MANILA, September 7
, 2004  (STAR) By Wilson Lee Flores - How could a political genius like Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. be so wrong by asking all well-off people to donate P1 million each to that crazy idea called "Freedom Fund," because his peers are only willing to consider a 40 percent cut in congressmen’s pork barrel funds? How come the leftist "saviors of the proletariat and the down-trodden masses" like Anakpawis party-list Congressman Crispin Beltran have become so thick-faced and addicted to pork in the past three years, he is even against the idea of sacrifising 40 percent of pork barrel in this government fiscal crisis? It’s so &%#%^&(&$^& disgusting!

On the other hand, we are amazed that a political amateur and high school graduate Senator Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr. could be so correct in calling for all legislators to sacrifice 100 percent of all their pork barrel as a response to the nation’s looming fiscal crisis.

Red Rain, Politicos Quarelling Over Pork

The ancient Chinese have a saying for this type of unforeseen, improbable and unexpected turn of events – thi le lo ang-ho. Has red-colored rainshowers fallen from the skies?

This disparity of the solons’ response to the fiscal crisis is amazing and has left this writer literally breathless. We highly respect the experienced La Salle and Ateneo graduate De Venecia. We equally admire his workaholic wife Georgina "Gina" Vera-Perez de Venecia. We even once told then President Joseph Estrada that our 1998 vote for the presidency went to the former journalist, diplomat and top business executive De Venecia, because he was the best in consensus-building and he understands economics.

We don’t agree with the flawed political ideology and disastrous economic theories of leftists like Crispin Beltran, but we used to have grudging respect for his pro-poor principles.

In contrast, during the election this year, we refused to vote for showbiz senatorial bets like Bong Revilla, Lito Lapid and Jinggoy Estrada whom we had derided as uncouth boors.

Senators Ping Lacson, Joker Arroyo, Franklin Drilon and Alfredo Lim giving up 100 percent of their pork barrel in these hard times should be hailed as statesmanship. But their act is not surprising, since it merely reflects their exceptional strength of character. But for Senator Bong Revilla to give up 100 percent his pork barrel and to urge his fellow senators to do so – that is amazing. It shows all of us that the Philippines is not hopeless!

In response to our column last week on the Chinese view of a crisis as both danger and opportunity, Senator Bong Revilla sent an e-mail:

"This fiscal crisis is an opportunity for sacrifices and reforms. Other Senators are proposing to cut 50 percent of their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), which means slashing P40 million out of the P80 million PDAF, but that’s only part of the total pork barrel for us Senators. Each Senator still has P120 million each in Congressional Initiative Allocation (CIA) as part of our total pork barrel. Actually, each Senator has a total of P200 million pesos in pork barrel. I call upon all my fellow senators to forego the entire pork barrel, meaning all the total P200 million of CIA and PDAF funds for the year 2005. I disagree with the proposal of other senators to sacrifice only 50 percent of the PDAF, which will mean only P 40 million savings per senator. If all Senators will have this one-year moratorium on pork barrel, we can help the government save at least P5 billion and encourage the executive department to follow this example. In order not to be accused of just grandstanding or making a showbiz stunt, I formalized this proposal by filing a Senate resolution urging all Senators to give up 100 percent of our congressional allocation and priority development assistance for 2005. Our country is in desperate need of men and women who will pledge themselves to sacrifice for the country and help transform the Philippines."

Don’t Harass The Goose That Lays The Golden Egg

How could our politicians have the temerity to beseech donations from our struggling entrepreneurs without first showing total transparency, self-sacrifice, real austerity measures and tough anti-corruption actions? This writer remembers listening to a spellbinding speech of then Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohammad at the ASEAN Summit in Bali, when he criticized government bureaucrats and politicians worldwide for seeking higher taxes or corruption extortion as "punishing the goose that lays the golden eggs." He didn’t mince words – advising that government’s duty should be to support and help enrich business people, then collect reasonable taxes on all their incomes – not to harass, extort, blackmail and fleece entrepreneurs and the private sector.

How could our politicians have the nerve to squeeze more taxes out of us ordinary citizens now already harassed by high oil prices and inflation, when they haven’t yet convinced us about their own commitment to cost-cutting and to lessening corruption? (Don’t expect them to fulfill their age-old promise of "eradicating" corruption.)

In June 2000, a study by the World Bank estimated that the culture of corruption in the Philippines has cost our republic close to $50 billion (or P2.8 trillion based on current foreign exchange rates!) in two decades ending 1997, and that this monstrous problem scared away the foreign investments.

What was shocking was the World Bank report’s assertion that the total foreign debt of the Philippines for that period of only $40.6 billion was less than the $50 billion corruption loot of our politicians and bureaucrats. That hard-hitting study by the World Bank shocked the international business community, and partly explains why despite our archipelago’s rich natural resources, vast arable lands and great tourism potentials, the majority of the people are poor and our the economy is weak.

According to that 2000 World Bank study, the indirect costs of rampant corruption were far greater – these included opportunities lost due to substandard education, lives lost because of substandard housing and a shortage of medical supplies for the masses. We believe the World Bank list of indirect costs of corruption was incomplete. The pernicious corruption culture saps the entrepreneurial potential of people, weakens national morale, destroys the moral fiber and enfeebles democratic institutions in Philippine society like the horrible black plague of medieval Europe.

This fiscal crisis of the Philippines is a unique opportunity for us to push an iron-fist "strike-hard" anti-corruption and anti-waste campaign. Spare no government branches – executive, legislative, judiciary, the military, police, firemen, government corporations or all local government units and even barangays. Cleanse government of filth, sloth and ennui! Raise government pay, slash the bloated number of state employees, punish top officials for graft, publicly chop off heads, deregulate, ease red-tape, legislate drastic reforms on election campaign finance, strengthen auditing mechanisms and announce itemized drastic cuts in wasteful expenditures!

The Philippines is not hopeless. There is still hope that the sensitive, flexible and politically-suave Speaker Joe de Venecia will junk his foolhardy "Freedom Fund" stunt and be able to shepherd his peers to give up 100 percent of their pork barrel – even proletarian dreamers of the radical left like Congressman Crispin Beltran are not exempted.

California Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger of Hollywood cheered a lot of US businessmen with his decisive graft/waste-busting policies. He once declared in a speech, "To government overspending and higher taxes, I say, ‘Hasta la vista, baby!’"

The Philippines and our economy have bright prospects for possible sweeping reforms triggered by this fiscal crisis. Why are we optimistic? Even a political lightweight like "Captain Barbell" Senator Bong Revilla has been hit by the lightning bolt of common sense due to the looming fiscal crisis, and has mustered the guts to file Senate Resolution 58 urging all his peers to sacrifice 100 percent of their pork barrel. We demand that all other senators, all congressmen and all other top politicians – no exceptions – line up behind him, sacrifice all their pork barrel, sacrifice all their political theatrics, buckle down to serious work, boost the national morale, bolster investments, spur the turnaround and robust growth of the Philippine economy!

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Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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