Juan L. Mercado

Leapfrogging infection

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Doctors dub it “metastasis.” That’s when a disease leapfrogs from one part of the body to another. The Commission on Audit has documented persisting metastasis of the pork barrel.

 

Mid-July, Benhur Luy blew the whistle on the P10-billion pork allegedly cornered by Janet Lim-Napoles of JLN Corp. through 20 bogus nongovernment organizations. Senators Ramon Revilla Jr., Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Gregorio Honasan, plus 23 congressmen, delivered the shekels.

The COA sifted through pork chits from 2007 to 2009, Chair Maria Grace Pulido-Tan revealed. It found that 98 administration and opposition lawmakers shoveled P2.19 billion in pork through 15 bogus NGOs. That’s metastasis.

Senator Lito Lapid burned P20 million of pork in 2011 for “anti-dengue inoculants” for Polillo, Teresa, Baras, and Pililla. These towns “had no dengue fever case.” Last Friday, whistle-blower Merlin Suñas tagged the agriculture department’s gatekeeper for NGOs as a conduit of a web of fake NGOs controlled by JLN.

“Greed is a tree that grows even on arid soil.” Were the eight congressmen who had ladled tax money into the Kaupdanan Para sa Mangunguma Foundation Inc. conned? The two-figure donors include Masbate’s Scott Davies Lanete (P30 million), Lanao del Sur’s Mohammed Hussein Pangandaman (P15 million), An Waray’s Neil Benedict Montejo (P14.2 million), and Davao City’s Isidro Ungab (P13 million). Or were they happy to be fleeced?

“Even if only half of the allegations [are] true, Napoles … qualifies as the country’s foremost expert on corruption,” the Inquirer’s Randy David wrote. “Should she land in prison, and need a benign intellectual pursuit… I recommend she write a participant-observer account of the social system of corruption.”

Thomas Jefferson once warned: “If we allow the process of earmarking, pork barrel spending, to go forward, it will be an eternal scramble among members who can get the most money wasted in their state. And they will always get most who are the meanest.”

The tag “pork barrel” bobbed up in the West in the 19th century, when households stored a barrel of salted pork. “I hold a family to be in a desperate way when the mother can see the bottom of the pork barrel,” James Fenimore Cooper wrote in his 1845 novel “The Chainbearer.” The term became derogatory by 1873, the Oxford English Dictionary notes.

Filipinos do not have a monopoly of this abuse. Poles speak of  “kelbasa wyborcza,” which translates into “election sausage.” Finns say “siltarum pupolitiikka” or “culvert politics.” It pinpoints politicians who construct culverts and projects to curry favor with voters. Danes call poll pork “valgflæsk.

During the 2008 US presidential campaign, the Gravina Island bridge in Alaska was slammed as the “Bridge to Nowhere.” Republican senator Ted Stevens’ pork barrel underwrote the projected $398-million bridge to serve the island’s 50 residents.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines has called for scrapping the pork barrel as institutionalized sleaze. That resonated with the 1984 counsel of Cecilia Muñoz Palma, the first woman to be appointed to the Philippine Supreme Court, against accepting P2 million in pork. She had, by then, been elected Quezon City assemblywoman. “Tiene cojones” (She has balls) was the irreverent but heartfelt accolade paid to this lady.

Senators Grace Poe, Bam Aquino and Antonio Trillanes agree that the pork barrel should be scrapped. Indeed, the pork barrel costs are much greater than its benefits, the Inquirer’s Solita Monsod wrote. Yet, it flourishes. Why?

“Simply because those who benefit are the ones who decide whether the system should continue or not,” Monsod wrote. At least P21 billion a year of taxpayers’ money is squandered through pork, she wrote. “The ‘servants’ of the people screw their bosses with impunity. … [N]ot all legislators are involved. True. But they haven’t done a thing about it either.”

“Ang tawo nga mahakug, wala pagkabusog,” goes a Visayan proverb. A greedy person is never satisfied. Most strident in the squeal of protests against the proposed abolition of the pork barrel are 29 congressmen who’ve banded into the “Visayan bloc.”

“Our districts and constituents have benefited from [pork barrel],” Iloilo Rep. Jerry Treñas said, adding that pork is used for scholarships, hospitalization and infrastructure projects.

Non-Visayan members are Cesar Sarmiento of Catanduanes, Sonny Collantes of Batangas and Pedro Acharon of South Cotabato. The bloc’s viewpoint is shared by many legislators who fret that their names could well surface in  scam reports yet to come.

Meanwhile, senators in the pork mess dismissed out of hand Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s suggestion: Take a leave of absence pending formal investigation. Delicadeza, alas, is the first victim when corruption metastasizes.

Since then, Senator Santiago has bounced back. She filed a resolution for the phased scrapping of pork. She suggests slashing senators’ pork from P200 million to P100 million in 2014, to P50 million in 2015, then zero in 2016. Also, chop congressmen’s pork from P70 million to P35 million in 2014, to P15 million in 2015, and nil in 2016.

Plug, meanwhile, those loopholes that allow legislators to slurp pork. How? Release it for “hard projects” and directly to national government agencies. Cut out NGOs. “This strict rule should be nonnegotiable.” In the past, local chief executives—often spouses or other kin of legislators—squandered pork. Bar the LGUs, too.

That’d be the day when metastasis of a corrupt institution would recede. “Turn off the pork barrel spigot,” former US President Bill Clinton once urged, “and deliver for our children’s future”.

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