Rising above Pork: What We Want for the Philippines

guingona pork committee

Senator Guingona Heads Blue Ribbon Committee on Pork Theft

Sometimes we get consumed by incidents and lose perspective about the context. Like, we work on the trees and forget there is a forest.

Let’s get grounded by rising above some of the incidents going on with regard to the pork scandal.

To gain the rise we need, we shall climb into our helium balloon sponsored by the good people over at the Humpty Dumpty New World Dictionary, and hover about 40,000 feet directly over Manila. Looking down, we can see numerous related incidents scattered all over the place.

  • We see Janet Napoles in jail because she supposedly kidnapped her worker, who escaped and turned whistleblower. She has also been charged with stealing 900 million pesos of Malampaya oil money and orchestrating theft of hundreds of millions of taxpayer pesos through forged and fake LGU’s and NGO’s. She apparently stole the congressional pork and kicked back large sums to legislators.
  • The whistleblower, Benhur Luy, and his compatriots, are hiding out under witness protection, so we can’t exactly see their whereabouts.
  • We see Senators Enrile, Estrada, and Revilla out in their back yards kicking dogs and aides out of frustration that they have pretty well been nailed red-handed. They are frustrated because they thought for a time they were smarter than God. A big batch of their colleagues are scattered across the land sweating bullets waiting for the next round of criminal charges. They are batchmates, I suppose, of the porky kind.
  • We see Senator Guingona’s Blue Ribbon Committee investigating the pork scandal, trying to subpoena everyone from Napoles to the Pope to grill them like spare ribs, but we don’t exactly know what they are planning to DO after they complete the investigation. Pass laws banning pork, the system by which Congress barters for favors and votes? Cut off the congressional noses to spite the congressional face? Or scold the auditors? I can’t imagine they would do anything punitive to their good old boy friends, although if they were dealing straight, they’d require the three charged senators to take mandatory leave of absence. Right now.
  • We see Senator Santiago and ex-Senator Joker Arroyo on the attack against President Aquino for his discretionary spending, tagged “DAP”, whereby left-over money budgeted for other purposes has been spent. Why Arroyo crawled out of the woodwork on this now is a mystery to me. Santiago is always wandering around in the woods. These two say the President has committed a constitutional crime and could be impeached. But they also recognize it is not going happen. So why are they raising the level of angst and confusion on the matter? Is this GOOD for the Philippines? Are they trying to influence the Supreme court, or what? It’s all so . . . so . . . . negative. Bitchy, y’know?
  • At the Palace, President Aquino is yanking at what little hair he has left because he knows that he did the right thing with DAP spending, buying some important goods and giving the economy a boost, but he gets no commendations for that positive work, only constant carping about it. Nevermind that he was able to get the budgeted money working in a timely way to counter global economic softness and not spend a year or two wasting time to get congressional approval. Execute is what top executives are SUPPOSED to do.
  • Senator Estrada was privileged to take the floor of the Senate to complain that legislators were bribed by the President to the tune of 50 million pesos each to convict Chief Justice Corona. Nevermind that the payments were months after the trial and went to everybody that wanted them. Or that such favor-trading is a part of the established political culture. In which he has participated and been rewarded.
  • We see the collective press on a gleeful rampage of investigative work getting information on Napoles’ properties and undertakings, and quotes from the above crowd of people. It’s rumor and slander stew, like media manna from heaven. Circulation and viewership are up. This is how the press is able to turn a pig’s ear into a purse, filled with pesos.
  • We see the Department of Justice sweating long hours dealing with so much large ticket crime that they can’t keep pace. Maybe the President should use some DAP to hire a bunch of mercenary investigators and lawyers to help out. The Justice people are heroes but you’d think from Senator Guingona’s attacks that they are the enemy for not wanting to divulge their legal cases before they are filed. He got his senatorial briefs in a bunch, a bit of shrill pushing against the fine lady De Lima and now he’s butting heads with Senate President Drilion about getting Napoles in to testify. All this negativity. Ego city. Anybody around here know how to COMPLIMENT hard working good people like poor De Lima???
  • Over at the Supreme Court, we see a case going on now arguing the constitutionality of pork – PDAF (congressional) and DAP (presidential). Pork by its real name is called discretionary spending, but we are all so angry we slander it with the term pork. The Supreme Court case is very fundamental to understanding the spending powers and limitations of the Legislative and Executive branches of government.
  • We see the people, shallow as ever, raging about the theft of pork and unwilling to consign “alleged” to the scoundrel Napoles. “She done it, and the politicians got our tax money, and we want blood!” And they paint the President’s spending with the same dirty paint brush. The howling has been so loud that the President cancelled all PDAF expenses for 2014.

Analysis

There are a lot of cooks in the forest. No one knows exactly what’s on the menu because each is dealing with his own dish. Many are getting nice publicity, some not-nice.

But fundamentally we have two huge criminal cases and one large constitutional issue.

