Stop the Corrupt

It was a very passionate Valentine’s Day celebration for me last week.

First, I started the weekend dancing with grassroots women, young activists, and indigenous peoples as a creative expression of our collective rage against all forms of violence against women through the One Billion Rising campaign. It was exhilarating dancing to that distinctive Mindanao beat with Eve Ensler, the fierce feminist playwright of “Vagina Monologues,” and Monique Wilson, the global campaign director of One Billion Rising, under the afternoon sun at Rizal Park here in Davao City last Friday. Dancing in protest is a brilliant way of reclaiming one’s body and declaring your love for it.

Then, on Sunday, I had brunch with independent senatorial candidate, Levi Baligod, that brave lawyer-crusader who accomplished what nobody else has done and a feat I have never thought could ever happen in my lifetime — send the mighty Juan Ponce Enrile to jail. Atty. Baligod is the only private complainant on the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam against Janet Napoles, one former Philippine president, two former Senate presidents, one former Speaker of the House, four cabinet secretaries, 45 legislators, and several others. As Ping Lacson said: “What I tried and failed to do in 12 years, Atty. Baligod did in four months.”

Nothing like talking about how corrupt your government is to keep your heart racing and adrenaline pumping on Valentine’s Day.

“Last year, pork barrel funds totaled to 1.6 trillion pesos,” Atty. Baligod said, calmly and almost a matter-of-factly. And my eyes opened wide and my mouth gaped in shock. I have been in media and in politics for more than two decades and I really believed nothing fazes me anymore. But this statement did.

“This is in 2015, under the Daang Matuwid, even after Napoles and three senators are already in jail for the pork barrel scam?” I clarified.

Atty. Baligod, still calm, replied: “Yes, but you will only see 502 billion pesos of that in the General Appropriations Act (GAA), the rest or 1.4 billion pesos are declared as savings, so it’s a total of 1.6 trillion. In 2014, it was only 918 billion pesos.”

Pork barrel funds, as defined by PDAF Watch, are “funds allocated to politicians such as representatives and senators, to be used, based on their decision, to fund programs and projects in their districts.”  It is a practice of Congress to “divert national funds into their districts in the form of public works (roads and bridges) or social services (education funds, scholarships, medicines) or special projects (reforestation, livelihood projects, training programs).

Like most things in the Philippines, the pork barrel system is a Western practice brought into public governance by the United States. The term “pork barrel” reportedly originated in a pre-Civil War practice of giving slaves a barrel of salt pork as a reward and requiring them to compete among themselves to get their share of the handout. So pork barrel is a metaphor for the appropriation of public funds for discretionary spending of politicians aimed to benefit their constituents in return for their political support.

The Napoles-related pork barrel scam exposed only 10 billion pesos so far. A small slice of 1.6 trillion pesos, if you think of it.

Sure, the Supreme Court has declared PDAF as unconstitutional in 2013. The court also ordered all prosecutors to investigate and prosecute all government officials and private individuals “for possible criminal offenses related to the irregular, improper, and unlawful disbursement/utilization of funds under the pork barrel system.”

Because of this, legislators have seemingly given up their control over PDAF. Perhaps, at least, until their voters get distracted about other things.  But that does not mean the funds are no longer there. It’s probably just given a different name. The government has still pork barrel funds at its disposal. The only question now is who gets control over it? Who has the sole discretion now?

Is this why the Team Daang Matuwid is so confident of victory even if their presidential candidate is trailing in the surveys? Do they have the sole discretion of appropriating pork barrel funds to politicians who can deliver the votes for them? Is this how Mar Roxas will achieve his miraculous win? Yes, it will be a miracle if that happens because I have yet to meet a Filipino who actually likes Mar for real (nothing personal, Mar, trabaho lang).

I hope Atty. Baligod will take some time off his busy campaign schedule to file those cases against Liberal Party officials and candidates involved in the PDAF scam. There were reports that the Justice Department, under Leila De Lima, who is now a senatorial candidate herself, just chose to file cases against politicians not aligned with Daang Matuwid. Such an injustice, really. So if PNoy is really serious about his campaign slogan of “kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap,” then they better prosecute the probably guilty among their ranks, too.

As for Atty. Baligod, who antagonized many powerful politicians in both the administration and the opposition because of his exposé of the PDAF scam, he is running for senator as an independent and adopted by Davao City Mayor Rodrigo R. Duterte, who is seeking the death penalty for plunderers in government.

It looks like another #AlDuB will be trending soon — Alyansang Duterte-Baligod — to stop the corrupt. Especially when Team Daang Matuwid is finally exposed (with hard evidence they tried to bury, most probably somewhere inside the Justice Department) of their own participation in corruption.

I would very much want to see 100 Million Rising against corruption in the Philippines soon. Corruption is a form of violence, after all.

First appeared on Mindanao Times, February 18, 2016