10/31/2013
Cops and robbers

I know that Noynoy Aquino won't say anything new in his unprecedented televised speech - as the story goes, his team begged the television networks to interrupt the primetime soaps so he can discuss "current issues" with the nation - last night. That said, I wanted to listen to him again. I wanted to see if I could stop myself from writing something angry.

As it turns out, I could, but only because I did not get to hear him speak. At a quarter to eight last night, I was at Fully Booked, doing some Christmas shopping, and secretly, (although not anymore as of this morning,) buying a Sophie Kinsella book for Rainy. I only read up on the speech when I got home at around ten, and even then I did not feel compelled to react, partly because I was tired and wanted to sleep, but mostly because, really, what there is left to write?

But the main sound bite - that one line he said that the press pounced on - stuck with me. Noynoy, as I guessed, talked (again) about the issues surrounding pork barrel, whatever it really is nowadays. You know, that the DAP is legal, that it helped the economy, that the real issue is whether the money was stolen, that the money wasn't stolen in this case, you know, the usual. But then there's that main sound bite.

"Narinig naman ninyo ang hirit nila: pare-pareho lang naman daw kaming lahat. Ang tugon ko po diyan: hindi tayo pareho. Hindi kami nagnakaw, at hindi kami nagnanakaw. Kami ang mga umuusig sa mga nagnanakaw."

And it still didn't get me as angry as it usually would. I merely fell asleep thinking of all the television shows I covered in my old job, about how the best characters on the best shows aren't either black or white. I thought of Walter Bishop, of how he first looked like a scientist who believed he was God and inadvertently brought this world (and others) to the brink of destruction, but, as we'd learn, he only wanted to save his son from a disease he couldn't cure. I thought of Walter White - another Walter, only of a show I really haven't watched - and how he got into the drug business to leave something behind for his family when he dies of cancer, only for him to go deeper into the trade and become the person he didn't set out to be.

"Clearly," I thought, "they have not heard of Breaking Bad," and then I turned off the lights, and sent one last "I love you" text to Rainy.

The Disbursement Acceleration Program was, if we're to go with the government's words, devised to kick the economy up its ass. With government spending slowing down after Noynoy assumed office in 2010 - as he promised to end corruption, scrutiny was put on government spending, so much so that nothing happened - the decision was made to gather all of the savings made and allocate it to other projects. This, then, increases government spending - on infrastructure, on facilities, on support programs - and, as a result, will get the economy moving.

The economic numbers we've seen the past couple of years don't lie. We have record GDP numbers. Thanks to that domino effect, we also have a better standing in the world economy, and increased confidence among investors, both foreign and local. Sure, these numbers have yet to translate to tangible progress for most Filipinos, but a building block is a building block.

But the problem with the DAP is how it gets to that result. No matter how much the administration and its allies insist otherwise, the similarities between the DAP and the Priority Development Assistance Fund - the "traditional" pork barrel, the lump sum that can be, and has been, misused by erring legislators, as we've seen for the past couple of decades, culminating in the whole Janet Lim Napoles brouhaha - are plain to see.

A legislator's PDAF is specified in the annual budget - P70 million per congressman; P200 million per senator - and can be used, in theory, on any project said legislator believes should be funded, particularly those in his locality or, in the case of senators (whose footprint is national) and party list representatives, in their particular advocacies.

The DAP, on the other hand, is allocated to government agencies depending on how much funding they request, and for which projects. For some reason, our senators also got in on the act, requesting funding for certain projects, and getting the money they need. The figure, however, varies: administration ally Franklin Drilon notably received P100 million, the highest amount according to figures released by the government, while others received at least half that amount.

Again, the government's line: the DAP is legal, and no money was stolen because of it, because the economy clearly benefited from the program. But there are legal challenges - for instance, the belief that savings from a particular government agency can only be spent by the same agency, and not reallocated to other entities. And then there's the aforementioned perception, that DAP is essentially pork barrel - that it can be used, like PDAF, to gain profit or political favor.

Sure, this is all just theory. It's possible that no money was indeed stolen from the DAP. It's possible that all these savings did go to legitimate government projects, and were spent properly, and has indeed contributed to the resurgence of the Philippine economy. But we'll never know that unless we have these funds audited, similar to what the Commission on Audit did with the PDAF released between 2007 and 2009. We'll never know unless safeguards are put in place to make sure these funds are indeed spent properly: removing the funds' discretionary nature; expanding checks to make sure that the money goes where it should; barring legislators, who should be making laws rather than implementing them, from getting the money. We'll never know unless we can see that these safeguards are airtight and not filled with loopholes, like the "new" PDAF floated a few months back.

"We need participatory governance," presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda told ANC in the aftermath of the unveiling of the "new" PDAF. "Narinig na naman 'yung galit. Nasaan ang solusyon? Mag-recommend kayo. That's part of participatory governance."

Well, there are the solutions. Remove the funds' discretionary nature. Expand checks to make sure the money goes where it should. Bar legislators from getting the money. We've said this many times before, in the many rallies against pork barrel, in the thousands of words written in newspaper columns and blogs like mine and Facebook status messages. We've said, over and over again, that both the PDAF and the DAP are flawed systems, that it fosters corruption more than anything, that it is a stumbling block to our goal of making the Philippines great again - our goal, not just the government's.

