Back in the days when former President Ferdinand Marcos ruled the Philippines, they said there was a lot of corruption. Perhaps back then there was. But the old-timers say that this corruption was limited to Marcos’s small inner circle of cronies. At least back then, say these old timers, out of, say, 100 million pesos appropriated for the construction of a stretch of road “only”, say, 30 million pesos gets stolen and the Filipino people still ended up with 70 million pesos worth of road — because that 30 million-peso “commission” needed only to be distributed to a small handful of these cronies, there wasn’t much pressure to steal more.
Fast forward to today and our wise observers would hazard a guess that out of that same 100 million pesos, up to 80 million of it gets skimmed off for politicians’ “commissions”. Filipinos then get delivered 20 million pesos worth of road. That is because, as the same old-timers would say, there are more politicians that feel entitled to a share of these “commissions” and, as such, more of it needs to be stolen to compensate for the more thinly-spread loot.
The banal thievery that infests the process of consolidating “discretionary funds” from “surpluses” in the National Budget and appropriating these to the “management” of our Santa Claus politicians in the legislature has helped us appreciate just how much money the Philippine government actually has at its disposal — and how so much of it gets wasted in low-added-value pursuits when not stolen and in the wrong bank accounts when stolen. Billions of pesos that could have gone to scalable projects that could benefit millions of people over decades is routinely handed over to legislators who then spend these on their tingi pet “projects” that each deliver (arguably) small-local benefits for small communities over time scales that likely do not exceed six months at best. And that is when the money is not stolen. When it is stolen, well, it just simply disappears from the public domain permanently.
This is all anecdotal, of course. But it is unlikely now that Filipinos will see it any other way. The scale of the thievery, the adeptness with which politicians verbally sidestep the inquiries, the political debt owed by auditors and police agencies to the very thieves they are supposedly investigating, and the maddeningly disparate levels of comprehension different cliques of Filipinos apply in the way they regard the issues makes it very difficult to pin down a common rallying point around which the Filipino public might move forward with resolving this crisis.
As our old-timers have observed, this time walang masumbungan. Everybody who has the power to do something is complicit or on the Mob payroll. Some call for a “people’s initiative” as the means of last resort to get some next steps mapped out. But then we remember that it is these very “people” who voted with their brain stems to which we owe the ascent to power of these thieves — which means that we’ve come full circle to an initiative that draws power from the ultimate source of the problem itself.
It is a circular problem. The thievery, its victims, and its causes are an internal vicious cycle swirling within Philippine society and feeding on itself. It is almost as if only foreign intervention or an external force will put a stop to it. As a matter of fact, it is all fed externally as well — remittances from OFWs, fossil fuels extracted from the sea, and “investment” from traders salivating over the Philippines’ 100-million-strong base of remittance-spending consumers fertilise the kleptocracy with cash every year.
But whatever way you look at it, it all comes down to whether or not President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino III is really serious about eradicating corruption in this sad nation. Indeed, Neal Cruz in his recent Inquirer piece opines…
But if President Aquino is sincere about stamping out corruption, he can abolish pork with one phone call. And not only the evil Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) but also all lump-sum appropriations which turn into pork.
“Hey Butch,” he can direct the budget secretary even by a mere phone call, “no more pork in the budget ha!”
And the budget secretary, even if he hates to do it (after all, he is a former congressman who benefited from pork), will have no choice but to remove the pork from the proposed national budget to be submitted to Congress. Members of Congress, much as they love to fatten on pork, cannot put it there. They have no power under the Constitution to do that. They can only adjust or reduce the budgets proposed by the executive department.
So why doesn’t President BS Aquino do just that?
Perhaps the millions of idiots who voted for him should answer that question for us. For that matter, why did they vote for BS Aquino to begin with considering he was hands down the lamest of the candidates to choose from back in 2010?
That’s the thing with Filipinos. When it comes to facing the hard questions all you get is kamot ng ulo — mere head-scratching. Filipinos simply do not think.
Filipinos talk, Filipinos act, Filipinos emote (often loudly).
But Filipinos do not think.
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