Saturday, September 28, 2013

On The Pork Barrel Scandal

The Pork Barrel scandal that is currently roiling Philippine politics offers a penetrating glimpse into how public funds have been nefariously used in the past for anything but the Philippine public. The scandal though, at the center of which is businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, offers more than a revealing view of the Byzantine treatment that is applied to pecuniary items like the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). It pulls out from the dark the sustained trend among Philippine politicos of misappropriating substantive amounts of public finances in order to line their pockets.

Filipino politicians stealing from public coffers is hardly news. The march of graft and corruption by elected officials has tempered into a perverse tradition, something to be expected of any politician made of flesh and blood. While it has been a popular refrain among Filipinos to curse politicians from all corners of the political spectrum for stealing what belongs to the people, the absurdity of it all is that Filipinos have been tangibly bland or resigned to fate in acting on their abhorrence to being royally shafted by their leaders.

When the PDAF scandal first broke, Filipinos knew they would have to brace themselves for yet another harmful shock to the democratic system. The thinking was: here we go all over again. Politicians dipping their hands in the till---when has it never happened? Philippine history, haphazardly packaged and articulated as it is in a knotted reign of domestic and international designs, tells us that politicians big and small show little life in formulating and passing progressive legislation but bring it on when easy blood money is at hand.

Many indifferently or arrogantly thought, first among them the censurable politicians, that Filipinos would do as they usually do: turn the other cheek and worry more about the sobering realm of everyday life. But as the tune goes, there’s something happening here. The tinder of corruption that these crooked politicians now find piled up underneath them has been set alight by the piercing anger of the people. Is it a sign of how minds in the Philippines are changing for the better? Hard to say for certain, but maybe it’s not totally unreasonable to believe that the bad guys won’t get away with it this time.

Rarely over the many years since the Philippines gained its independence from America in 1946 has it come close to realizing its potential as a democratic republic. Since the American flag came down on July 4, 1946, the country has been sucked dry by staggering economic inequality and its attendant mix of poverty, mismanagement, and corruption. Most misleading about all this is the economic and political establishment’s perpetual assertion that it is the lack of order and discipline among the people, as well as the presumed Filipino penchant for indolence, that has always brought the Philippines to this sorry state of affairs.

But this curious contention on the part of the economic and political elite crosses the line of incredulity. Indeed, nothing could be farther from the truth. The reason the Philippines has been so poor for so long is not because of the underprivileged, but because of the rich who constitute much of the upper rungs of the economic and political hierarchy. Seeking to capitalize on the blame-the-poor ditch of responsibility, the economic and political elite shovel falsehoods about the wider Filipino society in order to convince the masses that it’s their own fault that the Philippines is being driven off a cliff.

The elite has built their wealth and power on this myth which has been useful in getting Filipinos to suppose that there has never really been any money available for the improvement of the country. This flight of fancy conceals what is a distorted fact of history: there has always been sufficient funds in the Philippines for social and economic growth and development; but those funds have been heisted on a socio-historical terrain that has been branded by the problem of massive economic criminality.

In so many ways, the emergence of the pork barrel scandal is salutary for the Philippine nation and people. I just hope Filipinos have the staying power to pursue the brazen thieves who populate the institutions of state, lest we continue to put the fate of the Philippines in the hands of these political and moral charlatans.


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