  • Criminal case #1: Napoles orchestrated theft of congressional and agency pork, with kickbacks.
  • Criminal case #2: Napoles orchestrated theft of Malampaya funds, with payouts.
  • Constitutional issue: legality of discretionary funds of both legislators and the President.

Subordinate issues are whether or not President Aquino has distributed Malampaya funds according to law and whether the lump-sum discretionary payments to legislators by the President after the Corona trial was “bribery”. It appears that he has made proper distributions on the Malampaya funds and the bribery case would be difficult to make stick. I’m inclined to set the issues aside as side-shows and not main events.

There is a lot of yelping going on because these cases touch a lot of people. As do the President’s initiatives to curtail corruption, which may invigorate some of the yelping. And there is the publicity that people, and the press, seek. Added to the confusion are a lot of other corruption cases and audit violations. So there is a lot of noise and clutter. We can let them drift through the legal system in their own sweet time.

It seems to me the Guingona Blue Ribbon Committee is only valuable if it produces new laws. Otherwise it is just showmanship for public consumption and perhaps sullying or making more difficult the official criminal investigations. I don’t see how new laws can be passed before the Supreme Court acts.

The Supreme Court case seems to me to be very, very important. Are discretionary budgets constitutionally legal for legislators and the President? Can the President dole his discretionary money out into chunks for discretionary use by legislators?  The arguments so far are very intelligent and interesting. I wonder who will write the decision. It will be good reading.

We can see a line of influence that goes something like this: President Aquino: Give me a big discretionary budget and I’ll kick big chunks back to you if you vote for my priority programs.” Legislators: “Okie Dokie.”.

That is the essential purpose of pork, the benefit that politicians see but the public does not. Pork may promote the building of roads to nowhere but the benefits are not in the roads. The benefits are in the votes the President can command. Or that legislators can gather from local communities. After all, there is a reason a disgraced and allegedly criminal President can win election to the House in her home district. She paid for that win with years of generosity to Pampanga.

So pork is a political trading currency. Without it, legislators must trade on ideas, allegiances and publicity. Crystalize strong arguments. Swap votes amongst colleagues, this vote for that vote. Leverage the press, as Senator Santiago seems keen to do. That involves more work, and different skills than paying for results with taxpayer cash. I rather think the world will not end if legislators cannot deal cash like mini-presidents.

But there is only one real President, and his discretionary funding DOES serve two important purposes other than buying influence:

  • Boosting the economy by spending to the full extent of the budget, rather than sit on savings.
  • Gaining the value of goods purchased (military weapons, for instance, or disaster relief).

A president is clearly less presidential when he does not have such power to spend and build. Or when he does not have certain latitude to influence. So the questions to me seem to be:

  • What do we want our president to do, and how much discretionary power do we grant him?
  • What do we want our legislators to do, and how much discretionary power do we grant them?

The Supreme Court may sort all this out for us.

But they . . . and we . . . ought to take one step back to ask:

What do we want for the Philippines?

Or, legalistically speaking, what does the Constitution want?

My answer, set up to frame the pork issue, is:

  1. We want a nation that is growing and prosperous, and to get there we need:
    1. Strong leadership that works capably and assertively to build infrastructure, domestic well-being, good international relations and security.
    2. Forthright dealings, transparency and honesty . . . and fast, fair, stern punishment of crooks.

I think the Constitution provides the framework for this to happen, and the big issues are procedure and enforcement.

The Legislature

If it were up to me, I’d cancel legislative discretionary spending (end PDAF). Legislators are not themselves “little presidents” with the operating task of funding local projects. They are primarily lawmakers. The House also does the budget and that is very important.

Legislators should be skilled at lawmaking. Not at currying favors across the land.

Furthermore, Congress ought to be driving the modernization of the Philippines. Not following the noise of this complaint or that, or fiddling in local activities.

If the House and Senate worked forthrightly, it would not take decades for essential laws like RH and FOI and Divorce to pass. They would be on top of it. And they would put out a thoughtful Cybercrime Bill, not a constitutionally challenged piece of junk.

And for sure, the Philippines would be better off if legislators were elected on the strength of their ideas and character, not purchased favors.

The Executive

I’d retain the President’s discretionary powers (retain DAP), including both specifically budgeted discretionary amounts and savings from unspent money. I’d opt for a president with good character and a lot of power, including discretion to spend big money. But I’d take several steps to shore up the disciplines surrounding discretionary spending.

  • Audit would be less a cozy partner of parties investigated and more an antagonist, expected to hunt out variances from policy, sort them by how serious they are, and pass the serious violations to the Ombudsman with a clear recommendation for punishment. Work should be rigorous and timely, starting with the greatest vulnerabilities. It should not take two years for violations to surface.
  • When Audit recommends corrective action, follow-up is needed to certify correction has indeed been made. Now, issues seem to get buried under neglect.
  • Punishments should be fast and firm.
  • Finally, a Freedom of Information law is now a mandate. It is no longer an option. It will happen. The public and various agencies MUST be able to understand where money is going and evaluate the value of various spendings. We want the Philippines to be a modern, INFORMED democracy.

