Pens vs pork: People’s Initiative puts dead end to Aquino’s ‘Daang Matuwid’ show

First published on Blogwatch

Tens of thousands returned to Luneta Park today to kick off the Luzon leg of the petition for a People’s Initiative bill to abolish the pork barrel system, a year after the mammoth “Million People March” demonstration against widespread corruption in government.

Today’s gathering brings to the fore two main positives for the country’s history: One, Filipino voters transcend their token role as mere source of votes for politicos in the electoral exercise, in a bid to finally end the abuse and misuse of public funds. Two, the Filipino people are taking the anti-corruption drive literally into their hands, which is by far the strongest telltale sign that President Aquino’s sham “Daang Matuwid” show has ended.

The former marks a milestone as regards the electorate’s political maturity while the latter signifies the ruling class’s immaturity in running their business of deceptive politics, believing that empty slogans will still do the trick. But of course Palace spokespersons would be quick to place credit on the President for this growing political movement to end and criminalize pork. They would say the people were inspired by Aquino’s resolve to stamp out corruption in government.

In truth, the people were disillusioned by Aquino’s farcical anti-corruption campaign.  A growing number of Filipinos from the left to the right, south to north, are now rising up, kicking off the long haul to kill pork in all its permutations.

At the center of today’s protests is the petition proposing the enactment of an anti-pork bill that not only bans lump sum funds but also criminalizes the budget schemes. This is premised on the fact that the Chief Executive in collaboration with lawmakers has retained discretionary funds in the 2014 national budget, as the audio recording by ACT Teachers party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio of “executive sessions” reveals. Based on the discussions between some agency officials and lawmakers, the latter will still have discretion over the lump sum funds that were realigned to different departments.

In short, pork barrel is still alive and “oinking” despite Supreme Court rulings declaring Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) unconstitutional. This comes as no surprise since the President has remained staunch in his assertion that discretionary funds should be maintained in any national budget.

As if to blunt the impact of the explosive disclosure on the state of “hidden pork” in the budget, President Aquino then began entertaining the thought of term extension and Charter change. But instead of dissuading the public from joining today’s protests, it appears that the contrary resulted. Aquino’s talk of term extension has galvanized the unity of the anti-pork coalition and has attracted to the fold more disillusioned camps and individuals.

Groups behind the People’s Initiative target at least 10 million signatures, or nearly twice the compliance rate of 6 million signatures for the the bill to be considered for approval. Once the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has verified at least 6 million signatures and the referendum successfully conducted, the initiative cannot be vetoed even by the President.

With the People’s Initiative to drive a stake through the heart of the pork barrel system now in full swing, no future Philippine president can lay claim to another anti-corruption rhetoric. Future presidential aspirants would have to invent modern formulations of anti-poverty themes that are disjointed from corruption – that is IF there would be elections as presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda spilled out.

An alternative way to frame the prospects of the 2016 elections would be like this: Assuming that the People’s Initiative will be successful in ridding all forms of pork, will politicos still run for public office? There would be probably be a different “no-el,” but of course the country’s elites will fight tooth and nail to retain the lifelines of graft and plunder in the bureaucracy. Without pork, politicians’ lives in our country would be very boring. They would have no money to splurge for their mansions and mistresses, and no “incentive” to keep patronage transactions well-oiled. It would be the end of Philippine politics, as we know it.

Such ramifications of pork’s demise for ruling families present the reasons why the People’s Initiative will face a very rough sailing and why it requires the broadest support possible. President Aquino is expected to mobilize all institutions albeit cunningly to avert this initiative, with political Charter change as the ace up in his sleeve. Extending his term would buy himself time to maneuver against the anti-pork crusade, aside from sparing himself from potential suits. But then it would also be too politically costly for the ruling clique.

The final war to end patronage politics and corruption has just begun. The lines have been drawn, with Noynoy and his allies and apologists on the wrong side of history.

