Serious Fundamental Flaws in Philippine Governance

Serious Fundamental Flaws in Philippine Governance

(Photo: Budget secretary Florencio Abad)
When you find the executive and legislative branches of the government actively helping each other in the misspending and loss of massive amounts of vital and life-saving taxpayers’ money, you can’t help but be moved to extreme anger, witnessing our beloved country being raped and pillaged by officials voted into office based mainly on their vows to render public service.

This is precisely what I feel now – extreme anger – because our country is going to the dogs and President Benigno Aquino himself and his key officials are part of the problem, and they are hardly doing anything to resolve the problem.

An analysis of recent developments, particularly disclosures by various parties in the media, point to the abysmal and deplorable state of governance in the Philippines in which top officials of the executive and legislative branches of government are fast emerging as the principal culprits in the annual multi-billion peso losses of taxpayers’ money.

Former senator Joker Arroyo’s accusation that Malacanang, which represents the executive branch, “bribed” members of the Senate and the House of Representatives, the two chambers of legislature, to support Aquino’s bid to oust former supreme court chief justice Renato Corona carries much weight. Arroyo is far from credible as he turned deaf and mute during the wanton and indiscriminate thievery of public coffers by former president Gloria Arroyo, her husband and her close friends and political allies.

However, Joker Arroyo’s accusation has been given much credence by disclosures and admissions by various senators that Malacanang handed an “incentive” of an average P50 million to each senator, representing the previously unknown Disbursement Allocation Program (DAP), months after Corona was impeached upon being found guilty of committing various malpractices while in office.

Amid the embarrassing disclosures, budget secretary Florencio Abad, one of Aquino’s closest political allies, was forced to admit the DAP handouts. However, he justified the grant of an average P50 million in DAP funds to every senator and an average of P15 million to every congressman by saying the monies were intended “to increase the level of public spending and help accelerate economic expansion”.

He also admitted that the DAP funds were on top and in addition to the annual P200 million Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) allocation to each of the 24 senators and the P70 million annual allocation to each member of the House. Lawmakers have lots of discretion in how their DAP and PDAF allocations are to be used, thus making the funds highly susceptible to abuses and misuse.

Commission on Audit (COA) officials have said its reports have indicated massive loss of taxpayers’ money due to loose controls and questionable use of PDAF funds in ghost or non-existent projects, especially those set up by so-called P10 billion pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles.

With these COA findings, Malacanang has to answer to the people several hard questions:

1. Why did it create DAP in 2011 and provide extra “pork barrel” funds to lawmakers who can’t be trusted with taxpayers’ money in the first instance?

2. How can the release of DAP funds “help accelerate economic expansion” when Abad must have known during his days as a former congressman that much of the PDAF allocations was being lost due to lack of proper disbursement controls and COA audits? If much of PDAF funds was lost to corruption in the past, releasing DAP funds won’t speed up economic expansion?

3. If Malacanang is genuinely concerned with accelerating economic expansion, especially in the countryside, why didn’t it see fit to release the PDAF and DAP funds to provincial and municipal development councils which are in a much better position than individual congressmen or senators to identify and oversee the implementation and completion of vital infrastructure and other projects in the countryside and urban centers?

Abad said senators last year received an extra P1.07 billion in DAP funds on top of their PDAF funds. At an average of P15 million each, last year’s release of DAP funds to 280 congressmen would have amounted to P4.2 billion.

This is roughly P5.27 billion in DAP funds released last year to lawmakers after Corona’s ousting.

Clearly, Abad exercised questionable and bad judgment by giving highly-discretionary DAP funds to lawmakers instead of providing them to provincial and municipal development councils or line agencies of the government. Had Abad chosen the latter option, more jobs and livelihood projects would have been created in the countryside, thereby boosting the country’s economy.