Follow-Up

I suspect that the Supreme Court will provide good foundational thinking about discretionary spending.

Senator Guingona’s committee ought to follow up on that with laws that eliminate any constitutional confusion going forward. And the new law should cite a broad purpose for its works, a healthy, honest, growing, modern Philippines. Finally, the committee should ensure that the Senate looks within for responsibility, not blames and culprits outside the Senate. Put accused senators on leave of absence, or suspend them if ethics rules permit. Do it now. End the cuddling and coddling and scapegoating.

New laws should give the President clear, unequivocal permission to spend savings from departmental or project budgets as he sees fit. The nation needs strong, flexible executive leadership, and much of the empowerment comes from the spending of money.

The President should be banned from issuing discretionary funds to lawmakers to secure their loyalty. He needs to earn their loyalty with ideas, party allegiance and good argument.

Lawmakers should receive sufficient discretionary funds for their own administrative purposes, and for no other use.  If they identify large local projects that are outside the capacity of local government units, they may insert them as a line item in the national budget, subject to approval or decline by the President. And subject to review by citizens and the press.

The Legislature should pass FOI immediately, as soon as the law can be crafted in a clear, comprehensive way. Preserve the secrecy of information important to the nation’s security. Budget the resources needed for departments to compile and report essential information.

Five essential needs emerge if we put a strong Philippines foremost in our thinking:

  • Remove cash from the system of favor-trading and influence peddling done by legislators and the President. Force the system to trade on ideas and information.
  • Strong president (of good character) with significant spending authority that enables him to actually lead and operate and drive the Philippines. Don’t emasculate the office.
  • Lawmakers focused on making laws that foster development of a modern, competitive nation, and articulating a forthright, comprehensive, productive budget.
  • Strong audit and justice disciplines.
  • Informed public.

And jail the crooks for a long long time.

Your Reaction

This is one person’s view. Feel free to add your own perspective.

Comments
39 Responses to “Rising above Pork: What We Want for the Philippines”
  1. ikalwewe says:

    Hi.great article. I am wondering if the Philippine law requires people convicted of plunder to return the money? I’d find it unfair if people didn’t, even if Napoles mother would be sent to jail for the rest of her life. It encourages people to steal and become martyrs for their families- after all, even in jail, her kids’ future are secured(at our expense). Also, I don’t understand why the president has to have his own budget. If it were me, I’d like it scrapped. The president asks, but what about my scholars? My projects? Wouldn’t it be possible to have it go through govt agencies instead, like dep ed, dpwh or whatever? Granted,Aquino may be using his dap honestly, but what about the next president? I think we should make guidelines/laws whatever that will assure us that our money is not at the mercy of someone’s character. And why can’t people debate about scrapping the pork so decisions are not at the sole discretion of the president? I don’t profess to know how major decisions are made but I was really impressed with the UK’s pm losing to the house of commons re: Syria. Can we adopt such way, that can allow the highest man on land to bow down to the decisions of majority without marching (and causing traffic ) all the time? After all, it’s our money.

    • Joe America says:

      I’m glad the article got you thinking. I have to say I am not a legal expert, and have essentially tried to organize things that make some sense. Let me answer your questions to the extent that I can.

      Yes, as I understand it, the Philippines will seek to recover stolen money. That is the basis for freezing all the banking accounts of Janet Napoles and her family. Putting a claim on properties is also a goal, but complicated because some of the properties are in different names and some are in the US.

      Good question regarding housing budgets in agencies rather than under the President’s personal control. I think he needs certain authorities for defense, in the event of attack or to fund rescue activities by troops. (And for secret projects like spying.) Disaster relief contingency money I suppose could be housed with an agency. I trust the subordinate heads less than I do this particular president, however. Maybe we need to look at the specific projects he has spent money on and ask, would this money be better placed by one of the agencies?

      Also, the matter of how to spend the “unspent savings” is a tough one. Right now, the President can say (or has said), “well, I don’t want it to just sit there, I want it out where we can get some value and to boost the economy”. I think he has done the RIGHT thing by spending it. It has helped energize the nation.

      Your last point is also superb. My way says “trust the president” and yours says “what if we get one we can’t trust”?

      That’s where I think FOI comes in. Taking the business of government out of the back rooms and favor trading and putting each and every item in full view of the press and public. That would not eliminate the damage a bad character could do, but would temper it.

      An outcome of the discussion should also be, how can we get citizens to elect people of better skill and character? Getting the money out of the trading for votes would help do that. Getting information in the public’s arena would help do that.

      • ikalwewe says:

        If I were him, to show how committed I am to fighting plunder, I’d go ahead and cancel my own fund. In cases of emergency, I don’t know, can we just make ad-hoc requests instead of having tons of money sitting at whoever president’s disposal? I think we have to lessen the number of hands the fund has to go through, otherwise, all these extra hands would be tempted to try a piece of the pie. Or better yet, can we have our own “house of commons” (house of representatives?) debate this through so the issue is done, once and for all? In this collective decision making, I think the president will have his back covered. “Well, I wanted to do this and that, but this is what the people want.” Same thing with RH – so critics, like the church, can just go shut their trap because the proposal won (or lost) fair and square. What I am proposing is a transparent, democratic system that will not be at the mercy of one or few. That is, taking away the big decisions from someone’s “discretion” (or lack thereof), because “discretion” is hard to measure, subjective etc. I don’t know, does my proposal make sense?

