Tax evasion should not be a criminal offense anymore in the Philippines. After all, some of the country’s public servants, those who blatantly steal taxpayers’ money, do not get prosecuted or go to jail. It is even quite baffling how members of Congress made a big deal out of former Chief Justice Renato Corona’s undeclared personal dollar savings in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) considering quite a number of those who impeached him were said to have been involved in scams using their priority development assistance (PDAF) or “pork barrel” funds through bogus NGOs for years even before Corona’s impeachment trial began in 2012. These scams involved billions of pesos of other people’s money — sums that utterly dwarf what Corona had in his own bank account.
The truth is, one can be forgiven for hiding his or her hard-earned money from the Philippine government because there is enough evidence to suggest that the public cannot trust the government to manage public funds properly. Those who keep insisting that only the previous administration had mismanaged public funds need to have their heads examined.
Philippine President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino has been in office since 2010. However, he and his minions will have you believe that he just started his term yesterday with the way he keeps blaming the previous administration for the problems his own administration is facing today. His announcement that he will abolish the pork barrel funds wasn’t entirely true. It seems he made the announcement to pacify the public and stop them from attending the massive rally against the pork barrel funds.
On the government’s website, the current administration published a diagram or what they call an “infographic” of what the government will do after they “abolish” the PDAF or pork barrel funds. It cleverly stressed how the “old system”, which is the same system BS Aquino’s government has been using since being voted into office, was prone to abuse. The diagram alleged that the pdaf or pork barrel funds was prone to abuse because of the following:
1. A former President desperate to hold on to power.
2. Congressmen immersed in the culture of transactionalism.
3. A bureaucracy coopted and coerced.
4. Lack of transparency in the system.
5. A passive and disengaged citizenry.
It looks like BS Aquino is blaming everyone else except himself for endemic corruption in the Philippines. The big question is this:
How come BS Aquino did not speak out against the “old system” when he was still in Congress?
Just to reiterate, the old system is the same system BS Aquino has been using up until his recent announcement that it is time to abolish the pork barrel funds. It is also worth pointing out that after repeatedly saying that he was against abolishing the pork barrel funds, BS Aquino made an about face three days before the scheduled million people march against the pork barrel on the 26th of August and announced that it was time to abolish it. For that reason, the old system, the system that is prone to abuse, existed even during BS Aquino’s term. He only felt compelled to change to a “new system”, which he says is more transparent after the public outrage. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of people who fail to see through the hypocrisy in BS Aquino’s actions, which is why things will not improve under his regime.
What is also interesting to note from the government’s diagram on PDAF or pork is that even though it says that it will be abolished, the new system they are proposing still provides an opportunity for legislators to include budgets for specific “projects”.
In other words, even though legislators won’t be getting their lump sum amounts, which was Php70 million per congressman and Php200 million per Senator, they will still get funds for their pet projects this year, it’s just not called the PDAF or pork anymore. Therefore, it will not have been abolished at all. Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda confirmed this:
(…) President was clear about the abolition of the PDAF in the 2014 budget. But that only meant that the lump-sum appropriation for the PDAF “is no longer there.”
This “new system” means that there is still a possibility for the Executive branch, which is headed by BS Aquino, to use public funds to strong-arm members of Congress into doing what he wants them to do.
The government’s diagram showing what they will do after the pork is abolished is misleading. It gives the impression that it is already in effect. Never mind that some members of Congress like Senate President Franklin Drilon are now against its abolition. In a separate statement, “Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said on Friday that the P25.2-billion allocation for the PDAF would stay in the proposed P2.268-trillion national budget for next year”.
The Secretary’s reason for keeping the budget allocated for PDAF or pork barrel funds is not acceptable. He said “it was not logical to wipe out any trace of the P25.2 billion PDAF from next year’s budget” only because “the amount had been proposed”. His is a lame excuse, indeed.
Since the 2014 budget hasn’t been approved and is still scheduled for deliberation by Congress, Secretary Abad can still revise it and scrap the allocation for the PDAF. It should be easy enough since he said so himself that the budget could be diverted to something else – something more substantial, hopefully other than the construction of more basketball courts and waiting sheds. There’s no reason the funds have to go through legislators to implement “small projects” anyway.
There is really nothing in the Constitution that says legislators have to be involved in “projects” for their districts or constituents. Secretary Abad’s only defense when asked why legislators need funds is that they are constitutionally-mandated to scrutinize the budget. But what he said doesn’t really justify why they need to have funds too. As Manuel L. Quezon III mentioned in his blog, according to the Constitution, Congress is only obliged to act on proposed budget by the executive branch by deliberating on it. And, they can only subtract items from it, and not add to it (Art. VI, Sec. 25, I). This means that Congress also has the power to remove the PDAF from the national budget during their deliberation if they want to and even when Secretary Abad can’t be bothered to change his budget proposal.
Before changing his tune, Malacañang Spokesman Edwin Lacierda even challenged the legislators to give up their pork:
“That is the call of each and every solon,” said presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda. “Senator Panfilo Lacson did it. Is it something that is worth emulating? That is the call of each and every legislator.”
Lacierda said it was also up to Congress to decide on the fate of the P27 billion in Priority Development Assistance Funds or PDAF in the proposed 2014 national budget.
If only Lacierda did not contradict himself by not criticizing the people who went to the rally against the pork barrel funds. He seems to be pretty inconsistent for a Malacañang spokesman. Speaking of Lacson, he made sense when he said “we are here to make laws, not to build roads and bridges.” He said that in a privilege speech in 2003, when alleged NGO scammers like Janet Lim Napoles were still under people’s radars. Lacson also mentioned how the Commission on Audit (CoA) receive a two percent kickback from every pork barrel scam. The government’s infographic on pork barrel funds should include CoA in their list of reasons why the system is prone to abuse.
Senate President Franklin Drilon was also quoted as saying that it is easy to abolish the pork barrel. This was what he said before he changed his position and went against its abolition:
“For his part, Senate President Franklin M. Drilon pointed out that the controversial pork barrel funds given to members of the Senate through the years could disappear from the General Appropriations Act (GAA or national budget) by simply deleting the PDAF appropriations from the budget.”
It’s a real mystery why some people like Drilon who were quoted in the past as being okay with removing the pork barrel funds are now justifying the need for Congress to have funds for their pet projects. It’s either they are suffering some kind of premature withdrawal symptoms or someone must have convinced them to rally for the retention of the pork barrel funds. That someone could be trying to hold on to power. It’s really hard to trust Filipino public servants especially when they keep contradicting their own statements.
So, the next time the Bureau of Internal Revenue gives out a list of names of tax evaders; don’t regard them as criminals or cheats. They are just protecting their hard-earned money from being stolen by members of Congress.
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