POSTSCRIPT / September 1, 2013 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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To Noy, solons: Drop pork simultaneously!

OVER-CONCERN: We are amazed by the lack of proportion and professionalism in the government’s handling of the Pork Barrel saga starring Janet Lim Napoles.

First off, many of us cannot help noticing that the P10-million reward offered by President Noynoy Aquino for the capture of Napoles and the VIP care later lavished on her when she surrendered are out of proportion to the alleged crime.

Napoles was wanted only for the alleged crime of serious illegal detention of a private person (her employee who had squealed on her?). Is this a heinous crime warranting a P10-million reward, even if she, according to one account, is armed and dangerous?

Armed and dangerous! So President Aquino exposed himself to possible harm by welcoming her into Malacañang? But yes, she is dangerous in that she could just decide one lousy morning to sing and cause the collapse of a government.

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NO PORK CASE YET: Note that until this late date no case has been filed against her in connection with the Pork Barrel billions that she allegedly pocketed in connivance with a slew of lawmakers, Malacañang officials and other co-conspirators.

While presidential concern is focused on her safety and comfort, there is no visible move to subject her to the usual police interrogation that suspects normally undergo on the same day they are captured.

The processing has been also sloppy. Look at the Napoles fingerprints shown on TV. Those are not fingerprints but smudges well below FBI biometric standards. Maybe no pork barrel funds had been channeled to the training of crime lab technicians?

The taking of usable fingerprints may be a minor detail to some, but it indicates the poor quality of the investigation and prosecution work of the government.

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NBI LOSES OUT: The National Bureau of Investigation was supposed to have been unleashed on Napoles by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima. The posse was looking all over the place, even hinting to justify their empty hands that she may have undergone face surgery or fled the country.

If the NBI was doing its job, it should have been able to monitor the cellphones of Napoles’ lead lawyer Lorna Kapunan.

When Kapunan and her campañero presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda talked on the phone arranging a surrender, etc., the NBI should have caught the exchange and immediately scrambled.

De Lima’s boys were caught natutulog sa pansitan (napping in the noodle house) and boss-ma’am, a candidate for a seat in the Supreme Court, was deprived of valuable TV exposure by Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, a presidential aspirant in 2016.

Meanwhile, as we texted on Twitter: “Uy! Jojo Binay is starting to ask delicate questions on the Pork Barrel handling of the PNoy admin. Ground is shifting?”

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DISRUPTIVE: As various groups press plans for a bigger and more raucous follow-up protest rally in September on EDSA itself, those who favor a more tranquil transition may want to consider a compromise.

Since many of our institutions, including the three branches of government, are not yet that mature, the nation may not be ready for a cataclysmic win-or-lose proposition in the tug-of-war between the President and the Congress over pork and patronage.

To force a systemic change may even require amending the Constitution to redefine functions, relationships and responsibilities of public institutions. The people may not be ready for what could be a disruptive rebuilding of the nation from the ground up.

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QUICK FIX: For a quick solution (“quick fix” is the better term, but it connotes something negative), Postscript proposes this scaled-down compromise that, hopefully, will not take the entire house down:

Immediately and simultaneously scrap both the congressional pork barrel (Priority Development Assistance Fund) AND the President’s Social Fund given him by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. and the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office.

The President actually has discretionary Special Purpose Funds (SPF), estimated at some P450 billion, that critics refer to as presidential pork. But we concede that there are some items in the SPF basket that can be justified if properly used.

So we scale down the proposed compromise by having the President give up only his social fund which is part of the bigger SPF. One estimate we have seen of the social fund is P10 billion, but the figure keeps changing as money flows.

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BALANCE NEEDED: It may not be not fair stripping lawmakers of their pork while the President clings to his own juicy pork. It is dangerous concentrating patronage on the Executive, disturbing inter-department checks and balances.

Whatever people may think of congressmen and senators, there is need to protect them from being raided or pressured by an Executive who may have no qualms using public funds to pursue partisan or personal designs.

The House of Representatives is jealous of its traditional “power of the purse”. This may have been abused many times, but that is what the Constitution has assigned it.

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SOCIAL FUND TO TREASURY: Should not lawmakers, whose main function is to legislate, leave to the Executive the execution of those laws, including the building of projects? Ideally, yes.

But it may be disruptive to suddenly castrate the legislature by banning their following up of projects in their districts. Hence the herein proposed compromise to simultaneously scrap congressional and presidential pork while we move to return to the division of labor dictated by the Constitution.

An enlightened President should see the way to giving up his social fund. That money, actually earnings of government-controlled corporations, should be given instead to the national treasury and included in the annual process of budgeting.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 1, 2013)

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