        I worked for an American camp as a manager. During the manager training, we were given clear, detailed, objective checklists to keep “our backs covered” and an item labeled “wshtf”. I asked what it was – and it turned out what I thought it was : “When Sh*t Hits The Fan”. I was really impressed. The Philippines hasn’t quite learned that we need this clear, detailed “checklist” (not subject to someone else’s interpretation) and our own WSHTF item on our own list. After all, this isn’t the first time. And thank you for link.

        • Joe America says:

          That’s a very good idea. Sometimes he or his staff read here. Maybe you will create a “light bulb” moment for them, too.

          You know, I enjoy the way your mind works, conceptually looking for solutions. I agree the Philippines has too many cooks and crooks in the works, and too much detail, and too much complication. Simplicity and common sense get overwhelmed. The nation is not all that big, to be so nit-picky and confused. And, agreed, with all the cooks brewing the stew, everyone has an “out” if something goes wrong. The I-centric American manager typically accepts accountability for his group’s performance. Here, there seem to be weasel ways.

          I argued a couple of years ago for a corporate style governance. Only one legislative body, rather like a Board of Directors, maybe 15 people, and the President as the operating manager. A corporation is very performance oriented, so muddle generally is not accepted. That’s rather a parallel to what you are searching for, perhaps.

          Yes to checklists. I have left the corporation, but still have my daily, weekly, monthly and annual “to do” lists. I don’t have wshtf on it though. 🙂

    • Joe America says:

      This article published today answers the question of whether money is retrieved: http://www.rappler.com/thought-leaders/41089-going-after-napoles-wealth

  2. cha says:

    Extremely well put.

    As to your point on the Constitution providing the framework by which a growing and prosperous nation may actually be realised, it actually coincides with the rationale given for the previous Supreme Court ruling favoring the PDAF precursor, the CDF or Countrywide Development Fund :

    “The Constitution is a framework of a workable government and its interpretation must take into account the complexities, realities and politics attendant to the operation of the political branches of government. ”

    The ruling hailed “the procedure of proposing and identifying by members of Congress of particular projects or activities under Article XLI of the GAA of 1994″ as IMAGINATIVE and INNOVATIVE”! (caps and exclamation point mine). Further explaining the favourable ruling:

    “Prior to the GAA of 1991, there was an uneven allocation of appropriations for the constituents of the members of Congress, with the members close to the Congressional leadership or who hold cards for “horse-trading,” getting more than their less favored colleagues. The members of Congress also had to reckon with an unsympathetic President, who could exercise his veto power to cancel from the appropriation bill a pet project of a Representative or Senator.

    The Countrywide Development Fund attempts to make equal the unequal. It is also a recognition that individual members of Congress, far more than the President and their congressional colleagues are likely to be knowledgeable about the needs of their respective constituents and the priority to be given each project.”

    Actually reading the ruling (which I only did this morning) just made clearer to me how we got into this mess in the first place. I could be wrong (not being trained in the nuances of legalistic phrasing), but doesn’t this make the Judiciary, as represented by the SC Justices at the time, just as much responsible for how the pork barrel system in the Philippines has evolved into what it is today with such a glowing endorsement as given above?

    http://www.lawphil.net/judjuris/juri1994/aug1994/gr_113105_1994.html

    • Joe America says:

      Interesting discoveries, Cha. I must admit I’ve been impressed with the inquiries and comments of the justices on this matter. Chief Justice Sereno seems like she is channeling JoeAm, wondering what senators are doing mucking around in local government acts. Justice Carpio presents some keen questions as well. It is going to be a fascinating opinion to read, I think.

      Gadzooks, that earlier opinion is a bear to read through. Thanks for linking to it, and particularly for pulling out the pertinent nuggets!! 🙂 Indeed, when the legal system puts up flawed reasoning, the justices bear responsibility. I wonder if that opinion will be addressed in the current case.

  3. andrew lim says:

    If only enough Filipinos can think critically and comprehensively like Joe or the commenters here, these things would have been avoided and solutions found.

    Joe, I’ll be sending you my piece today. Just choose good photos for it.

  4. Joseph-Ivo says:

    Indeed here is the clear criminal case of plunder where prompt justice is needed. And not unexpectedly, expensive lawyers prepare to derail the process.

    But more fundamental is indeed the lessons learned question. We are in a developing democracy at an un-freeze moment. “Developing” because the different constitutional powers are not clearly delineated yet. A Justice Carpio is telling how he would spend DAP, on scholarships and medical bills, none of his business. Legislators playing court games in blue ribbon committees, building schools and roads, the executive “buying” legislation… Power is still holistic, “I am senator, so I can make laws, spent taxpayers money the way I like and judge upon anyone based solely on my authority”. We are at a “un-freeze” moment because of peoples outrage due to the very visible display of ill gotten wealth by Jeanne Napoles. The time is right to re-specify some roles and responsibilities, refine some processes.

