MANILA, Sept. 30, 2013—Amid criticisms noting the selective investigation of government bodies on the multi-billion peso pork barrel scandal, a Catholic priest on Saturday called on government leaders to ensure the transparency and fairness of the investigation to uncover the truth behind the alleged misuse of lump sum appropriations in state funds.
Fr. Anton C. T. Pascual, executive director of Caritas Manila and president of church-run Radio Veritas, supported criticisms claiming the partisan nature of the investigation and called on investigating panels to be fair by investigating all individuals who are involved in the controversy regardless of their political affiliation or connection.
“It seems like the investigating panels are focusing on opposition members who are against President Aquino and his administration. What we need is fairness. Good governance means fairness. Accountability and transparency must always be present in a government,” Pascual said in interview during Caritas Manila’s Generosity Conference.
Senator Jinggoy Estrada, in his much-awaited privilege speech delivered before members of the Senate last week, blasted members of the Congress and the Commission on Audit (COA) for focusing only on opposition lawmakers with “irregularities” in their spending of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).
“We have seen how extensive, how endemic, and how harsh the prevailing corruption is in our government. President Aquino must show that there is a need for heads to roll. Big fishes (behind the scam) must be jailed because what they have done is plunder in the first degree. And when prosecuting those who are guilty, it must involve not only those who are in the opposition but as well as his allies,” he added.
‘No holds barred’
Pascual noted that this prevailing “cancer” of corruption in the government can only be cured by means of “full transparency and accountability” on the part of public officials.
“The government must present the books of its financial expenses so the people’s trust may be regained…Now is the time for us to face this head on and with the full force of the law. Send to jail all officials who are involved to show that public service is a public trust. The trust given by the people must be exchanged with pure intentions and true love for the country,” he added.
Noting the dictum of the Aquino administration “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap” (If there is no corruption, there will be no poverty), Pascual said the pork barrel issue serves as a test on how the administration will handle the “appalling” cases of corruption in the government.
Stronger action must be done by the people to put social pressure on the government so they may ensure transparency in using public funds, Pascual said.
“Our problem here is the corrupt system. People are easily blinded by money. Civil societies must be more vigilant to pressure the government so that before they continue the PDAF or any other project, transparency is already present and the poor are really the ones benefitting from it,” he said.
“Transparency is important for us to know where the money leads to. It is also the key to fight corruption,” he added.
Need for new laws
Despite the negative effects brought by the multi-billion peso pork barrel scandal, Pascual noted that it was able to increase the awareness of people on social issues, and even awakened the consciousness of the Filipino people on how corrupt practices destroy the government.
“This scam has really awakened our senses, but that is not enough. The exposé is not finished here. We have to continue our crusade for it to bear concrete results and new laws to ensure that we will be able to avoid the recurrence of this kind of corruption in the future,” he said.
“We need new laws and new government structure because what we have now are already passé and ineffective. What we need is a kind of government structure that would ensure state funds really reach those who are in need,” he said.
Pascual also called on the Filipino electorate to be more scrutinizing in choosing leaders to vote during elections, noting that “we deserve the government that we have.”
“Let us assess ourselves. I believe that if our government is flawed, it only means that our voting is also flawed—either we voted for the wrong people, we refused to use our vote, or we sold our votes in exchange for money,” he said.
With corruption rooted in a nation’s culture, Pascual said there is a need to rekindle good values in every family so influences of corruption may successfully be defeated.
“I have noticed that once our self-interests get affected, we have the capacity to become corrupt. This involves each one of us, even the church is sometimes tempted with corruption. What we need is the grace of God to help us overcome this evil and for the culture of truth, justice, and honesty reign in our country,” he said. (Jennifer Orillaza)