Pork overload
BABE'S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Amb. Babe Romualdez (The Philippine Star) - May 18, 2014 - 12:00am

As far back as I can remember, most people I know have always been suspicious of the pork barrel system in this country. Every discussion about “pork” long before the Napoles scandal broke out always ended up with the conclusion that there had to be corruption involved. But no one expected it to be this widespread. The so-called “Napolist” has already implicated over a hundred individuals, majority of them (former and current) congressmen and senators who are raising a hue and cry at the inclusion of their names.

People however are suspicious that the existence of other “Napolists” — one from Benhur Luy, another supposedly given to rehabilitation czar Ping Lacson, still another transmitted to Malacañang as well as a list also claimed by whistleblower Sandra Cam – is a ploy to muddle the issue as well as an attempt to save the skin of some administration allies or high officials. The corruption is so widespread — cleaning up the mess will be such a gargantuan task.

No one is amused with the hundreds of millions supposedly given as kickbacks to public officials for facilitating the release of the PDAF that were diverted to bogus foundations. In fact, the outrage has spread worldwide with overseas Filipinos using the Internet to launch online petitions for the release of the “true” list. It’s still incomplete but so far P820 million in “commissions” was given from funds that went to ghost projects of non-existent NGOs controlled by Pork Queen Janet Napoles from 2003 to 2010 alone.

Many more are appalled to read the contents allegedly stored in the computer records of Benhur Luy, with detailed accounts of cash and check disbursements made to specific individuals for the projects supposed to be implemented by various government agencies. The entries strike one as a “who’s who” list of people engaged in organized plunder — who got how much, how often or where the money was sourced for the “SOP” — a well-known euphemism for “kickback.”

One can only imagine how much more taxpayer money has been squandered over the years due to public corruption — described by the World Bank as the “public enemy number one” of developing countries that include the Philippines. In 2000, a report by BBC said corruption was costing the government as much as $47 million a year based on World Bank estimates, with about $48 billion disappearing to systemic and systematic corruption for a period of two decades until 1997.

Prior to the exposé regarding the P10 billion fund scam from PDAF, people would have found it hard to believe that as much as P250 billion every year is lost to public sector corruption according to the Philippine Transparency Reporting Project. With that amount, more than 500,000 classrooms could have been built; over a million homes constructed for the poor; annual healthcare package for more than 210 million indigents; 94,000 ambulances purchased; 12,500 fire trucks bought; over 17 million school computers made available and most of all, 7 million families would have been spared from experiencing hunger, the report calculated.

The most resentful of all are the overseas Filipinos who have sacrificed so much, extremely disgusted to see enormous amounts of money going to waste — money that could have been put to good use in helping the Philippines fulfill its UN Millennium Development Goal commitment to reduce poverty incidence by at least 16 percent by 2015. The wasted funds could have created thousands of sustainable jobs that would have prevented many Filipinos from seeking employment abroad. Despite the economic strides achieved over the past three years, the country’s poverty rate remains one of the highest in Asia, while the unemployment rate in the Philippines is the highest in Southeast Asia.

Some people may be amused at the heated war of words between Senator Miriam Santiago and Ping Lacson but to many others, it is no longer amusing when one begins to realize how much money was lost in this pork scandal. Months have passed and people are still shocked as more revelations continue to come out.

During the speech of President Aquino before the Brotherhood of Christian Businessmen and Professionals late last year, he told the audience that funds lost to corruption could exceed P1 trillion. We have not unearthed everything, he said, adding that they are searching for answers — who are behind the corruption, where did the money go, who benefited, who are truly guilty. The reality however is that this administration only has two years left before the next presidential elections — and so people are not holding their breath and not really expecting those found guilty to be jailed anytime soon knowing how grindingly slow the legal system is.

On the other hand, people are closely watching the political undertones that are unfolding — and it is becoming obvious to many that in the end, most of our politicians might end up “X-ing” each other out in their attempt to extricate themselves from this high profile political scandal. There are those who believe that this pork scandal could be providential especially for some who so far remain untainted by it — like Secretary Mar Roxas, Vice President Jejomar Binay as well as Senator Grace Poe and former senators Ping Lacson and Francis Pangilinan — all of whom are considered to be potential presidential or vice presidential candidates for 2016.

Inihaw na baboy is a favorite Filipino dish, but too much of it is not good for one’s health. For sure, the majority of voters will be wary of candidates perceived to be overly fond of pork — the kind that is causing many Filipinos to start getting “high blood” and about ready to explode due to “pork overload.”

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Email: babeseyeview@yahoo.com

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