(PDI photo shows House of Representatives plenary session on Sept. 16)
Scores of lawmakers in the Philippines simply don’t have any sense of decency and shame! Their skin can be likened to that of elephants.
Because they simply couldn’t care less about half a million Filipinos who converged at Luneta park in Manila on August 26 in protest against the so-called “pork barrel” scam involving the alleged loss of up to 10 billion pesos (US$229 million) in taxpayers’ money due to high-level corruption involving dozens of lawmakers, heads of several government agencies and private businesswoman Janet Napoles.
It looks like they also can’t be bothered at all even if thousands of overseas Filipinos, including those in Hong Kong, are all set to stop sending back monies to the Philippines on September 19. This move is part of the continuing public uproar over the scam and to press for the complete elimination of the hated pork barrel scheme.
However, certain senior members of the House of Representatives, the lower chamber of Congress, appear brazenly corrupt.
Clearly ignoring continuing public anger, House appropriations committee chairman Isidro Ungab spoke about the need for congressmen to continue recommending infrastructure projects to be included in the country’s annual government budget. He made the pitch during the House deliberations on Monday, Sept. 16, on the 2014 national budget.
Supporting him is House speaker Feliciano Belmonte who said P9 billion is being earmarked for this purpose in the government budget for next year.
The implications of their stance are grave. It also makes them virtual liars and hypocrites.
Belmonte and his colleagues recently declared that the House of Representatives has collectively agreed to do away with the graft-ridden Priority Development Fund Assistance (PDAF) scheme. During a visit to Hong Kong last weekend, Nueva Viscaya congressman Carlos Padilla, one of six vice speakers of the House, echoed Belmonte’s position.
The fact that P9 billion is being earmarked in the 2014 for pet projects of congressmen means that the pork barrel system remains intact in the House – despite public anger over the widespread graft and corruption surrounding the use of these funds.
It is common knowledge that irregularities often accompany the selection of contractors of various infrastructure projects and project costs are often inflated and materials often substandard. While barangay roads, multi-purpose and barangay halls are built in the countryside, many more are not being built even if funds for them are released because monies are being pocketed by corrupt lawmaker project sponsors in connivance with local officials and contractors.
A recent audit commission report on the use of lawmakers’ PDAF between 2007 and 2009 provided detailed accounts of abuses and losses of taxpayers’ money.
Controls on the implementation of development projects in the countryside remain loose. And with congressmen having much say in how they are to be undertaken, it can well be assumed that loose controls will result in loopholes being exploited by corrupt lawmakers and inferior-quality projects being put up – all to the detriment of poor people for whom those funds are originally intended.
Congressional insertions during deliberations of the government budget is a more problematic area than PDAF as they involve much bigger amounts which are hardly subjected to stringent expenditure controls, according to UP economics professor and Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Solita Monsod. Her Sept. 22 column about this issue speaks volumes about the massive loss of taxpayers’ money, courtesy of kleptomaniacs in both chambers of Congress!
Summing up, theft of taxpayers’ money by taxpayers looks set to continue despite extensive media reports about the abuses and public anger.
It is clear that graft remains entrenched in the Philippine political system and grafters won’t give up easily. It is clear that concerned citizens need to press on and escalate further all possible courses of action aimed at eradicating endemic graft in the country.