Aquino’s DAP speech: Same smug defense of a badass budget scheme

First published on Blogwatch

It was more of the same smug defense of the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) replete with fallacious analogy and “good faith” rhetoric. The only difference was that this time, President Aquino ate up nearly 30 minutes of precious primetime news to prove his presidential arrogance before the viewing public.

Rather than save his sagging political capital, Aquino just isolated himself from many of his “bosses” who think that threatening a war with the judiciary in a televised speech is the least that the nation need at this crucial point.

Exactly two weeks after the SC declared the key provisions of DAP unconstitutional, the President did not offer any added value to discussions about the chief executive’s badass realignment of funds to projects of his choosing. He miserably failed to demonstrate the DAP-economic growth nexus, or to just even show a bird’s eye view of DAP-funded projects simplified in pie charts. Details about DAP remain in the dark.

The President is even unsure how to really defend his case – insisting the constitutionality of the program at one point and then citing expediency’s sake over the rule of law at the other. If this is a preview of how the Palace would flip-flop in its motion for reconsideration, we could then expect another 13-0 in the offing.

What Aquino only made clear is that 1) his head is still buried in the heap of his self-serving interpretations of the law 2) DAP funds are purely discretionary, and that he will defy budget allocations at will.

“Ang hangad po natin: Huwag patagalin ang pagpapatupad sa isang proyekto. Ang pinagkasunduan ng buong Gabinete tungkol sa kani-kanilang budget: Use it or lose it. At kung malinaw na hindi talaga ninyo magagamit ngayong taon ang pondong inilaan para sa inyo, maliwanag na savings na ‘yan.”

It appears that the President did not really read the SC’s ruling even as he encouraged the public to read it. The high court has made it clear: DAP funds are not savings. Hence Aquino’s citation of Section 39 of the 1987 Administration Code during his speech is clearly a waste of time, if not a dumb take on the issue.

Good results can’t remedy DAP’s legal defects

Moreover Aquino is keeping a false faith that DAP’s good results on the ground will be enough to convince the magistrates on the scheme’s supposed constitutionality. While realignments under DAP can indeed produce higher electrification rates of communities and construction of more classrooms, the question still remains: were the realignments in line with the processes set out in the law? Good intentions and good results cannot in any way cure the legal infirmities that dot the DAP design. They are, at best, only sweeteners to the brazen violation of the Constitution.

Reasoning out that not a single cent of funds pooled under DAP went to corruption would also not qualify as defense. Again, what is in question is the manner by which funds were realigned since DAP took effect in 2011. The high court is resoundingly clear on the unconstitutionality of the 1) withdrawal of unobligated allotments from the implementing agencies 2) cross-border transfers of savings of the executive department to other branches 3) funding of projects, activities, programs not covered by appropriations.

DAPatronage politics

What is alarming is that Aquino is insisting on this budget distortion practice in line with his whims supposedly to bankroll projects that need funding. You see, under DAP, the President can pull out funds at will from an ongoing project and call it “savings.” He can instantly create items for immediate funding without going through the budget process, or distribute it to lawmakers depending on their political allegiance.

Could this be the reason why many of our lawmakers are not raising a howl on how the President has usurped the Congress’ power of the purse? It is strange that lawmakers feel not the slightest insult that they spend hours deliberating on the budget trying to insert their projects and yet the President can have the last laugh in the form of “disbursement acceleration.” Maybe because they benefitted from DAP too.

This brings us to bigger problem about DAP: When billions of people’s money – more than ten times allegedly stolen by Janet Lim-Napoles and partner lawmakers – are pooled under the discretion of the President, institutions could be held hostage to a single person’s political agenda. We saw it during the impeachment of former chief justice Renato Corona. We saw billions of our hard-earned money go to financing the President’s political vendetta. As per lawmakers’ confessions about the President’s bribe from DAP, the gears of political patronage did turn at that time.

To be fair, the President needs all the discretionary funds that it can have to bribe all institutions to avert his administration’s impending doom. But he should understand that political honeymoon cannot be bought nowadays. He can hire more spinmeisters and bribe senators, state auditors and even justices – but the voices of reason will still rise up in the streets to call for his resignation.