OPINION: ANTI-DEVOLUTION
 


MANILA, SEPTEMBER 9, 2013
(PHILSTAR) FIRST PERSON By Alex Magno - Each session day, Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza rises to ask a question of privilege: What will the House of Representatives do about the pork barrel?

Each time he does that, the presiding officer suspends the session, descends from the podium and tries to dissuade Atienza from pursuing the matter.

That can only indicate two things: one, the dominant faction at the House is not ready to honestly renounce all pork; and, two, they are still cracking their heads finding a way to tuck the pork in some manner away from public view.

Atienza cannot be dissuaded, however. He will continue to ask the disturbing questions about the pork barrel, especially since allocations for it remain intact in the 2014 national budget now under deliberation.

After all, he went to Congress determined to be the foil for pork barrel politics.

A few days after this Congress opened, Atienza delivered a privilege speech asking his colleagues to renounce the pork barrel. House majority leader Neptali Gonzales angrily confronted him, saying that if he disliked the pork he should just stay away from it but not interfere with the pork of others.

Gonzales has since changed his tune as the Napoles scandal changed the political climate. Still, a House resolution renouncing pork does not seem to be forthcoming even after the ruling LP held a caucus on the matter early this week.

The party-list groups affiliated with the so-called “Makabayan bloc” relished their pork barrel allocations for three years and earlier declared they will avail of the same as long as the PDAF remains. Post-Napoles, they are now trying to convince us their objection to pork is “a matter of principle.”

The Akbayan group, closely aligned with the Aquino administration, keeps a low profile these days. According to preliminary estimates, this group took in about P4 billion in pork. Presumably, as in the case of their comrades in the “Makabayan bloc,” the funds were coursed through NGOs they control.

Much has been written about how pork barrel politics undermines the system of checks and balances that is the governing principle of democratic government. Because the executive controls pork releases, the presidency has a powerful tool for making the legislature bend to its will and turn a blind eye to executive excesses.

Pork barrel releases were likewise dangled before the congressmen who fell over each other to impeach Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez and then Chief Justice Renato Corona.

Those unhappy episodes seemed intended to make the judicial branch as pliant to executive will as the legislative.

Atienza, who was once Manila mayor, adds another dimension to the subversions of pork barrel politics. By empowering the district representatives with hoards of cash, pork barrel politics undermines local executives. It is antithetical to the process of devolution commanded by our constitutional order.

Over the years, Congress translated its power over the purse into the more blatant power of the pork. Local governments, the real instruments that should bring development to the grassroots, have been reduced to beggars begging for funds either from the congressional or the presidential pork barrel.

The whole idea behind the principle of devolution is that transferring power to local units will make governance more responsive and more accountable. Pork barrel politics subverts that fundamental principle.

Disrepute

The President should really restrain himself from his habit of making public innuendos about agencies that are, after all, completely under his control. If he doubts the competence or honesty of officials in the executive branch, he could simply call them in and ask them to go.

He did that with the NIA and then the Bureau of Immigrations, both leading to the resignation of their chiefs. In his most important speech of the year, he lambasted the Bureau of Customs. When the Customs commissioner offered to resign, mixed signals were sent out when that was rejected. \

In the aftermath of that destructive speech, it turns out the Palace was not ready with a program of reform to rehabilitate the Customs Bureau.

At each instance, the entire public agency fell into disrepute, demoralizing the professionals who loyally worked in them.

The same happened when the President very publicly suggested the NBI was less than trustworthy. In response to the President’s unguarded remarks, NBI director Nonnatus Rojas tendered his irrevocable resignation “out of delicadeza.” A day after, deputy director Edmund Arugay resigned as well.

To date, the Palace has not acted on Rojas’ resignation. The Justice Secretary pleaded he remain in his post. Because what was submitted was an irrevocable resignation, no one can keep Rojas in his post against his will. The Palace should hurry up with replacements not only for Rojas but for all the deputy directors they say should resign.

This is not to say, of course, that the NBI is not a damaged institution.

The previous director was forced to resign for issues never fully disclosed to the public. There are many horror stories of extortion by agents of the NBI, ranging from common folk asking for clearances to big folks implicated in one crime or another.

Before the Napoles affair, where there are many suggestions of incompetence or disloyalty to the service, the NBI was taken to task for archiving the investigation of alleged bribery of Pagcor officials by Japanese gambling magnate Okada.

The Okada affair was shelved ostensibly because the suspects refused to incriminate themselves and invoked their right to do so. That sounds like a lame excuse for any self-respecting investigative agency to make — especially the NBI that, once upon a time, was held in such high esteem by our citizens.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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