    There are three parts on this exercise. One is to get a clear picture where we are now, to define A. The second is to define were you want to be, to define B. The third is to work out how to get from A to B. Sometimes it is impossible to go straight from A to B. Sometimes you have to make a detour via C. Or sometimes A-C-B is just easier or faster.

    My feeling is that the president and his advisors have an A-C-B plan in mind. But why do I have to guess? Isn’t the communication on A, B and the need for C is extremely lousy, the presidents spokes persons don’t understand or are indeed too lazy to explain to the public, allowing others to high jack the agenda.

    • Joe America says:

      Yes, confusion as to the role of various bodies runs rampant. “Legislators playing court games”. Exactly. And trying to run local affairs, too, by deciding what local projects get funded. And justices ruling on the basis of their religious belief instead of the law. I do think Carpio is being constitutional as I read his questions. The orals are in a way to throw a lot of paper up in the air and then sort it out according to the law. To me the arguments are playing out well.

      I agree that President Aquino has not laid out a clear ABC plan, although they will argue otherwise. But he could have prevented the problems with the lump sum payments to legislators if this had been done in the open with basis clearly stated for the differing amounts, rather than behind closed doors. Same with his spending of “savings”. Get up front with it and explain why BEFORE the fact, not after.

      I think what we are seeing is a great grinding of gears as the Philippines shifts from explicit, favor-ridden politics where money was very valuable to people to stay in office and get things done, to politics where information and ideas become the fundamental currency. At least I hope so.

  5. ella says:

    Extremely well written article about Philippine politics, politicians and Philippines institutions including media.

    @Andrew Lim, I am with you I just hope more and more Filipinos will read this blog and learn from it. Learn to be critical and not just believe and accept whatever crap media and politicians are telling them.

    I just hope we do not get away from the main issue. THE MAIN ISSUE IS POLITICIANS, NAPOLES AND COHORTS STOLE MONEY and should be punished and he held accountable for the monies they stole.

    • Joe America says:

      Thanks, Ella. Indeed there have been some major distractions and diversions from the theft matter as people vent their anger all over the place. That is the essential thrust of the article, to separate the issues. And the impatience should be directed at Justice and the Ombudsman if they delay, defer and take the edge away from the need to punish. We ought to be respectful of the fact they have a lot on the plate, but when legislators are apparently busy rifling the citizen’s accounts, that needs to be pursued by THEM with considerable focus and indignation, and desire for results. Make the punishment mean something rather than watering it down with delay. I’m serious that I think the President ought to use some DAP to bolster the resources available to Justice and the Ombudsman. And build some more jails, too. Or double up. Put Reyes and Napoles in the same cell. That would be like being in Hell, I think. ahahahaha

  6. Jocelyn says:

    Informative article as usual Joe! I will get right to my point…
    I just lived through the horrible flood in Subic (Sta. Monica Sub-Division)and this has happened every year now since 2010. Money was allocated by the government to dredge the local rivers in Subic (including Matain) and Olongapo City. The rivers haven’t been dredged during that time period and have not been since 2000. What has happened and why do people have to continue to die and loss their homes. This is on out current President’s watch. Yes, it is good to go after the crooks but right now this country is suffering from floods and rivers need to be cleaned out to stop the flooding. Winter is coming and the President and the politicians will quickly forget us and move on to their high-visibility “items.” I contacted ever news outlet and newspaper after our flood of the 23rd of September and not one was interested in the story. Maybe you could give this some thought and add your voice and opinion to this matter. The government must always remember that there are people living outside Metro Manila that are equal citizens and their needs need to be heard and address. Thanks so much, Jocelyn

    • Joe America says:

      Yes, each event like this passes quickly to the background and little is done. Part of that is that there are so many demands, and Manila seems to come first because that’s where all the media and politically influential people are headquartered. I do know that President Aquino has a “no fatality” goal for storms,and numerous projects are underway, but the storms come in fast and furious and too many of the 95 million citizens are situated in dangerous places, down stream, when the “100 year flood” hits.

      I read the other day that the time frame for severe global temperature increases has been moved forward and it will start to get brutal in 35 years. I wish China would just go away so the Philippines could concentrate funding on welfare of her people instead of big boats.

      By the way, my son was born at the James L. Gordon Memorial Hospital in Olongapo, and I lived for a couple of years up the coast and often traveled through Subic. It was shocking to see that area under water.

      • Jocelyn says:

        So you know a little about our situation….

        I think that we need to look at where the funding went that was allocated in 2011 for the local rivers to be cleaned up. We had 30 people die this year in our very small local area and more are dying everyday from disease related illness. That is 30 people who DID NOT need to die. We had 10 last year. The local hospitals are full beyond capacity due to a huge outbreak of Leptospirosis. I have it even in my family. There has been a “run” on the main medication Doxycycline and the retail medicine outlets are charging up to 10 times the original amount when you can even find it.

