The Can Of Worms

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

It is not P10 billion, it is way beyond that. The P10 billion are an amount related to one supplier, not the national budget. The Filipino people are now going to get a lesson about the meaning of pork barrel.

Innocent until proven guilty. I grant that. I have seen innocent individuals pilloried by publicity based on unsubstantiated claims. I have seen reputations destroyed on false accusations. Truly, the effort to stay close to facts, to the truth, must be sustained to save the innocent.

The challenge, however, is how to call the really guilty as guilty before they are proven so. What the law can prove through investigations and trials does not change the fact that the guilty are guilty, proven or not. Guilt has a way of exuding a foul smell, a dirty look when exposed. It is like farting; you smell it but cannot see it.

It may be that public officials have to accept a higher degree of public exposure, positive or negative. By this time, in a democracy, official behavior is demanded by law to stay faithful to the public trust. That is why former Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona was impeached, for betraying the public trust, when his accumulation of wealth was kept in the dark all throughout the years he amassed them.

Proving the guilty to be guilty in today’s environment can take on a very public process. And the more grave the offense, the more noisy it tends to become with all kinds of media, including social media. To prevent scandals at the end, anti-corruption measures have transparency as the foundation of its campaign. Transparency is a big word. It is an even bigger societal value.

It used to be that secrecy was an art that especially military and political organizations would have to master. Secrecy assumes a context of conflict or actual warfare. It has even taken on a different name – intelligence. By now, intelligence communities are a must for all nations who have concerns about threats to national interests.

But even warfare has found serious transformation in strategy because of advances in technology. Beyond intelligence, modern military activities rely on superiority of weaponry, both in volume and sophistication. Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan are recent examples of how superior weaponry is preferred even to secrecy.

Unearthing the corrupt practices of government officials is the duty of several government agencies. At the same time, because transparency has become a key factor in exposing the thievery of government funds, even citizens are beginning to have a role. It began 27 years ago when dummies of the dictator Marcos came forward and surrendered wealth and assets placed under their names. It moved on with a few courageous witnesses in impeachment trials when Estrada was on deck. And it is now in the era of whistleblowers. Jun Lozada by his lonesome had a dirty contract between two governments cancelled and triggered plunder cases of the highest public officials.

Now, former employees of a private firm are following the Jun Lozada path, but the unfolding drama promises more juicy details than the failed ZTE deal. In the first place, there are more political personalities involved in the story. They involve senators and congressmen, and much more. There are mayors and governors, too, with banks and bank officers collaborating to facilitate an alleged scam.

The fertilizer scam, if we remember correctly, involved hundreds of legislators and local officials. Unfortunately, the strategy taken to expose the scam by serious prosecutors in the Senate like Jun Magsaysay was not to target the beneficiaries of the scam but to pin Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as the mastermind. That is why they concentrated on the most innocent, former Agriculture Cito Lorenzo, who precisely avoided getting involved with a fund he did not request for a program he did not design. As a result, preferring to harass Cito to talk against Gloria, which he could not do because he did not have proof either, the Senate investigators glossed over the questionable role of congressmen, governors and mayors.

The pork barrel is a system, and is systemic. There is nothing wrong with congressmen and senators identifying projects that they believe are beneficial to their constituents and the national interests as well.  If they do not do that, the DPWH and other departments of the Executive Branch will do that anyway and spend the same monies. What is dirty about the pork barrel is the overpricing, or actual ghost projects, because the only intent is to get kickbacks in the guise of projects for the people.

And the overpricing or ghost projects can be done without Congress and the Senate. It can be done by the Executive Branch by itself – including the local governments. It is the stealing of the people’s money and not whether a congressman, senator or a Cabinet secretary identifies or nominates a project.

Now is another situation that leaps to connect with previous efforts from the Edsa revolution to cleanse a dirty system and a perverse order of values in the government system. Investigations on the now famous 10 billion pesos should lead to the investigation of hundreds of billions that we, and international agencies, have been talking about for over a decade – the rape and looting of the national budget. Claims of losses of 30-50 percent annually from corruption are not wild if there is any truth at all to this P10-billion amount from just one contractor alone.

Greg Honasan’s reaction that the investigation should cover everyone is interesting. For his information, the Filipino people have been waiting for this for a long, long time. This is the seed of a catharsis that may reveal there is sincerity in public service, or public service is the excuse for dirty livelihood.

It is more easily understood today why P-Noy wanted to establish the Truth Commission from the beginning of his presidency. The Supreme Court would not allow it because it seemed to target only the Gloria Arroyo presidency. I hope the Supreme Court is now monitoring this P10 billion case, and how it discouraged a process that could open a can of worms worth one trillion in just one decade.

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