Law Of The Stomach” As Tradition

by Juan L. Mercado


“It is honored by tradition,” Senator Edgardo Angara stressed. He meant Senate President Juan Ponce’s Enrile’s “Christmas gifts” of P1.6 million each to 18 “friendly” senators”, including  Angara .  At  year’s end,  Enrile  ladled  “maintenance and other operating expenditures” (MOOE) savings”. Why did it  ignite  today’s brawl?

“Tradition is a guide, not a jailer”  Somerset Maugham cautions.  So, what is this customary practice  that  all-too-willing  legislators swear by yet left  some fuming?   Enrile doled   P250,000  of our tax money,  as “ Christmas “cash gift” , for  Senators  Miriam Santiago, Antonio Trillanes, Pia and  Alan Cayetano.  They protested “uneven” distribution of the cash”,   Angara claims.  Would everyone zipper lips if traditional equal slabs were sliced?

“Tradition teaches one how to act, pray and work” , sings Teyve in the 1964 Broadway play   Fiddler on the Roof. “And where did tradition come from? I will tell you….Ah, ah, ah. I don’t know. But it’s a tradition. And without tradition, our lives are as shaky as a fiddler on the roof.”

Between 1981 to 1987, Angara was senate president. Did he ring  in new year, by fiddling, MOOE at quarter of midnight in the old year?   “I must have,” he allows. “But I don’t recall.” He wasn’t  aware his office received a  gift-wrapped  P1.6  million MOOE. Really ?  “MOOE is used for day-to-day  expenses, like office supplies, rentals, electricity —  and “coffee for guests.”  

Is  Senate  coffee  like  Pagcor brew?  President  Benigno  Aquino, revealed that Philippine Amusement & Gaming Corp.  billed taxpayers P1,007,408,908, for brewing  10 million cups of coffee.  The number of ill-fed underweight children, in that period,  increased to 3.3 million  “I like my coffee strong, not lethal!” cracks the army doctor’s Ring Lardner’s satirical movie “MASH”.

In a Radyo Inquirer interview,  Sen. Santiago revealed she lobbed the check back to Enrile. She skewered parceling additional MOOE in December.  “All official transactions of the Senate are completed by then.” Was  it  “tradition”  to  scrimp  during the year, then  splurge at year end?, TV’s Karen Davila persisted.   

“That’s my point!”, snapped the senator who busted an eye blood vessel.  “On Christmas you give savings to keep them quiet?  Discretionary funds be spent for public purposes. You give a senator a cash gift of (P1.6) million. That senator will produce a paper saying  the money was for public purpose but actually pocketed it. This ‘racket’ is practiced in the Senate”.  Other agencies, not allowed by law to realign savings”, mimic legislators.

“The less there is justify a traditional custom, the harder to get rid of it, ”Mark Twain notes. The gap of doles, between those who curtsy to Enrile and those who refuse, stinks.  Ordinary employees, in contrast,  are dunned for getting bonuses in excess of the P10,000 maximum allowable.

But the core scandal festers at a deeper level. Thru budget law provisions they crafted, legislators authorize themselves to realign and feather their nests.  Metro Manila Waterwork officials gave  themselves bonuses equivalent to 26 months salary. That’s theft. When senators gorge on MOOE, that’s “tradition”?. 

When Ferdinand Marcos entered  Malacanang, there were 37  government owned and controlled corporations (GOCCs) This ballooned to 303,  before People Power toppled the  Marcos dictatorship.  GOCC profligacy burned, 28 out of every tax peso. Most operated as fiefdoms.  Social Security System officials  feathered their nests with stock options.

President Corazon Aquino pruned GOCCs back to 157.   Cory Aquino’s son took the second step to curb  corporate plunder. On 6 June 2011, President Benigno Aquino  signed the  GOCC Governance Act.  Senator Franklin Drilon shepherded Senate Bill  2640 into RA10149. The new law creates in effect a Securities and Exchange Commission for GOCCs.

Today,  five commissioners oversee GOCCs  worth  P5 trillion — more than double the  P2.87 trillion for rest of government. Their subsidies from ballooned  P9.064 billion in 2000 to P53.705 billion in 2011. That straddles President Gloria Macapagal  Arroyo’s tenure.  Gloria who?

“There has been a paradigm  shift,” notes  former Philippine Stock Exchange president Francis Lim  .The GOCC Act is the first best thing that happened to our GOCC system under the current administration… The next best thing is… the President chose the right persons as commissioners. In the  first 200 days,  the commission documented  reforms from operating manuals for GOCCs to rulings on nearly 60  bids  for per diem entitlements.

“There’s one very big rub” Inquirer’ Conrad de Quiros notes.  Immoral, unjust, obscene midnight realignments are also perfectly legal. Legislators wrote  into the law that they may distribute amounts to their people as they please from their savings. “Someone like Enrile decides to play Santa Claus with your money, you can’t fight it legally, short of fighting to amend, or scrap, the law itself.”

Massive corruption is  sanctioned by self serving law.  Embedded by  long  practice, it calcified into tradition.  Fraud sanctified by tradition remains fraud. Our parents had an apt word for such edicts: Ley del estomago. “Law of the stomach” results in 45 percent of kids dying before  reaching age 5.  Taxpayers must  stomp on  Congress’ structured plunder.  “Tradition without intelligence is not worth having”, TS Eliot writes.


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