PDAF and padrinos: Why the pork barrel must go

Posted at 08/26/13 8:59 PM

Randy David: Pork protest a success for social media

MANILA – The Million People March for the scrapping of the pork barrel may not have gathered a million warm bodies but it was a big enough crowd to show that movements sparked via social media cannot be ignored, political analyst Randy David said Monday.

“It’s really a metaphorical way of referring to something that we want to be massive and as crowds go, this was big enough. I think it's just the beginning. Besides, we should take into account not just the people in Luneta today but also the people who gathered in other public squares around the country and in the rest of the world where Filipinos are. I think it is a tremendous success and I am certain it is just the beginning. It is a way of telling our political leaders that we are here. We are watching you,” he told ANC’s Top Story.

Calls for the million people march started circulating on Facebook and Twitter earlier this month following a series of news reports on a P10 billion scam involving the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of lawmakers.

Jonas de los Reyes, Socialytics co-founder and managing director, said online outrage over the scam reached fever pitch after a blog and video of Jeane Napoles' ritzy lifestyle went viral. Napoles is the daughter of businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles, alleged mastermind of the scam.

Various lawmakers have washed their hands of the alleged pork barrel scam despite the statements of whistle-blowers and a Commission on Audit report on the pork barrel anomalies.

In the interview with ANC, David said he is dissatisfied with Malacañang’s response to the pork barrel scandal. He said the Palace response was too calibrated.

“When the Napoles P10 billion pork barrel scam first hit the headlines, I was quite disappointed with the reaction of Malacañang. Essentially, Malacañang was saying a lot of good has happened from the use of the PDAF. And then that was replaced by 'Let's prosecute those who have abused the PDAF.' And then last Friday, the President said let's abolish the PDAF but in the same breath, the President was also saying that whatever has been appropriated so far or will be appropriated for 2014 will now be itemized in a line itemized way.

“The legislators will still be given the privilege of electing and suggesting their own projects. Well, it was a little too late. Maybe if he had said that in his [State of the Nation Address], it might have been applauded as a heroic, courageous, very modern statesman way of running a government but it is one month too late. Besides, given the magnitude of the reaction to the allegations of abuse of the pork barrel, it was inadequate. Not bold enough as a response.”

He also said Aquino failed to capitalize on the public’s expression of vigilance and outrage especially since his own rule has not been tainted by corruption.

“I would think that if I were the President, wala kang record ng corruption, you have a high moral standing in the political community, you have high approval and trust ratings. You should draw further strength from this manifestation of public anger in order to initiate bolder reforms instead of looking at it as somehow threatening you or feeling that it is being directed against you,” he said.

One reason, David believes, why Aquino has not been as strong in his statements against the pork barrel scam is because the President may have spoken too soon about the controversy not affecting his own administration.

He said that while the worst of the scam might have happened during the Arroyo presidency, it would be premature to say that it did not continue under Aquino.

“The worse forms of pork barrel abuse might have really taken place during the time of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. It was a transactional presidency and pork barrel was a very convenient tool for accomplishing your transactional goals but to say that it does not happen, did not happen in the last 3 years, I think that is totally baseless,” he said.

“I would like to see COA [Commission on Audit] reports from 2010 -2012. I am quite certain that Napoles-type scams were also taking place and the reason for that is very simple. When you have lump sum appropriations that you offer to legislators both in Congress and in the Senate, that is practically an invitation, a temptation. Dati dati the misuse or so called misuse of the pork barrel took the form only of overpricing or the use of inferior materials or suggesting suppliers or contractors who would somehow pay you a kickback of 5%-10%. If you have an opening like that, you will have Napoles-types of characters who would pledge to the legislator: ‘I'll fix this for you and you get 60%-70%.’”

Pork barrel feeds padrino system

In the interview, David said there is ample reason why Filipinos should push for the abolition of the Priority Development Assistance Fund of lawmakers.

He said the pork barrel system has always been a kind of concession or accommodation of politicians “so that they can play their role as padrinos.”

He said that in the past, the use of the PDAF was very limited and subject to bidding rules and submission of very detailed project proposals that are subject to strict monitoring. These rules were later set aside and allowed lawmakers to name which non-government organizations (NGOs) should get their PDAF.

David rejected the reasoning of some lawmakers that they can determine which of their constituents should get scholarships, medical assistance and other funds.

“Kayo bang mga senador at kongresista - do you have really the capability to examine who needs dialysis? Who needs scholarships? Do you have the staff to do that? What criteria do you use? Why don't you give that to people who have the staff and the professional training to determine who is actually in need?”

He also rejected the reasoning of some lawmakers that they could not verify if the NGOs receiving millions of pesos of their pork barrel funds were legitimate.

“Alam naman nila what kind of NGOs these are. When you give hundreds of millions of pesos to NGOs, you have to at least know the records of these NGOs. That is why the real development NGOs are up in arms because in a sense, the scandal has also stigmatized them and many of them have done good work,” he said.

David lamented the current legal and institutional systems in the country are "too advanced" for the country’s political culture.

“Our legal system and even our Constitution is very, very democratic and modern and yet the whole social and political context in which these institutions is made to operate is very backward and very feudal so there is a disconnect between your institutional systems and the kind of society we have. It is a very hierarchical society that is really spit between the very powerful and rich and the poor and powerless. It is a society that encourages precisely the patronage system,” he said.

However, he also noted that the reason why pork barrel should be scrapped completely is already built into the Constitution. He said the role of Congress is not to disperse a portion of the national budget to constituents but to look at the budget proposal from the executive and debate policy implications. These include allocations for defense, education, infrastructure and even scholarships.

David said lawmakers should criticize any form of partisanship that has entered the drafting of a budget. “How can they perform that function if they are interested in recommending their own projects? It is a conflict of interest situation.”

The power of social media

David said one way to break the political patronage system is to break the cycle of poverty in the country. He said freeing Filipinos from economic dependency will lead to a break from dependency on political patrons.

He also said Filipinos, especially the masses, must be empowered with information. He noted that many of those who congregated in Luneta today are hooked into the information loop.

“You have to give them the will and encourage them. It is to capacitate people to have the will, readiness and moral courage to inspect, monitor and criticize if necessary. You cannot expect that from very, very poor people who are out of the information loop. That is why most of the people who are in Luneta are those who are connected to the internet. They are the informed people but during elections, they constitute a minority. The majority are those who are peripheralized from the circuits of national life, whether you are talking about information, wealth or power. These are the clients of the patrons,” he said.

David said today’s protest was started by informed people who are calling for a complete modernization or overhaul of the political system and getting rid of the political system of patronage, which is also at the root of the political dynasties.

He also said the march could be the start of more social media-led movements similar to the ones in Brazil and Turkey.

David described social media-led movements as “very volatile but can be the core of really massive change.”

“There is a tendency, I think, of the political class to underestimate the power of social-media-driven movements…You might think it is insignificant but (in other countries) it started with families bringing their children, pitching tents and picnics like what you have this afternoon.’

“You take a picture today, post it online and a relative sees it in America. The Internet in other words has made communications one and global and instant and real-time. What kind of power does that imply for movements, for protest movements? It is tremendous. Nobody has grasped the full implications, not even the Left, I would say,” he said.