        I understand what you are saying but you have a voice on this blog and maybe it would be a good “change of pace” to focus on a small areas problems to show how the government is NOT really focusing on bettering people’s lives. Are our lives worth less than in Manila?

        • Joe America says:

          Let me give that some thought, Jocelyn, to do a little research and see if I can come up with ideas that might make a difference.

          • Jocelyn says:

            Thanks Joe! Any voice that could possibly help get things started concerning cleaning up these rivers would save many lives. I am sitting unable to sleep as we await another typhoon coming almost directly overhead. People are so fearful here.

            I believe strongly that we should cure the corruption problem and get back all the money but I believe even more strongly that the number one priority should be correcting the problems that cause flooding nation-wide…lives are worth more than money.

            Thanks so much for hearing me out, Jocelyn

  7. Geng says:

    I am new in this site so I’ll make my comment short and will only focus on your 5th suggestion about what we want for a strong Philippines.
    There is that need for an informed public (highly informed, should I say) because people tend to be easily swayed by an opinion or disinformation from only one side that conclusions are already reached as if what they heard or read is nothing but the truth.
    Finance Secretary Butch Abad’s explanation today at Solar Channel News on where the funds for the Development Acceleration Program came from and how they were utilized was long overdue. He should have done it the moment the issue went out in the media so that nobody could have said that the actions of the administration were unconstitutional and illegal and there is something anomalous about it.
    He could have done Senator Santiago a favor by not raising her blood pressure to stroke levels and Former Senator Joker Arroyo could not have shown his contempt for Pnoy and his cabinet as if there is nothing to be contemptuous of the anomalies of the previous administration that makes him clammy silent whenever news of them came out.

    • Joe America says:

      Hi, Geng, welcome to the blog. I smile thinking that politicians would be a lot more timely and clear about things if they wanted to preserve Senator Santiago’s good humor. I think Joker Arroyo is bizarre. I don’t exactly know what he wants to accomplish other than exorcise some of his personal demons. Maybe it’s his last stab at fame, I dunno.

      The real trick is how to get information out broadly to people who don’t really follow the news. The voters who vote for Candidate A because Candidate A has greased the local wheels and the local wheels tout Candidate A, and the whole community goes with A because . . . well, that’s what everyone is doing. Meanwhile, Candidate A is a dog.

      I have figured out how to reach internet fluent people, but they themselves don’t carry a lot of votes. Maybe they influence a bunch though. It’s going to be a big challenge for whoever runs against Binay.

    • David Murphy says:

      Or perhaps he could have done the nation a favor by raising her blood pressure to stroke levels. Oh, that was mean. I shouldn’t have written that. I’ll delete it. Oh drat! I accidentally hit Enter before I could delete it. Pretend you didn’t see that.

  8. manuel buencamino says:

    You might find CJ Sereno’s short history on pork very informative. http://www.rappler.com/nation/40965-pork-barrel-timeline-sereno-molo

    • Joe America says:

      Gadzooks, that rather boggles the mind. Hard to keep up with the changes. I’ve got to re-read the Constitution, centering on the budget process. The House is responsible for creating budgets, no question. But Executive has wide latitude to manage operational aspects of government. I don’t see how that can be done without fiddling with the resources . . . or pesos. Like, “applied budgets”.

  9. manuel buencamino says:

    Well put, Joe. Balance is what is lacking from all the checking going on.

    I wonder how the Supreme Court will feel if Congress repeals Presidential Decree 1949, thse law that created the Judicial Development Fund, a humongous multi-billion peso pork barrel funded by legal fees charged by courts and under the sole control of the Chief Justice.

    “Section 1. There is hereby established a Judiciary Development Fund, hereinafter referred to as the Fund, for the benefit of the members and personnel of the Judiciary to help ensure and guarantee the independence of the Judiciary as mandated by the Constitution and public policy and required by the impartial administration of justice. The Fund shall be used to augment the allowances of the members and personnel of the Judiciary and to finance the acquisition, maintenance and repair of office equipment and facilities; Provided, That a least eighty percent (80%) of the Fund shall be used for cost of living allowances, and not more than twenty percent (20%) of the said Fund shall be used for office equipment and facilities of the Courts located where the legal fees are collected; Provided, further, That said allowances of the members and personnel of the Judiciary shall be distributed in proportion of their basic salaries; and, Provided, finally, That bigger allowances may be granted to those receiving a basic salary of less than P1,000.00 a month.

    Sec. 2. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court shall administer and allocate the Fund and shall have the sole exclusive power and duty to approve the authorize disbursements and expenditures of the Fund in accordance with the guidelines set in this Decree and its implementing rules and regulations.”

    Companion reading to PD 1949 is the impeachment complaint against former Chief Justice Hilarion Davide. It spells out how he misspent the JDF.

    And so I’m wondering how the Court with its lips glistening from the fat of the JDF pork can sit in judgement of PDAF and DAP.

