The Spectre of Pork

And so it has began.

Our political society had long allowed what they knew was wrong—a corrupt system of allocating resources, elevating it even as a standard process, a norm in the bureaucracy that facilitated the relationship between the legislature and the executive for decades.

Some simply tolerated it. Some lived with it in the effort to survive. Some facilitated its growth and institutionalization while controlling its menace, taking it as a "necesary evil." 

Meanwhile, there were a lot who thrived in it, abused it and fattened themselves and their families from money that were supposed to be used to purchase seeds and fertilizers for poor farmers, food and scholarship for students, medicines for mothers. Now, that system is haunting them.

The specter of pork is haunting Philippine politics.

The "Napoles List"

Let us backtrack a bit and remember who Napoles was before the Napoles List.

Napoles is no martyr, no truth-teller, no corruption-fighter. Based on the accounts, even of the people close to her, Napoles is a self-made woman who enriched herself and her family simply by being good at one thing: manipulation.

In the Pork Barrel scam, Napoles is accused as the big-time fixer who earned millions of pesos instantly courtesy of Filipino taxpayers money, which afforded her and her family a life of luxury and privilege. 

To gain access to politicians and politicians' family members, Napoles was reported to have used her connections with the Church that she was able to create and nurture through benefit dinners, charity and donations.

That's Napoles. We should remember that. 

This is the same Napoles who has now released a list of politicians who she claims to have made business with her. And how are we treating the information coming from this woman? We are elevating it as the truth that will bring doom to the corrupt and the wicked. Why?

Why do we have this penchant to turn perpetrators into martyrs? Liars to truth-tellers? Criminals to crime-busters? Corrupt people to corruption-fighters?

We should believe in a human being's capacity to change heart and transform into someone better. But we should also believe that transformations can be faked.

Let's be circumspect and be prudent on how we view people and the information they provide, especially those people who have already managed to harm many to advance themselves. 

Knowledge is power and information is a powerful ammunition. We better be careful on who we grant that power to. Politics is just a game to a lot of those in politics, especially those who have been gaining a lot simply by treating politics as that—a game.

The Implosion of the Political System

Then comes the supposed hero who will spark the implosion of the political system, who will herald the end of the corrupt Senate, who will usher in the great political crisis that will correct the wrong: Panfilo Lacson.

Let's remember who Panfilo "Ping" Lacson is too. 

First of all, Panfilo Lacson is now officially in charge of rehabilitating Tacloban, that town destroyed by Yolanda almost half a year ago. That is Lacson’s official duty today.

Yet, he goes around in media talking about a lot of things--big important things, implosion, collapse of this and that--but hardly anything on why Tacloban is still in a big mess and why the people of Tacloban are hardly provided with more definitive answers on when and how their life will return to normal.

Who is Ping Lacson? He is that politician accused of human rights violation, including the allegation that he had used questionnable means for interrogation when he was still a police officer. 

And now he presents himself as the only one who is trustworthy to receive and inform the public about the Napoles list because he has never used his pork funds, his old-age claim to fame.

Yet, he never bothered to account for some more important things about himself. He probably did not use his pork funds, but did he do anything to stop it? How about his allies—did he try to convince them to stop that rotten system that he refused to dip his fingers on?

And how about his performance? How was he as a senator? How was he as a public servant who is supposed to be accountable to the people? Did he let the system to hold him to account for the cases filed against him? 

Or did he successfully evade the system, escape from it and muddle it until it got further weakened and deemed inutile, so that an accused like him could again assume a public post and one day have this moment of grandeur that will spark the implosion of the mal-developed system he had a hand of creating?

Ping Lacson is no hero either. His best shot at being a hero is by facing the human rights violations that continue to haunt his doorsteps. 

Pork was Systemic

The reason the Supreme Court ruled the pork barrel system as unconstitutional was because it had become an accepted perversion in the system that was disruptive of checks-and-balance and the separation of powers among the three branches of the government.

Because it was an institutionalized perversion, an item in the General Appropriations Act (GAA) supported by several Department issuances, the actors who were part of that system had one way or another took part in it. 

They had to or they would miss making use of an allocation allotted specifically for them to use, a source of concretized power that they need in order to survive the game of politics. If they won't use it, others would; those who wouldn't mind using it for unscrupulous deals would. This was the pork game that everybody had to play under the pork system.

There were those who used it for the kind of spending that were justifiably aligned with the common good: services for the poor and needed projects by their constituencies. It was not a rational allocation, but it was used to buy services and goods and implement projects that were useful for the people free of kickbacks and commissions.

Others simply used their pork to enrich themselves, a source of corruption with almost all of the allocation (like in the case of the Napoles scam) going to kickbacks and commission of those involved, with hardly any services delivered, goods purchased nor projects implemented.

Though the latter was outright wrong, the former was not right either. The end doesn't justify the means.

Pork disrupted the checks-and-balance and the separation of power leading to the breakdown of accountability. All those who played the pork game knew that. It was a source of patronage because it was an allocation attributable to a politician.

Patronage breeds dependency that perpetuates itself, enabling those on top (the patrons) to stay in power perpetually by keeping those below to stay where they are until their children take their place as clients receiving just enough to survive. It is a sick coping mechanism for a government that has failed to deliver services rationally and efficiently.

In other words, the politicians' use of pork is yet another case of having two evils, except one is a lesser evil than the other.

The Political Value of Reform

This is precisely why reforms are needed in our government. Governance has to be reformed and made transparent, accountable and participatory because power corrupts. And in our current system, there are many ways and mechanisms that facilitate the corruption of power. The pork system was one of them. It is easy to abuse public office. The system, in fact, has been molded so that those on top can easily use and abuse it to stay in power.

Those in power need to deal with this mal-developed system on a daily basis. Those who are working to change the system need to deal with the structural and systemic nature of corruption to effect change and stop, or at least lessen corruption. Efforts towards greater participation and transparency check them, supposedly keep them from losing their way, directing them and helping them in correcting the system into something where public service can once again be a public trust.

There are politicians who are part of the system and therefore have one way or another dipped their fingers into the system that they know is not right, but who have also worked in reforming the system that they are in. These politicians know that there is a need for a change in the system, so they work painstakingly to realize those reforms.

What will spell the difference for the country and its people as the specter of pork haunts the political society—whether we move forward from this better or we revert back to wallowing on the same problem in the future that could get worse—is our ability to differentiate those who thrive and continue to perpetuate the same corrupt, mal-developed system from those who have the track record in changing that system for the better in the service of the country and its people.

We must be discerning. We should know the difference. We have to. In an all-pervasive corrupt system perpetuated by those on top, where all are likely to be guilty, "God is in the small things" because "the devil is in the detail." Let information on track record and performance guide us. The reforms in government that advance transparency and participation should serve as our ammunition, to make us better at knowing the difference and understanding the nuances.

Let light be on our side this time. For in the midst of darkness, the light will show who among the souls that dared to face the darkness continue to have the heart that searches and fights for the light.