Give up pork and focus on crafting laws.
The incoming president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) on Monday issued the call to lawmakers, saying the pork barrel, officially called the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), had made public governance a system of patronage.
“Let the legislators legislate and the executive execute,” Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas said in a pastoral statement titled “Pork Barrel, Stewardship and the Poor: The Morality of the Pork Barrel.”
Other prelates have also called for the abolition of the graft-ridden PDAF.
Villegas said public service was a public trust. “When we elect our representatives in Congress, we elect them to make laws to make our nation a better nation. The task that we entrust to the legislators is clearly legislation. They are trustees of the citizens for lawmaking.”
The pastoral statement came in the wake of a series of Inquirer reports on a National Bureau of Investigation probe of allegations that P10 billion in PDAF of five senators and 23 members of the House of Representatives went to ghost projects over the past 10 years.
The NBI claimed that Janet Lim-Napoles pulled off the scam using a network of bogus nongovernment organizations. Every year, a senator is allotted P200 million in PDAF and a member of the House, P70 million for their pet projects.
While the Lingayen-Dagupan archbishop is calling on lawmakers to shun pork, the House minority leader wants to go where the Senate fears to tread.
House Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora said his group would file a resolution for the House to investigate the “criminal plunder” involving the alleged misuse of P10 billion in pork barrel.
Zamora said the scandal could not be swept into oblivion as the issue was destroying the trust that the legislature should enjoy from the people.
“Let us get to the bottom of this even if the Senate has already said it will not investigate. I understand why the Senate is doing that, but let me say, ‘It is not doing itself any favors by choosing to avoid this issue which is truly the elephant in its room,’” he said in his contra State of the Nation Address on Monday.
Because of the involvement of their colleagues, several senators have decided to shun a Senate probe of the issue.
Zamora said the Commission on Audit (COA), Department of Justice and the NBI must bring any evidence to the House so that those accused in media could have the chance to clear their names and answer the allegations directly.
Not all lawmakers, according to him, deserve to be maligned through suspicion or insinuation, or equally convicted in the public mind as the few who are guilty.
Earlier, militant lawmakers constituting the so-called Makabayan group also called for the scrapping of the corruption-tainted pork barrel.
In his pastoral statement, Villegas also urged ordinary Filipinos to stop partaking of the pork barrel through solicitations for personal needs, family concerns, barangay (village) projects and even fiestas.
“Let us make it our rule when we relate to politicians “Walang hihingi [No one should ask]!” Villegas said.
Every time people asked for monetary help, he said, they were tempting politicians to dig into the pork barrel coffers or “jueteng” (an illegal numbers racket) payola to accommodate their requests.
The incoming CBCP head made it clear that while Church pastors like him were not politicians, lawyers or socioeconomic planners and strategists, they could operate in the spiritual and moral arena, and offer ethical and moral perspectives and guidelines on the issue.
“The separation of Church and State does not prohibit moral ethical values from influencing public policies [for] if governance were conducted from a platform that disregards ethics and morality, we only expose our nation to greater peril,” he said.
Villegas, who will assume the top CBCP post in December, said the pork barrel, in theory, was one way of making government projects available to the poor.
But in reality, the fund has been used by politicians in Congress as mere proof that they were doing something concrete for the welfare of their constituents, he said.
“Public governance is stewardship but the pork barrel has made public governance a system of patronage. Stewardship liberates and uplifts [while] patronage enslaves and insults,” said Villegas, currently CBCP vice president.
For the sake of sound stewardship of public money, he said those who approved the budget must be distinct from those who implemented projects because the system was “very vulnerable” to “conflict of interest, parochialism and corruption,” especially in the selection of suppliers and the bidding of contracts.
“In many instances, the pork barrel has become like a ‘discretionary fund’ of elected representatives. In theory, it is for the development of the poor and the far [places]. In reality, it has served to strengthen the [politicians’ hold on] power,” Villegas said.
He pointed out that Filipinos elected representatives in Congress to make laws that would benefit the nation, thus their job was mainly legislation while it was the duty of the executive branch to provide social services and fund infrastructure.
“In theory, the Chief Executive has control of the disposition of these funds. In law and practice, the Chief Executive controls the release of the pork barrel to legislators. The consequence is the President can put pressure on legislators to toe his political line. The independence of Congress is compromised,” the archbishop said.
He further noted that voters became “grateful” beneficiaries of legislators whom the former expected to assist them in their time of need.
Meanwhile, these lawmakers become “thankful” recipients of the “largesse of pork barrel,” whose release is controlled by the executive branch.
“Politics of patronage not stewardship cascades from top to bottom,” he said.
COA must be vigilant
To protect the national and local executives from the temptation of squandering public money, Villegas said the COA must do its duty with strength of will, vigilance and diligence. This, he said, was ethical public service.
He proposed that legislators strengthen their oversight, monitoring and evaluation functions with the “participation of the Church, business and civil society groups like what the PPCRV and Namfrel do together during elections.”
Villegas was referring to the citizens’ arm of the Commission on Elections, the Church-based Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting and the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections.
“‘Man does not live by bread alone,’ the good Lord taught us; but man does not need pork to go with bread. It is integrity that must go with bread. Let integrity flow in our beloved land,” he said.
In the House, Zamora provided suggestions on how the pork barrel could be used to turn the tide of public opinion regarding the fund.
He said lawmakers could insert and disclose in the national budget bill, by way of amendment, their projects, “to the fullest extent possible.”
“Let the budget be the definitive document for all projects by senators and congressmen, giving these fully disclosed projects the authority of law as they should enjoy,” he added.
The pork barrel-funded projects should also be aligned with the specific direction and approaches of government.
Furthermore, all information about the pork barrel projects must be available on websites so the public could access and peruse the data, Zamora said.
Lastly, lawmakers must stop “whining” when irregularities are discovered in the use of the pork barrel. They must stop claiming that they are just depending on government departments when it comes to these projects, he said.