Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Neither EDSA I nor Tahrir Square

During the last leg of our trip last Thursday in picturesque Quebec’s Eastern Townships, we stopped at Domaine des Côtes d'Ardoise, the first winery in Dunham and the oldest in Quebec. It’s not just the wine that enchanted us to the place but the collision of art, nature and viticulture on the vineyards and the gardens. The winery features a vast collection of sculptures in various media from bronze to stone to ironworks that were scattered along the various narrow footpaths winding round the vineyard.
It was the second stop in our scenic tour of Quebec’s Eastern Townships, right after we had picked baskets of blueberries from the Bleuetière Benoît farm in Dunham. It was my wife Patty’s reunion with her younger sisters, Mel, a practising doctor in Tin Can Bay, Australia, and Cindy, the youngest and a nurse in New Jersey. Accompanying Mel to her first trip to North America was her Australian partner Warwick, while Cindy came along with her American husband Ken, who had visited us in Toronto more than a couple of times. Also with us were our daughter Isobel who works in Montreal and her boyfriend, Jonathan, a French-Canadian from Levi and Drummondville, Quebec, both of whom served as our tireless guides and translators in the largely French-speaking townships.
"I don't know what pork barrel is," Janet Napoles tells investigative journalist
Malou Mangahas in an exclusive interview. Photo courtesy of GMA News.
Click link to view
"Janet Napoles, itinangging sangkot siya sa umano'y bilyung-bilyong pork
barrel scam."
Disconnected from Facebook, the respite offered me some needed break from my rambunctious social and political forum which was smouldering before I left on the hot issue of the corruptive effect of the pork barrel system in the Philippines. We’ve had our own share of corruption in Canadian politics, too. Newspapers and the social media here in these parts are likewise buzzing with daily opinions and blogs condemning corruption and scandals in government.
But unlike politicians in the Philippines and other foreign governments, our politicians in Canada have the decency and grace to step down and resign once their corruption has been exposed. This past June, Montreal Mayor Michael Applebaum quit amid charges of fraud, conspiracy, breach of trust and municipal corruption. It was the latest scandal in the so-called “City of Saints.” Applebaum’s predecessor also resigned last year after evidence of staff wrongdoing on his watch surfaced in a province-wide corruption inquiry.
A politician or government official resigning because of charges of corruption would never happen in the Philippines. Former presidents Ferdinand Marcos, Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and now Janet Napoles, the “queen of pork barrel” who is still at large, never quit until some higher power deposed them.
The dictator Marcos plundered the nation’s economy not only by showering his supporters in Congress with pork-barrel money but also by rewarding his cronies with licenses and grants to freely run and operate businesses in the country while he pocketed millions of dollars from foreign loans. Whatever happened to the ill-gotten wealth that the Marcos family accumulated during his years of presidency? His wife, Imelda, and children Imee and Bongbong are still around, all deeply entrenched in political power as if they have not committed wrongdoings against the Filipino people.
Joseph Estrada, the “eternal” mayor, is back as Manila’s newly elected head of city government. His election was never tarnished by charges of plunder and corruption while he was president for which he was removed from office by a revival of the EDSA people power movement. In fact, Erap finished second to Noynoy Aquino during the last presidential elections, proving that corruption in government is an acceptable part of the Philippine political landscape.
Noynoy Aquino’s predecessor, Gloria Arroyo, remains under house arrest and grounded in a hospital, merely getting a slap on the wrist considering the magnitude of Arroyo’s alleged corruption in government. The most Noynoy Aquino could accomplish to showcase his “matuwid na daan” (straight path) mantra of government was to impeach Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona, not on charges of corruption, but for his failure to comply with the constitutional obligation to file his statement of assets and liabilities net worth (SALN).
The current president’s campaign against corruption is in fact a charade that masks his own government’s involvement in wrongdoings, if not by his family, but by his closest and loyal political allies. Through the pork-barrel system, the president is able to reward those who toe his line and punish those who go against his wishes. This is exactly the main rationale for pork-barrel politics. It is a system of largesse, a practice institutionalized by the Americans during their colonial administration of the Philippines. It is pork to us while the Americans call it earmarks. It is the grease that oils and runs the political system.
READ MY LIPS. Pork is here to stay, as far as President Aquino is concerned.
Photo courtesy of the Malacanang Photo Bureau.
Aquino’s defensive propagandists are however quick to respond to allegations of corruption in the current administration. They bring out the legacy of the president’s mother, Cory Aquino, as some sort of a saintly presidency that was never tainted with any wrongdoing or misbehaviour in government. Because of his mother’s legacy, the current president, to the eyes of his official apologists, can never be corrupted. This virtual aura of righteousness, they argue, also extends to the president’s sisters, their families, and close friends.
Yet, this is far from the truth. Through his friends in the yellow media, Noynoy Aquino is able to manufacture their version of the truth to whitewash all the lies and deception about his presidency. Despite their efforts to cover up Aquino’s involvement in various anomalies, they fail to put a lid on the revelation of his sister Ballsy Aquino-Cruz’s involvement in the $30million MRT 3 extortion scam from the Czech railway company Inekon. Other scams by relatives and cronies unearthed earlier are the grand smuggling by Danding Cojuangco of sugar and oil products to evade taxes, landgrabbing by families of Noynoy Aquino’s Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa from farmers in San Jose Del Monte to make way for relocation housing projects, DSWD’s Soliman and aides’ mishandling of P18 billion ($442 million) worth of calamity funds and international aid pouring in for victims of typhoon Pablo, Aquino’s hand in P2.8-billion road scam in Davao del Sur, and many more others.
Now, the Aquino government is exploiting the recent exposé about Janet Napoles’ 10-billion peso “pork-barrel” scam for ghost projects involving members of Congress, the executive department and other agencies, local government units, fake NGOs and a big-time syndicate of influence peddlers and high-flying hustlers. Instead of taking the lead role in the anti-corruption crusade, President Aquino and his inner sanctum have chosen to defer to the people’s anger against the scope of Napoles’ corruption and the consequent growing public clamour to abolish the pork-barrel system. This shows how farcical this president’s crusade against corruption is, for he knows full well that neither an investigation of the Napoles’ scandal, whether by the Senate’s Blue Ribbon Committee or the Department of Justice and the National Bureau of Investigation, nor a million march against corruption and the pork barrel will accomplish anything.
On August 26, a million Filipinos will troop to Rizal Park to show the people’s collective outrage against the pork-barrel system. Everybody’s hoping this is the tipping point when the people will demand President Noynoy Aquino to abolish the program called Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) that justifies the system of pork barrel which allocates 200 million pesos for each senator and 70 million for each member of Congress in the annual budget.
But this million march is neither an EDSA I nor a Tahrir Square revolution. EDSA I ended with the ouster of an oppressive dictator who ruled the Philippines with impunity. It restored at least the trappings of a democracy. The Tahrir Square uprising in Egypt also brought down a military dictatorship but failed to kickstart the beginnings of a new democratic political system.
The August 26 million march will simply air the people’s collective indignation. Once the marchers have dispersed and gone home, reality will sink in that this system of pork barrel will continue to stay. It will take more than a million march to overhaul a corrupt system, but at least it could be the start to launch bigger protests and demonstrations against a government that has been hypocritical about its own corruption.
As a society, we cannot stop believing that good government is possible. If we do so, then it would be unlikely for us to do what is necessary to keep government honest.

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