MANILA, August 25, 2013—Despite the statement of President Benigno Aquino III on Friday regarding the abolition of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF, more commonly known as the pork barrel), two prelates reiterated the public clamor to totally scrap the pork barrel scheme, noting that the imposition of a new mechanism in disbursing the fund is not enough.
Caceres Archbishop Rolando Tirona and Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, in separate statements, condemned the multi-billion scandal springing from the channeling of lawmakers’ pork barrel to dubious non-governmental organizations and expressed cynicism over the lacking measures of the government in curtailing the “appalling” misuse of public funds.
“The clamor for the abolition of the pork barrel system does not end in scrapping numbers in the national budget or lessening the discretion in dispensing the fund. Instead, it is a cry for social reforms. It is a collective desire for social justice. And we pave the way for social justice when we end the concentration of power,” Tirona said.
“We acknowledge (President Aquino’s) response to the nationwide clamor to abolish the pork barrel. However, the pork barrel is not merely an administrative or an accounting issue. It is a moral issue and as such, can only be resolved with a fidelity to truth and justice,” he added.
Tirona noted that the pronouncement of President Aquino to impose stringent measures in disbursing the lump-sum amount remains “meaningless for as long as the heart of the pork barrel continues to beat strongly in our political system.”
Pabillo, who is also the National Director of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice, and Peace (CBCP-NASSA), also recognized the planned abolition of the pork barrel but chided the lack of a “clear time frame” on when the abolition would take place.
Claiming that proposed reforms in disbursing the PDAF could no longer solve the misuse of public funds, Pabillo called on the immediate scrapping of the pork barrel.
“While the Pork Barrel still exists, the issues would still remain. PDAF should be scrapped, and it should be done now, not in 2014! If it is acknowledged to be defective, why still continue it?” he said.
Noting the apparent lack of eagerness of the government to investigate the multi-billion scam, Pabillo urged public leaders to initiate a “no-nonsense investigation” over the scandal to “clear the image of the institution to which they belong.”
“It is very suspicious that both the Lower and Upper Houses of Congress have shown no eagerness to investigate this scam when their own members are alleged to be involved in it,” he said.
“It is strange that those who are not named in the COA report on alleged misuse of funds do not make any move to have this investigated to clear the image of the institutions to which they belong,” Pabillo added.
“Is this stonewalling attitude an indication that there is really something fishy about the pork barrel? The lame excuse made that investigating the scam will take away time for law-making does not hold. Any law that this congress will make would be held suspect until its integrity is established,” he added.
Pabillo noted that President Aquino is doing “a great disservice to the country” considering the government’s lack of action over the issue.
He said all those involved in the scam—lawmakers from the opposition, present and previous administration, as well as their allies—must be investigated to uncover the truth behind the controversy and lead those who are guilty to prosecution and conviction.
“The present President has to clear his own rank. Thus the investigation should cover not only the Napoles family and the (non-governmental organizations) used but also the members of congress and government departments involved,” he said.
“If (President Aquino) is really against corruption, as he claims to be, then he should do away with structures that bring corruption. Stricter compliance and checks and balances is one thing, but it cannot replace the fact that this system, when not abolished, still exists,” Pabillo added.
Laity’s active participation
Tirona called on the faithful to use the opportunity to actively participate in the country’s governance through initiating reforms that can correct the corruption-ridden scheme of pork barrel in the country.
“I call upon the faithful to see this crisis as an opportunity to initiate reforms. The call for the abolition of the pork barrel is a call for active participation in governance,” he said.
Pushing for a speedy and fair investigation of those who misuse public funds, demanding transparency and accountability from political leaders, and pursuing projects that are truly responsible to the needs of the people are among the actions that the laity must do, Tirona said.
He added that the faithful must not partake of the pork in any form for corruption to be prevented, and they must help in restoring integrity in the political arena from the barangay up to the national level.
He also urged government leaders to restore the integrity of the office they hold and be reminded of the accountability they have to God and His people.
“The pork barrel system is oppressive and unjust. Use your office as a means to end the oppression and to uphold justice,” Tirona said. (Jennifer Orillaza)