Pearls before swine
SEARCH FOR TRUTH - Ernesto P. Maceda Jr. (The Philippine Star) - December 15, 2018 - 12:00am

"You are better off not knowing how sausages and laws are made.” This famous maxim used to be hurled as an insult to legislators. Now, thanks to Congress, its become an affront to the sausage makers.

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte has been consistent in his contempt of the corrupt. The high mortality rate of the men and women he brought with him to office is proof of his resolve. Lately, it is the subcabinet level receiving the brunt of Dutertean discipline. In the past, he has not spared the “Rod” even for cabinet rank officials if charged with perfidy.

But the loudest reverberations in the Executive branch continue to come from his refusal to touch certain personalities.  Or in the interpretation of what constitutes a commensurate consequence for the sins of those he would touch. The public is becoming inured to the spectacle of whiffers removed only to be rewarded with promotions.

Spokesman Sal Panelo demands deference to Presidential prerogative in the choice of his men. He’s right. The public should respect the PRRD’s authority to select his own people. But once they’ve been chosen and paid out from government coffers, they become our men. And the administration should defer to our preferential right to assess and evaluate their performance accordingly. 

Clinical education. Going back to laws and sausages, Congress has been a show kitchen for our worst selves specially when it comes to the pork barrel, the US colonial government’s most reprehensible legacy. No administration has been spared the scandal of a pork related controversy. Yet almost every new President comes in to his term proposing reorganization of the executive branch only. Any mention of overhauling porcine practices is usually in inaudible whispers that disappear unnoticed. And past attempts at pork reform merely succeeded in rebranding the practice which just continued under the new name.

For the past months, we’ve been gagging on a daily menu of pork. In September, it was the P55 billion “insertions” discovered in the leadership turnover from Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez to Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. This was followed by the developments in Senator Bong Revilla’s PDAF plunder prosecution which the Sandiganbayan confirmed to have transpired, absent the Senator’s criminal participation. We have the new discoveries of, again, insertions in the House Budget, the P55 billion figure ballooning to P75 Billion. Prominently portrayed was the Speaker’s very own district as receiving P2.4 billion. And then, the latest unsubstantiated allegations hurled by the House against Sec. Ben Diokno on cornering P10 billion in projects for a favored contractor. 

To borrow from Senator Chiz Escudero in referencing Martial Law in Mindanao, it seems that the national conversation on Pork is “the new normal.” Its like they’re just playing the game of my lolo is richer than yours.

The resistance. The Cabinet has circled the wagons in the Congressional attack on Sec. Diokno. Already, Palace spokesmen are raising the spectre of boycotting subpoenas, decrying the humiliation and mistreatment Sec. Ben was subjected to. He himself has vowed to skip further hearings. Even the Senators have spoken out in defense of the respected Secretary who does enjoy a reputation for integrity. His monicker in government circles, Mr. No or Dr. No, is well earned. 

This chicharonic state of affairs cannot be allowed to fester. The budget itself has become a first casualty as it has been put off until next year, barring any sudden calls for a special session over the holidays. We are doomed to operate on a reenacted budget and swallow the bitter pill of a dampened economy, according to our economic managers. With projects of 2018 already completed, reenacted appropriations would need realignment, entailing heightened legislative oversight and added arenas for executive legislative tension. PRRD is in for a delicate balancing act. 

The odd thing is that the members of Congress involved are actually the President’s allies. We, thus, wonder at the thought process that went into starting this fight. Clearly, this is one square off that could have been managed better. 

The independence that Congress is displaying is actually quite surprising. With due respect to the administration and Sec. Diokno who I personally respect and admire, the actuations of Congress – while leaving much to be desired in the manner of actual delivery – are tough but necessary probes into the underbelly of the pork monster that has terrorized our governance set up for decades. In the end, the collateral effect may prove to more beneficial than damaging. 

While Rome burned … The other Diokno, Dean Manuel “Chel” Diokno, who could as well be referenced as Atty. No, openly lamented why Congress was also wasting valuable time calling a joint session on martial law and discussing charter change instead of focusing on “the real concerns of the people”. 

He’s right. Its unbelievably insensitive that our high government officials are fighting over millions and billions in pork when, at the fringes, people are scraping to make ends meet.

Passages. Atty. Gilberto “Bibit” Duavit, 84. He was a giant of public service having served in high office in the Legislature, as respected Appropriations Chair in the 11thCongress, and in the Executive branch as former Acting Executive Secretary. He was elected delegate of the 1971 Constitutional Convention from Rizal. In party politics, he was a pillar to the end of the venerable Nationalist People’s Coalition. In the private sector, he was founding Chair of the Republic Broadcasting System (Ch. 7) and involved in several foundations and advocacies. He leaves this great legacy of service carried on by his wife and his 4 children. Our condolences to the family.

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