reaching and irreparable glitches of the people’s money rip-off had created a dysfunctional Philippine government.

When Benigno Simeon Aquino III assumed as President in 2010, his administration coined such earth-shaking and hopeful catchphrases… “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap” and “ Matuwid na Daan” raising the hopes of the Filipino people for better lives; only to find out soon enough that Aquino III is no different from former Presidents Joseph Estrada and Gloria-Macapagal Arroyo.  Beyond our innocent suspicion, those slogans served and will remain as a cheap deceptive political gimmick to earn the loyalty and trust of the people.

The Filipino people are still reeling from the disappointment and frustration when Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile publicly admitted giving 2.2 million each to 18 Senators known to support him, it opened a Pandora’s box after several Senators grumbled on the injudiciousness of   squandering the people’s money. In retaliation, Enrile exposed the substantial 25 million budget provided to Committees headed by his known foes in the Senate and that created a hostile environment in the Senate. This happened before an earlier scandalous impeachment of former Chief Justice Renato Corona and former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez has been forgotten.

And now these PDAP swindle? What have we done as a nation to deserve all of these? What will happen next is something that the Filipino people will never be surprised anymore.

The series of brazen absolute political power abuses by those who were elected to protect the people’s interests have revealed the sad reality that they have abandoned their promises to the people in favor of satisfying their rapacious greed for material possessions in life. While more than 70 % of Filipinos are wallowing in poverty, most of our government officials are enjoying the luxuries in life with the use of people’s money. There are screaming headlines in the national newspapers showing Senators having ownerships of 100 to 120 million residences, condominium units and beach houses, expensive cars and boats and a lot more. Some unscrupulous politicians are even maintaining expensive mistresses not necessarily to satisfy their sexual desires as some of them are not sexually capable anymore because of age but rather to display the venom of their absolute political power. Our Congress’ Representatives are on the same mold, sad to say.

Even our local government officials cannot be spared from allegations of enriching themselves while in power. Most Governors, City Mayors, Vice Mayors and Councilors have personally and financially progressed in life after only a year or two after their election. This is the reason why political candidates are willing to spend millions just to get the coveted elected positions since they can be re-compensated when they are already in power. Making matters worse, there are even some political appointees, from ordinary Clerks to Department Heads, having their own houses in subdivisions, driving their own cars, wearing expensive jewelries and cell phones and sending their children to exclusive private schools, which is definitely beyond the financial capacities of their salaries.  Now, who can beat that?

 Maybe this is not a general sweeping observation, cognizance of the exception of a few public servants who have remained righteous and honorable amidst the corrupt practices around them.  
Allow me to go back to the PDAF scandal.  As we all know by now, a state audit of the Priority Development Assistance Fund allocation from 2007 to 2009 showed that some lawmakers had funneled about 10 Billion pesos ($226mn)  to non-existing projects and non- government organizations (NGO) during the previous government of GMA now under detention for plunder and electoral fraud. Businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles had allegedly conspired with some Philippine Representatives and Senators in ensnaring enormous amounts of the PDAF through fictitious NGO’s and sharing the money in multi-millions. 

As of this writing the NBI has already filed plunder charges against Senators, Representatives and other former and current government officials including Napoles. I would bet my last peso to say that the Napoles case is just the proverbial “tip of the iceberg”. There are many more Napoleses in cohorts with many more high government officials in swindling the Filipino people by way of the PDAF. I dare challenge the NBI and other investigating agencies to prove that I am wrong.    

Courtesy of newsinfo.inquirer.net
Another disturbing development was when Senator Jinggoy Estrada, one of those charged with plunder related to the PDAF scam, turned himself into a “whistleblower” during his privilege speech at the Senate last week.  While Estrada failed to deny or defend his stand in the PDAF fraud, he revealed that lawmakers who voted to convict Corona received P50 million additional allotments from the Office of the President through the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). Although Senate President Franklin Drilon denied that the DAP releases were bribes to the Senators,  Sen. Miriam Santiago, a constitutional law expert, noted that the additional pork releases  the before, during and after Corona’s impeachment trial constitutes bribery under the Revised Penal Code. Further the lady Senator opined that lawmakers who voted to convict former Chief Justice Renato Corona and who received additional pork barrel before or after the May 29, 2012 verdict can be presumed guilty of bribery because of the timing of the two events. Sen. Santiago further stressed the law doesn’t only cover the senator-judges in the Corona impeachment but also the members of the House of Representatives who voted to indict the chief justice and who also got additional pork fund. Whoa, a mind boggling and messy episode!

Historian and Moralist Lord Acton expressed this opinion in a letter to Bishop Mandel Creighton in 1887: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” In a speech to the United Kingdom House of Lords in 1770, William Pitt, Earl of Chatham and Prime Minister from 1766 to 1778 said: “Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it.”

“What Are We in Power For?” is an infamous one-liner phrase used by the late Senate President Jose Avelino when an investigation on his reported corruption was ordered by the late Pres. Elpidio Quirino in 1949. The idiom was immortalized by most politicians and the dogma flourished until today. Without batting an eyelash, Avelino continued by saying:’ “Why should we pretend to be saints when in reality we are not? We are not angels. When we die we will all go to hell. It is better to be in hell because in that place there are no investigations, no Secretary of Justice, no Secretary of Interior to go after us.” Avelino added, “When Jesus Christ died on the cross, He made a distinction between the good crook and the bad crook. We can aspire to be good crooks.” The faith of Avelino in corruption is fully defensible by his catchphrase, “What Are We In Power For.” Is it?  

In general, politicians run for elected government offices because of the compelling attraction of “political power” coupled by the freebies associated with it.  Most elected politicians do not even care about the legal salary and benefits of the position but is most enthralled by the captivating thrill and rhapsody of being the most powerful person in the barangay, municipality, city, province or the country as a whole. As communities gets bigger and urbanized, the appetite of politicians for more socio-economic programs and legislation using the people’s hard earned money become more insatiable. More than that, most if not all political leaders who are wielding authority do not sincerely care about the welfare of the communities they serve but more enchanted in exercising their political power over their constituents and that is what they want more than anything else.

Much as we have wanted to be governed by a democratic government to rule the country by representation, the Constitution established our rights to live in freedom unimpeded by submission to others by setting up three branches of government that would oversee and provide a “check and balance” situation. Unfortunately for us, these branches of government have developed into co-conspirators in fleecing the people evidenced by recent scandals and malfeasances in the Judiciary, Ombudsman, the Military, Bureau of Customs and the House of Senate and Representatives, among many others.

Our elected public officials do not earn a great deal of money through their salaries. What makes politicians do everything in order to win elections without regard to moral values?  it is the” power”, the “other money”, and the opportunity to become part of the exclusive class that they are in pursuit of in the first place and endlessly struggle to protect.

When corruption is being practiced by our political leaders to include Senators, Congressmen and other high executive and judiciary officials of our government, I would dare say that our country is in a quagmire with hopelessness and only a miracle can reverse our failure as a people and as a nation.

My heart bleeds to say that the Philippines now is under the rule of a dysfunctional government.

Dr. Rogelio G. Balo
Oct. 1, 2013
Fresno, California USA

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