    • Joe America says:

      Someone ought to direct that question to the Supreme Court justices. I’m surprised this has not come out in Rappler or other media. That story has some juice to it.

  10. bebot says:

    ” Damned if you do, damned if you don’t”, this is another hard lesson that superimposed PNoy on the PDAF/ Malampaya scam and DAP dilemma.

    PNoy was lambasted for not spending the savings on the government projects before, that now he is spending it to promote economic growth and provision for disaster relief, he is still lambasted. No matter what he does, the scoundrel politicians are always twisting a knife on his back to make it appear he is one of them, that they want him to scrap PDAF, Malampaya and DAP to curtail him using it for the benefit of the country and the people to diminish his popularity and the people’s support for him. Miriam Santiago, Joker Arroyo and the media were silent during Arroyo’s tenure on these issues who plundered the taxpayers’ money to their heart’s content, not questioning its constitutionality, well, because they were getting their lion’s share of the loot in one way or another.

    The lawmakers passed laws – insertions on laws- to protect them from prosecution if ever they were caught red- handed circumventing some of the laws they passed. They used the laws they passed to hide their malversation of funds. They are so bloody cunning.. The public should pilloried on these embezzlers till they are out of public office, and SHOULD STOP ASKING PNOY TO SCRAP THE PRESIDENTIAL PDAF, MALAMPAYA AND DAP FUNDS AS THESE ARE HIS SOURCES OF FUNDS TO WHICH HE IS USING TO SPEND ON HIS OWN PROJECTS SO BENEFICIAL TO THE ECONOMY’S GROWTH, DISASTER RELIEF, SECURITY DEFENSE, WHATEVER MORE. It seems the public doesn’t know know what is good for them because they had been so badly treated by the embezzlers, that into their eyes Pnoy is already one of them. They lost their plot, their perspectives.

    How to educate the majority of the voters not to sell their votes? First and foremost, is to form an information drive through all barangays ( start with allied to administration) disseminating the true cost of selling their votes to unscrupulous electoral politicians, their achievements / non- achievements as government officials and their existing / non existing values/ virtues that would have extremely impact on their lives. In earnest desire of the Pnoy government to uplift the poor people from their poverty, they should provide them with livelihood ( train them if it must, with jobs on hand, they won’t sell their votes), provide them with proper education- build the schools to their locality, – if not, provide the children a free school bus to go to school, free tuition fee, books, uniform ( through vouchers). Let these children finish up to vocational education or scholar education if it a must. Well informed/ educated children from the poor families won’t sell their votes.. .

    • Joe America says:

      Excellent assessment. Exactly. Why do we harass and undermine our president so? Most I think don’t appreciate that it is tough to operate with 95 million people watching your every move, and taking the smallest (perceived) mistake as indicative of the entire work effort.

      I like your plan to educate the public on vote-buying. It needs an organization, a leader, to push the program.

  11. “Five essential needs emerge if we put a strong Philippines foremost in our thinking:

    Remove cash from the system of favor-trading and influence peddling done by legislators and the President. Force the system to trade on ideas and information.
    Strong president (of good character) with significant spending authority that enables him to actually lead and operate and drive the Philippines. Don’t emasculate the office.
    Lawmakers focused on making laws that foster development of a modern, competitive nation, and articulating a forthright, comprehensive, productive budget.
    Strong audit and justice disciplines.
    Informed public.”

    How and when will the country plant the seed for these reforms to happen? Passage of FOI, RH and others is just the first step. How about the implementation of these laws? It will take many years and generations for moral transformation if it’s possible in the 1st place.

    1. System of favor-trading– That could happen when every lower class Pinoy were an OFW. As long as they are poor here, it will be election bribe over principles.

    2. Strong prexy of good character– that’s a long shot. I prefer a new breed of politicans with party discipline and ideals. So what if they temporarily shut down the gov’t coz of bipartisan war, they don’t plunder the state coffers at least.

    3. Lawmakers focused on making laws– First step is to abolish congressional PDAF and DAP

    4. Strong audit and justice disciplines– FOI even in the judiciary. And oh, these judges need to be schooled. make info on administrative cases against judges publicly available.

    5. Informed public– Aside from being informed, public needs to know how to process info. Unfortunately, majority of Pinoys aren’t trained to do that.

    • Joe America says:

      As always, I appreciate your thinking, even if we disagree on this or that. In this particular instance,

      I agree with point 1.

      I disagree on number 2 that allegiance to party discipline and ideals is always good. A party is a subset of the whole, and to the extent it seeks dominance through actions such as the Republican Party’s tea wing does, they are behaving much as the Muslim Brotherhood did in a secular Egypt. Putting the well-being of all beneath that success of the party. I think what is going on in the U.S. is tragic. The well-being of all ought to be the essential driver, respecting different ideals and working to sort out the differences. Not dominating them, only to be dominated back during the next electoral swing.

      Re. 3, I also disagree with abolition of DAP, as I explained in the article, because the President is an executive and ought to have great latitude to execute. The legislators are lawmakers, not executives, and that is what they should focus their energies on.

