BY BENJIE OLIVEROS
Bulatlat Perspective | www.Bulatlat.com
The August 26 Luneta protest activity attended by tens to hundreds of thousands from all walks of life has jolted the Aquino administration. It is now in a quandary on what to do with the pork barrel, which it is trying to repackage, and how to save its eroding positive image.
Malacañang’s proposal to have legislators identify the projects it would want funded with their pork barrel allocations during the budgetary process misses the point completely. Even if the projects are to be identified by lawmakers during budgeting, the accessing, implementation, and skimming process could still be done later. More important is the fact that whether the identification of projects was done before or after the budgetary process, it still does not do away with the patronage politics that characterize the pork barrel system.
Malacañang and its allies in politics and media are trying very hard to make it appear that the August 26 protest activity was not at all directed against the Aquino administration but on corruption in general, the pork barrel, Janet Lim-Napoles, and the five senators and 23 members of the House of Representatives whose signatures appeared in the documents that showed that their pork barrel allocations went to fake NGOs established by Napoles. If they only listened to the speeches from various groups from different parts of Luneta during the August 26 activity, they would realize that the Aquino administration – including President Aquino and Budget Sec. Florencio Abad – was not spared from the expressions of frustration, exasperation and protest.
Why? When the Aquino administration opted to defend the pork barrel system and repackage it in a failed attempt to make it more acceptable, rather than abolish it altogether, it threw in its lot among the government officials and legislators who benefited from corrupting the pork barrel allocations. That is why when presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said on national television that the people at Luneta are the allies of government in the campaign against corruption, it was one twisted logic.
And that is not all…
The infamous Janet Lim-Napoles – whose picture was all over Luneta last August 26 – finally surrendered after hiding for two weeks in Metro Manila. And she demanded that she surrender to no one but the president. President Benigno Aquino III, instead of ordering those who met with Napoles to immediately arrest her and remand her to the custody of the police, waited for her at Malacañang, talked with her, then went out of his way to go to Camp Crame ahead of her to ensure her safety. Napoles was then taken to Camp Crame in a car accompanied by Lacierda, as well as other Cabinet officials.
What for? Don’t they have anything better to do with their time?
Is that the job of the president? When the president was criticized for not being visible when the southwest monsoon was battering the country with heavy rains causing floods last year, Malacañang reasoned out that the president does not meddle with tasks that are rightfully assigned to government officials. When he was not visible again during the first days of the recent disaster brought about by monsoon rains again, Malacañang did not bother to explain. But during the surrender and remanding to custody of Napoles, the president was visibly on top of the situation.
What debt of gratitude does Napoles have over the president that he would go out of his way, in the middle of the night, to make sure that she is safe and secure? He, who is wont to lash out angrily at the corruption prevalent during the previous administration, suddenly felt the need to show an act of kindness to someone accused of plundering the nation in cahoots with government officials and lawmakers? Besides, isn’t the headquarters of the Philippine National Police one of the most tightly-guarded place in the country?
What message is the president’s action sending to big-time crooks in and out of government? They could claim taxpayers’ money as their own and plunder the nation, and when they are caught red-handed, they could demand to surrender only to the president, have a 10-minute private talk with him, and be rest assured that the president will do everything within his power to make them safe and secure. Oh, and they could even be offered immunity by being a state witness.
And now, Napoles, who the government claims is not getting any special treatment, has been reportedly transferred to the Makati City jail but in her own air conditioned room with a sofa, desk, and her own toilet. She was even assured of added security 24/7. These amenities are being provided to her while ordinary detainees are crammed in jam-packed cells all over the country. This not-so-special treatment being accorded her defies logic.
There is a term for what the government’s actions with regards the pork barrel and Napoles breed: impunity.
When pressed for an explanation, Lacierda said that if the president met with Murad [MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim] in Malacañang, what is wrong with meeting with Napoles? Twisted logic once again.
Murad is not a criminal. Murad is the chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which is fighting for the right to self-determination of the Bangsamoro people. What Lacierda said is an insult to Murad, the MILF and the Bangsamoro people.
There is no logic and consistency to the actions of the Aquino administration. President Aquino, who was propelled to Malacañang on a campaign platform of good governance and the daang matuwid appears to be coddling someone accused of corruption and plunder while leaving whistleblowers in the cold.
All these show that the campaign against corruption and the pork barrel and other discretionary and un-programmed funds does not end with the August 26 Luneta protest activity. A lot more protest activities and political pressure from the people are required to force the hand of government.