And yet the government won't listen to us. "Hindi kami nagnakaw, at hindi kami nagnanakaw. Kami ang mga umuusig sa mga magnanakaw." They've said, over and over again, that we should be concerned about the money that was stolen, that we should go after all those who stole the money, that we should make sure that it never happens again. That anybody who believes otherwise is just muddling the issue. That anybody who questions the approaches they're taking wants to plunge us back to the dark ages.

Clearly, the government has not heard of Breaking Bad. Or Fringe, for that matter. I've seen that show end to end, so I'll talk about that. Fringe premiered in 2008 and wrapped up its run, a hundred episodes later, this year. It's about an FBI team tasked to investigate irregular phenomenon, a series of events ultimately tied to the fact that our world's fabric is being torn apart.

One of the team's members is Walter Bishop, a scientist who was institutionalized after a lab fire killed his assistant. As it turns out, he's responsible for the events he's investigating: his unsuccessful attempt to save his child, Peter, from an unknown disease - and his later act of curing, and then taking, a version of Peter from a parallel universe - has led to, well, both worlds breaking apart. Sure, he felt invincible, and powerful, and in his prime he wildly experimented with the world, but he ultimately wanted to make life better for everyone, culminating in his crossing worlds and taking another Walter's Peter. He wanted to cure the kid. He wanted to cure his son.

The series' villains aren't outright bad guys either. One of the show's best episodes revolved around a scientist whose experiments with time travel has led to the deaths of many people, their energies being sapped completely whenever he fails in his objectives. His goal: to go back in time far enough to be reunited with his wife, right before she is killed in a car accident... and for the two to die together.

My point is - and I do not apologize for this prolonged tangent about one of my favorite television shows - the world is filled with things that aren't entirely bad, nor entirely good, and to make sense of it, we are supposed to have a good think about all of it, and make sure the good outweighs the bad, You know, choosing the lesser evil and all that. So, yes, the DAP is a good thing, but it's also a bad thing, or at the very least, it could potentially be a bad thing. We've seen it done with the PDAF before, and look at the mess we are in right now. The revelations about the DAP is not to muddle the issue; it's to strengthen it, to clarify it, to make us more able to do something about it. And all we want, really, is to make the Philippines a better place, for us who are braving the storm, and for us who flew out for greener pastures.

Right now, however, the government is bent on muddling the issue themselves. Their refusal to acknowledge, even recognize, both the good and bad sides of their economic stimulus program; their insistence on painting everything in shades of black and white; their inclination to paint themselves as the only saviors this country will ever have - all of this is muddling the issue.

And they're doing that to an audience that, generally, isn't as stupid as assumed. Noynoy Aquino's speech last night - a defense of both the DAP and the President's Social Fund, a pork barrel-like fund directly under his watch - can be boiled down to one thought: cops cannot be robbers, what with the former being tasked to stop the latter. But we have seen, with our own eyes, how cops can be corrupt, how they prey on unsuspecting citizens so they can have their snacks without spending their own paychecks. Yes, there are cops who are there to serve their communities, nothing more, but there are also cops who are there to earn money, and to do that they will turn a blind eye to crimes, and protect certain interests, and just laze around even when something is going on.

The government wants to engage its citizens to a discussion, but that discussion has long been going on, regardless of whether it's from apologists, or vitriolic activists, or passive observers. To deny the existence of that discussion because it's not in their terms is to muddle the issue.

The government wants to go after those who stole money from the nation's coffers, but those people are conveniently political opponents, soft targets whose persecution will easily get support from an easily-swayed population. To turn a blind eye on friends who might be doing the same - this image-conscious administration surprisingly doing little to conceal the fact that it is pushing the Liberal Party agenda, ergo, to make itself dominant - is to muddle the issue.

The government wants to make sure that corruption never happens again within its halls, but it is being selective in what it fixes, and what they fix, they don't fix completely. To dictate what is important and what is just a waste of time is to muddle the issue.

And the government will succeed. It's been months since the first revelations regarding Napoles' PDAF scam came out, and we are - as predicted - still in a limbo. The case is obviously moving slowly, but we're bombarded with claims that progress is happening, that those involved will be punished. We're constantly asked to pitch in with our suggestions, but we're constantly told that what we believe is wrong. We're practically barred from talking if we do not wholeheartedly subscribe to their beliefs, lock, stock and barrel. And just like before, we will get tired of being angry. We will realize that we're doing all this noise for nothing, that we're just wasting our time, that we should just get on with our lives.

I've been blogging the same opinions - either regurgitated or repurposed, depending on whether you think I make sense or I'm just bitter - and I realize that, the more I get angry, the more defiant this government gets. Not that I'm some guy whose voice is heard louder than the next guy's. I'm just able to voice out what the majority thinks in long blog entries. But I'm not definitely speaking alone. There are many people who think the same way I do. I am not necessarily against Noynoy Aquino's government. All I want is for the Philippines to get better. I want corruption stamped out. I want the country to realize its potential. But I don't want to get there by one person beating the hell out of another.

But we're being treated like, well, stupid people whose only way to salvation is to act like sheep. We fight it, but in the end, we just get tired. As Noynoy Aquino breaks his campaign promise, and makes himself more available for photo-ops, ironically, I'll just go on with my Christmas shopping and sending more "I love you" texts to Rainy, conceding that the ultimate winner is a cop who may not have gotten his grubby hands on tainted money, but whose actions allowed other people to do so. A cop who also happens to be a robber.

And your responses...

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