By BENJIE OLIVEROS
Bulatlat Perspective | Bulatlat.com
Photos of the Napoles family with two top officials of the Aquino government have been circulating in social media sites. One photo showed Senate President Franklin Drilon and wife with the Napoles couple. Another showed President Benigno Aquino III with Janet Lim-Napoles’s daughter Jean. Senate President Drilon angrily called the publication of the photo as malicious, claiming that his pork barrel funds were all accounted for and that he never released funds to Napoles nor to any of her fake NGOs. Malacañang dismissed the photo of President Aquino and Jean Napoles as nothing and just one of a hundred photos taken with the president during the said event.
Senate President Drilon and Malacañang deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte are right in saying that the photos do not prove anything. Actually the pictures may mean nothing or may mean everything in relation to the probable involvement of the country’s two top officials to the operations of Napoles, which robbed the nation’s coffers of a staggering amount of money. It could be true that Senator Drilon and President Aquino just acceded, out of courtesy, to the request to have their photo taken with members of the Napoles family. Celebrities and prominent people have been allowing people to have their photos taken with fans and strangers. (Although I don’t know if the Presidential Security Group allows just about anybody, especially if the president does not know the person, to be physically close to the president even for the innocuous reason of having photos taken.)
It could also mean that Napoles has close links with Senator Drilon and President Aquino. If so, then the corruption scam is way much bigger than what the public knows at this point.
If we give the Aquino administration the benefit of the doubt and take at face value its claim that the photos meant nothing, still, the mere fact that the Napoles family had been invited in events graced by two top officials of the government proved that indeed Janet Lim-Napoles was able to penetrate the corridors of power. Surely not everyone would be invited to functions where the president and senate president, numbers one and three in the hierarchy, who are also leaders of the ruling coalition, are guests of honor.
President Aquino and Senator Drilon could have been spared from suspicions and allegations– if indeed they are innocent as they claim to be – if not for the actions of the Aquino administration. The Aquino administration has been content with focusing its efforts in running after Janet Lim-Napoles – who it portrays as the mastermind even if she got only 30 percent and could not have done it at such scale without somebody from within the government opening doors for her – while according to her special treatment that only VIPs get, with her own house and food taster to boot. It has also been content with pinning down some members of the opposition while quickly dismissing all probable involvement of its current officials when their names crop up, such as that of Interior and Local Government Sec. Mar Roxas. How could we then believe that nobody would be spared from the investigation?
The Aquino administration has declared the abolition of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) but has not stopped trying to find ways to retain the pork barrel, albeit with a different name and form. It has been realigning the allocations for the PDAF in the 2014 proposed budget to line agencies, but has been doing it in a manner that reminds us of the proposal of President Aquino – which was rejected by the Filipino people – not to do away with the pork barrel fund but to identify projects beforehand. It has completely ignored demands to reallocate the PDAF funds to essential social services such as health, education, housing, among others.
President Aquino has also been ignoring demands to give up his own lump sum funds, including the Special Purpose funds, calamity fund, un-programmed funds, and the like, which some estimate at P1.3 trillion ($29.545 billion), as well as the Malampaya fund, which is being sourced from the royalty payments of Royal Dutch Shell and Caltex, and the intelligence funds of the Office of the President and line agencies. The president has maintained his silence on the matter even after the announcement of Vice President Jejomar Binay that he is giving up the discretionary fund of his office.
These recent developments, or lack of it, show that the fight to abolish the pork barrel and other discretionary funds is still far from over. Besides, even if the Filipino people do succeed in pressuring the Aquino administration to abolish the pork barrel and other discretionary funds, the fight against corruption still has a long way to go. What the abolition of the system of pork barrel and other discretionary funds would accomplish is that it would make it more difficult for corrupt government officials to dip their hands into the nation’s coffers but it could not eliminate corruption in government altogether. Corruption existed even before the pork barrel fund system was instituted.
Corruption did not begin and will not end with the pork barrel and other discretionary funds. Corruption has been part of the political system of the country ever since the declaration of independence. The electoral system, where candidates spend millions or even billions of pesos to get elected, has been feeding corruption. Why would candidates and political parties spend millions and billions of pesos if they do not expect to recoup their expenses and profit from their investment? What about those who funded electoral campaigns? Surely, they would not do it for free and without any intention of promoting their own interests. Otherwise, lobby groups would not have anything to do.
Political dynasties and patronage politics are all part of the corrupt political system because it renders inutile any semblance of checks and balances. The abject poverty of the majority, who, for generations, have seen government leaders and political parties come and go without any improvement in their lives, also breed corruption. Even the impunity in human rights violations, where those in power could kill, torture, maim, abduct, massacre, forcibly displace people without fear of being held accountable for their actions, feeds corruption.
To put an end to corruption, it would need no less than an overhaul of the political system. But of course, the Filipino people could tackle it by stages; and the campaign to abolish the pork barrel system is a step toward this direction. Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of the fight to abolish the pork barrel system is that it would rekindle the spirit that the people could and should directly participate in instituting changes in the system of government, which is an essential requisite of the long, arduous, and protracted struggle to achieve genuine change.