Because DAP’s objectives were unlikely to be met because of the graft-ridden manner of spending PDAF and presumably DAP funds, it is now fairly easy to conclude that the DAP scheme was used by Malacanang to “reward” or “bribe” senators and congressmen who supported its bid to remove Corona from the Supreme Court. It is common knowledge that Malacanang uses the release or non-release of PDAF funds to “arm twist” Congress into passing into law its priority pieces of proposed legislation.

But in Machiavellian terms, does the end really justify the means? Did Aquino’s avowed objective to oust Corona, who was widely seen as a corrupt and incompetent chief justice, justify giving away more than P5 billion in DAP funds to lawmakers – many of whom aren’t trustworthy as reflected by the COA reports and disclosures by whistleblowers in the Napoles pork barrel scam?

It is becoming more apparent that the executive branch of the government, headed by Aquino, is conniving with the legislature in wasting away limited and very, very precious financial resources which could otherwise be used to uplift the poor.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the executive branch of government itself is irresponsible and remiss in how taxpayers’ money is allocated and spent.

But Congress appears to be more notorious in stealing people’s money, especially at this time when the General Appropriations Act (GAA) or the annual national budget is being deliberated on in both chambers of the legislature.

Former congressman and now DZRH radio news anchor Angelo Palmones said huge amounts – much bigger than the PDAF and DAP funds combined – are being lost every year due to so-called “Congressional insertions” whenever the national budget is tackled in both chambers of the legislature. He said congressmen and senators take turns inserting and adding budgetary appropriations for a wide array of dubious projects which may not benefit the public and may instead end up in the pockets of their lawmaker proponents and their cohorts. In short, lawmakers in both chambers engage in “legalized plunder” of public funds by adding budgetary items where they stand to make personal gains.

A case in point is the annual budget of about P100 million for the operations of the Senate Electoral Tribunal, according to election lawyer Romulo Macalintal.

“Why on earth will this body be given a budget of about P100 million every year when it doesn’t have regular work to do? For instance, there was no election protest last year and this year. So, it didn’t do any work during this period. If it didn’t do any work for two years, what happened to the more than P200 million budget that was earmarked for this body last year and this year?” he said.

It is becoming increasingly clear that while Aquino advocates “daang matuwid” (straight path), he and his key officials lack the fortitude and wisdom to end the systemic high-level and institutionalized graft and corruption between the executive and legislative branches of the government. From all indications, Aquino appears unwilling or even unable to replace a clearly defective governance model with a new mechanism that will ensure billions of taxpayers’ money don’t go down the drain.

Lawmakers should function as lawmakers, period. They have no business at all in getting involved in undertaking development projects where they don’t have any competence and technical manpower and expertise to ensure proper completion.

At the start of his tenure as president in 2010, Aquino made this vow to the Filipino people: “Kayo ang boss ko kaya di ko susuwayin ang utos nyo” (You are my boss so I won’t ignore your orders).

At the time of his inauguration speech, his pledge served as sweet music to the ears of countless Filipinos.

But today, his once famous sound bite is virtually reduced to a prominent line in English poet and playwright William Shakespeare’s Macbeth: “Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

It is clear that something is terribly wrong in how the Philippines is being governed today. This dilemma won’t be resolved for as long as Aquino, as head of the executive branch of government, is unable to muster ample political will, guts and wisdom to do the following:

1) End completely Malacanang’s historical use of PDAF and other pork barrel funds as bribes to get lawmakers’ support to its agenda.

2) Ensure a clear delineation of functions between the executive and legislative branches of government. This means Malacanang should muster the political will and courage to make Congress stick solely to lawmaking and the executive branch to exercise exclusive jurisdiction in undertaking development projects.

3) Ensure wise and judicious use of public funds by exhorting leaders of the Senate and the House of Representatives to try and end the long-established but deplorable Congressional insertions of questionable budgetary allocations for projects of doubtful benefits to the people.

Please refer to: Joker Arroyo lays bribery at Palace doorstep


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