A rich country pretending to be poor!
- Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - August 23, 2013 - 12:00am

Imelda Marcos was right, after all. We are a rich country pretending to be poor. She knew what she was talking about. She did live like a queen, at our expense, during the martial law years!

Now she has a successor… and she isn’t even married to the guy who lives in Malacañang. The daughter of this Napoles woman is living it up like Imelda and letting the world know all about it in disgusting detail via social media. Like Imelda, all that crass display of ill-gotten wealth is at our expense.

They are not worried about the poor and destitute revolting over that high living. As Imelda puts it, she is doing what they like… to look up to a star and dream. If Imelda and these Napoles women can do it, they have hope.

Enough of the tiresome protestations of how limited our financial resources are. We are a rich country, believe it or not. Right now, Congress is deliberating on a P2.3Tr national budget, a large part of which are pork barrel funds and intelligence funds not subject to audit.

There are also billions of pesos in Malampaya Fund and Pagcor Social Fund, all dripping in cholesterol at the President’s disposal. And don’t forget we are rated investment grade internationally.

Money is not our problem. Even if we don’t collect enough taxes, there should be more than enough in the National Treasury to pay for adequate infrastructure and social services, or at least better than what we have now. The leakage is horrifying.

Indeed, why should we make the people pay more taxes when it just ends up supporting the high lifestyle of shameless politicians and people like the Napoleses? We lack honest and capable leaders to allocate and spend prudently and wisely. I am not sure we are up to the challenge of ever finding one and not because we lack such people.

Our infrastructure is inadequate not because we don’t have money… we have elected plunderers all these years. Social services had been inadequate to help our people in poverty because money supposed to help the poor end up in pockets of politicians and their cronies… and they always get away with it.

All the billions of taxpayer pesos reported lost to a pork barrel scam going on for years can shock even a cynical and jaded journalist like me. The alleged Napoles loot is valued upwards of P10 billion. What about the others? There must be more of those who, like her, successfully used our tax money to buy luxury condo units in Los Angeles.

Then there is the Malampaya fund scam. Some P23.6 billion of that fund was likely to have been misappropriated and COA is now investigating. These are royalties paid by the Shell/Chevron consortium for the exploitation of the Malampaya natural gas deposit.

Arroyo era Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. admitted to the Inquirer that Malampaya funds were released upon the orders of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Inquirer reports that Andaya and his deputy, undersecretary Mario Relampagos, signed more than 150 statement of allotment release orders (Saros) covering P14 billion between Oct. 21, 2009, and Dec. 29, 2009, ostensibly for victims of Tropical Storm “Ondoy” and Typhoon “Pepeng” and other infrastructure projects.

The intended use of the fund is to finance energy related projects. But Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said there is a catch-all phrase to the law: “and for such other purpose as the President may deem necessary.” In other words, Ate Glue treated the Malampaya Fund into something akin to a personal pork barrel fund she can use on her whims.

Initial investigations reveal that P900 million from the Malampaya fund, supposedly for victims of Ondoy and Pepeng, had been diverted to dummy NGOs of Napoles. The COA inquiry into the fund’s use may reveal more.

A former cabinet member wrote me to recall that in their time, pork was known as the Country Wide Development Fund. It started with only P 1 million allocated to the congressmen for their district support of infrastructure. They would just name the project and the government agency would execute after due diligence.

But the appetite of legislators for pork proved not only voracious but insatiable. So it grew to monstrous proportions. Today, the PDAF plus other items given to Congress such as the Congressional Initiatives, etc. now amounts to about 1/3 of the total infra budget. That means the organic programmable budget of the infra agencies is down to only 2/3, with the rest spent “in aid of election.”

This does not make sense. The use of national government funds should be based on a national system of priorities. Education, health and other welfare services and national defense are among the traditional top priorities for budget allocation.

The provision of infrastructure like highways, ports and railroads is also a national government responsibility. Local governments get their IRA and they are free to use that as needed in their locality.

Then LGU officials and congressmen got into this contest on who is delivering more to the people. The mayors and governors have the IRA and local tax codes to finance their projects. The congressmen look upon their pork barrel to compete.

This resulted in a system where national priorities are effectively dumped. Airports close to each other may be built with no regard to a regional hubbing strategy that makes economic sense. 

Another favorite is the so called farm-to-pocket roads… essentially ghost roads or very substandard roads because the congressman involved has pocketed almost everything. Things got worse when they started using so called NGOs to deliver products and services like fertilizers.

Legislators used NGOs, fake or otherwise, to get a lion’s share of their pork funds. That made this current pork scam absolutely nauseating. Napoles supposedly made it easy for the legislator, a senator or congressman said to get 70 percent of a project cost with the rest going to the scam organizer and zero to the supposed project.

In the past there was at least a graft ridden project one can see, substandard as it may be. Now, all we can see are the lavish lifestyles of the legislators and Napoles. Taxpayer money bought nothing of benefit to them or to society.

Pork has been justified as the means by which legislators can respond to the needs of their constituents. Indeed, they are expected to contribute to every need for medical or funeral expenses. There are wedding gifts to give. And they have to feed people coming to their homes all day.

Poverty… customs… traditions whatever explains this financial dependency between politicians and their constituents perpetuate a rotten system. What we get is a misuse of resources that could otherwise finance infrastructure and services. It is a system that keeps poverty prevalent.

For that matter, even religious leaders… archbishops and priests close their eyes to the source of money they get. I am sure Pope Francis wouldn’t look with favor on such hypocritical behavior from the leaders of the Church.

My eight-year-old nephew who was born and is being raised in California had for the last two months, spent his summer vacation with us here. He had been all over the country from Boracay to GenSan and Tagaytay and different areas in Metro Manila. One day he asked my wife, “Grandma… why is there so many poor people in the Philippines?”

My wife told me she was stunned for an answer. She probably gave an incoherent one that told my grandson he should be grateful he has food to eat, nice clothes to wear and an iPad as well.

I would have been tempted, if it was I who was asked, to tell him that the reason there are so many poor people here is because we have a ruling elite that refuses to level the playing field… leaders of government and the church who are unable to or refuse to distinguish right from wrong… and all of us Filipinos who have grown so used to the mess we no longer care.

Perhaps, our senators and congressmen can help me out with a one line answer to an eight-year-old balikbayan on why there are so many poor people in the Philippines? 

I hope Rep. Imelda Marcos wouldn’t say, tell your grandson he is wrong. The Philippines is a rich country pretending to be poor. Having seen so many poor people himself… that would confuse my grandson big time.


British politician David Lloyd George once said, if you want to succeed in politics, you must keep your conscience well under control.

That explains everything.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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