Betrayal of Public Trust
How do we at Kaya Natin think through this PDAF scam?
The numbers were just scandalous.
10 Billion Pesos. At one point, 20 million per day and over 600 million per month in money outflows as bribes. Napoles even commented, “I know a lot of people, I will be out in 2 months.” Some Congressmen even had the boldness to ask Commissioner Grace Pulido-Tan to resign
The corruption grew with audacious impunity.
It took a while for us to be able to dissect the situation to position ourselves against this evil. One of the things we asked ourselves was, “How do we even fight this thing.” We needed to get a grasp of the magnitude of the corruption to even consider going against this.
We asked some of the lawmaker champions in Kaya Natin for their opinion. They were also disheartened. They tried to explain that not all in congress were corrupt. But their explanation, though true, could not justify the numbers. Sadly, the 200 congressmen represent about 80% of the lower house. This was deeply disappointing when they reluctantly said, 'we do not know how to fight this effectively in congress.'
Most of us want this entitlement removed. But we cannot simply demand the removal of the PDAF. Even if we pressure the President, he can only do so much. We need to know where we can place our influence to move towards good governance. This is the ethical thinking we practice in Kaya Natin.
First. We considered the good that the PDAF brings. There are mayors in poor areas that find the Priority Development Assistance as a lifeline as it shortcuts and speeds up the process of budget allocation. We also recognize that PDAF is a power that when used properly can promote good governance in a district.
At the same time, we also recognize that PDAF has been corrupted to become a livelihood to many of the congressmen. PDAF is one of the instruments that make it feasible for congressmen to buy votes during election. We also believe that the removal of PDAF can have a profound effect in electoral reform.
Second, we also saw that Congress is not capable of holding itself accountable. Its Ethics Committee was rendered dysfunctional by this scam. We saw that even if the speaker wanted and dared to, it would just come out as a sham.
Together with this, we also saw that Congressmen had less incentive to be accountable because they are voted per district. Many feel that they would still win even if they are exposed as corrupt lawmakers. The electorate at the district level is simply not equipped to exact accountability because vote buying will still prevail. This makes them bold. This was evident when a number of lawmakers asked Commissioner Grace Pulido-Tan to resign due to some clerical error. "Doing that to an institution like Congress, she’s made irreparable damage," Congressman Romualdez said. Congressman Pichay echoed this when he said, “Congress has been maligned totally,” referring to COA. These congressmen do not realize that the actions of their 200 colleagues are the real disservice to the House. The incapacity of the Congress to have a process to hold them accountable is what makes a typical lawmaker a ‘Buwaya’.
At one point, during our discussion in Kaya Natin, we even considered a position to let the pork barrel stay if the lawmakers could make themselves accountable. CHOP PORK UNTIL HEADS ROLL! When we said this, we were hoping that they can have the integrity to the power they hold. Sadly, they could not. If this is the case, we felt that they are not entitled to the power of the PDAF.
Third, we knew that it would be difficult for the President if he wanted to get rid of PDAF. Two hundred Congressmen can legally move as a mob to potentially make a President lame. We believe that a dysfunctional government is just as bad.
Finally, we saw that there was a chance at the Senate to exact accountability.
What did we think was needed?
We saw that there is a need to restore trust.
We support Senator TG in the Blue Ribbon Hearings because we believe that this is the right place for the story to unfold. We believe that this hearing needs the support because it is difficult to convene the panel especially with some senators involved in the scam.
I like the discussions that happened in Kaya Natin. The leaders I met showed me how Kaya Natin deeply desires to make government work at the same time do the right things. As much as we wanted the PDAF abolished, we knew it was not going to be easy and we needed to support the leaders to move towards this.
In the end, the audacity of the corruption was not only because 10 Billion pesos was stolen from services that could go to the poor. But also because the magnitude indicates that this will perpetuate. Failure to exact accountability will surely embolden future unscrupulous leaders to set up a similar scheme – with or without PDAF. Even more, this incident has proven that Congress is not capable of making itself accountable. This incapacity threatens the very power that enables the Lower House to make sound policies. Because of this fiasco, the question will inevitably be asked: how can a lawmaker create policies that exact accountability when they themselves cannot be held responsible?
It is so difficult to see how to fight for good governance in Congress in this mess.
Right now, the country has its eyes on the Senate Blue Ribbon hearing. So much is riding on this. That is why Kaya Natin has poured itself to support this heroic effort.
Personally, I expect the Blue Ribbon to unearth the story of this corruption. I hope the story is enough for us to justify removing the PDAF.. And I wish for more. I hope the lawmakers are charged because they corrupted the institution so bad. I think we need to sustain this momentum to hold the lawmakers accountable to restore the integrity of both houses.
While at it, perhaps we can use this energy and vigilance to champion bills that empower us to demand accountability from our leaders.
I believe we can never achieve good governance until we can consistently demand this from our leaders.
As we ended the meeting, we asked ourselves, “Why are the people really mad at this corruption?”
It was probably because we elected these leaders and we feel so betrayed.Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.