The many shades of pork

Factions in Duterte’s own administration are squabbling over funds, and it seems, over appointments too.

It’s always amusing to watch factions of the ruling elite go after each other.

One of the casualties of the infighting among President Rodrigo Duterte’s allies was the deposed bloc of former House speaker Pantaleon “Bebot” Alvarez. Alvarez’s kumpadre and sidekick Rudy Fariñas had gone after a beloved Duterte ally, Imee Marcos.

As Fariñas pinned down the departed dictator’s daughter for the misuse of tobacco funds, Arroyo went after Alvarez’ post and gave him the boot in the most dramatic fashion possible – hours before Duterte’s 2018 State of the Nation Address.

Today, the remaining factions are squabbling over funds, and it seems, even over appointments too.

There’s Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez, who openly hit Arroyo for “scandalous” deals with China under her government, amid rumors she’s gunning for the finance portfolio when she ends her congressional term in June next year.

Arroyo ally and House Majority Leader Rolly Andaya went after Budget Secretary Ben Diokno – one of Dominguez’ most trusted colleagues and TRAIN law co-mastermind – accusing him of being behind P51.8-billion worth of insertions in the unpassed 2019 budget. Congress even went as far as filing a resolution asking for Diokno’s head on a platter, ouch!

Cabinet members, in turn, slammed the excoriation of Diokno as disrespectul and a breach of interparliamentary courtesy. Diokno lashed back too, saying, he had no hand in choosing contractors, and that it was a “legitimate adjustment” to raise infrastructure spending to near 5%. He also corrected the amount – it was not P51.8 billiion, but rather P75 billion.

But Andaya’s accusations are hard to dismiss. They are specific – with tales of a single proprietorship contractor cornering as many as 30 infra contracts, and money being allotted for flood control when this was not requested, among other allegations.

For sure, Andaya is very much the accuser who is not without a mote in his eye. The raging-bull attack on Diokno was an effective smokescreen that drowned out Senator Ping Lacson’s exposé last week. Lacson, who was forced to go underground by Arroyo’s manhunt order during her presidency, said huge allocations for Andaya’s and Arroyo’s turfs were surreptitiously slipped into the budget. Lacson claimed it’s just pork in cosplay.

And while the ink on that exposé hasn’t dried yet, he already alluded to a former Cabinet secretary who resigned to run in 2019 as being the sneak behind the insertions. You can look at the list and figure out who has that sort of access and power.

All that drama resulted in a reenacted budget – an old trick that should be retired. Aside from being inefficient, it’s chock-full of opportunities to load insertions. In other words, it won’t be a bad deal for pork lovers in Congress if it’s a take 2 for the 2018 budget.

We may be amused by the catfights, but we’re seriously alarmed by the sly attempts of the President’s men and allies to reintroduce pork barrel (or what was called the Priority Development Assistance Fund), “parked funds,” or pork’s many shades of gray, back into the system.

We won’t harbor illusions that this administration will ever walk the talk on an election promise to stamp out corruption, but pork has already been outlawed by the Supreme Court.

We want pork in its many incarnations obliterated – especially after we saw how only shrewd businesswoman Janet Napoles and Senate staffer Richard Cambe were sentenced to at least 20 years and one day up to 40 years of imprisonment for plunder. Their alleged co-conspirator, former senator Bong Revilla, the one who was elected into office by the people, got away.

Is this a preview of things to come, as Duterte becomes a lame duck after midterm elections? We foresee more bitter feuds for funds, positions, and influence, as the invinciblity cloak slides off Duterte’s shoulders.

In this age of traffic gridlock, a deadly war on drugs that has killed thousands, and holiday-dampening inflation, the people want – nay, the people need – an uninterrupted delivery of services.

The cracks in this alliance predicated on greed are really showing, but the tragedy for us, the governed, is that it will only result in worse services, more myopic policies, more corruption, and yes, more backstabbing. – Rappler.com