      Re. 4, yes, I agree, and from what I can tell, Chief Justice Sereno does, too. It will take some time for the systems to get in place to extend transparency to all the courts in the land. But I think that is clearly the path.

      Re. 5, I agree, As noted above in the comment thread Cha gives us indication that maybe that, too, is starting to change. Long way to go.

  12. Disagreement is healthy as long as it’s not personal.

    I’m amenable to revising no. 2 but not no.3.

    Instead of rigid party ideology, coalition building might be considered. But asking for an altruistic and patriotic coalition by politicians is too much, I guess. My point was the US bureaucracy is still more efficient and effective than Philippine bureau. despite its shortcomings.

    You cited the ideal use of DAP, but we all know what happens, or more specifically, who profits in practice. There’s a reason why the Constitution formalized the budget determination and appropriation in the form of budget hearings. If you want to boost the Government consumption component of GDP, plan ahead like what a good economist will do, and don’t give DAP after the impeachment of a CJ.

    Even though I’m not a fan of Sen. Santiago, I have to agree with her on this one:

    “No law shall be passed authorizing any transfer of appropriations; however, the President…may, by law, be authorized to augment any item in the general appropriations law for their respective offices from savings in other items of their respective appropriations.”

    “The first issue is that the DAP was not taken from savings. The second issue is that the DAP was not used to augment items in the budget that were previously authorized by Congress. The alleged savings were used to augment new budget items not previously authorized by Congress.”

    • Joe America says:

      Okay, we only have number three to solve. I agree there is a gap between ideal and real, and the money has historically been used too often to play politics rather than build the Philippines. DAP should be used for specific purposes, and giving money to others that they can spend at their discretion ought not be one of them. Disaster relief, yes. Military exigency, yes. Economic exigency, yes. If it were up to me to promulgate new rules on DAP, I’d start with a list of projects that have received money during the past 10 years, sort them by category, and decide which are legitimate, which should better be with an agency, and which are simply not appropriate (e.g., anything that passes discretionary spending down the line). I’d want the president to be able to act in a fairly bold and timely way on some matters without having to go through legislative hoops.

  13. jojie u. says:

    Hi, JoeAm,
    I agree 101% with your analysis and recommendations. I hope the Supreme Court justices and President Pinoy will have the chance to read your blog to enlighten their predicament and really have soul searching solutions to this dilema of Constitional empowerment which lends its self the facility to abuse of powers by our elected national officials. We have an honest president but unfortunately we have a dysfunctional system of governance and a justice system that does not operates on social justice and economic well being of the general public.

    • Joe America says:

      Interesting thoughts, jojie. I think Chief Justice Sereno sees things somewhat as I’ve outlined if I read her comments correctly. I don’t know to what extent the other justices can decide based on law versus political position, or allegiance to a prior president. But, indeed, I am rather seeing President Aquino defending the status quo without recognizing that the status quo, and tendency for leaders to deal in favors, a form of corruption, is what is WRONG with DAP’s less forthright uses. It would be nice to see him introspect in a way that is not a rubber stamp of the way it has been done in the past. DAP is important, but NOT doing business with it the same as in the past. That is, using it as favor chips or influence chips. No no.

  14. The Mouse says:

    Looking into the future, in case that Napoles goes to “house arrest” (I have a gut feeling she won’t go to Bilibid), I worry that a future president will pardon her.

    And spot on with removing the pork barrel. Who are these legislators to “hand out” scholarships, fund infrastructure when there are the DepEd and DPWH for those? At least if these projects are by these government agencies, you won’t see any politicians name as if they were sponsored from their personal bank accounts

    • Joe America says:

      That’s an interesting expectation on Napoles. I know she has lots of friends. I wonder, though, if any of them had any idea of the extent of her thieving. Upon knowing it, do you still want to call her a friend? I wonder if she has any friends left. I know Filipinos can forgive and forget though. I guess I should bear that in mind. But I think she’ll go to jail for a long time and will receive no pardon, unless she becomes old and ill. That assumes “alleged” gets done away with at trial.

  15. R.Hiro Vaswani says:

    I wish someone would break down the percentages of the budget according to the ffg. breakdown:

    Salaries and benefits, debt service, supplies and maintenance, local governments share and capital expenditures….

    The GAA must have all the specifics of the appropriations down. I have grudging respect for the fact that Pres. Obama needs the approval of the U.S. Congress for almost everything the executive department disburses. Maybe it would do the world a good if the “Teapublicans” in the U.S. Congress do force a debt default for the U.S. What is going in in the U.S. is a good teaching model for the workings of government responsibility and accountability…

    • Joe America says:

      Yes, I hope that with Freedom of Information likely forthcoming, I hope we get some skilled financial drillers who can sift through the detail and present us with meaning.

      I think what is going on in the U.S. is not healthy. The partisan divide and lack of trust and ability to negotiate forthrightly is a downward spiral creating ever more bitterness, and is pushing again and again to the brink and harming the U.S. reputation overseas. Plus, I own stocks and think this gameplaying puts my financial well-being at risk. So it is a personal thing.

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