Pork barrel, stewardship and the poor

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The Morality of the Pork Barrel

Many of you, our Catholic faithful, have come to us your pastors seeking our moral guidance on the issue of the pork barrel. It is the object of an ongoing investigation due to accusations of corruption being hurled against some of our public officials. But even before the recent expose, the pork barrel has long had a bad reputation. How many traditional politicians have run and overspent and even killed for the sake of millions they will get as pork barrel once elected?

We your Church pastors are not politicians. We are not lawyers. We are not socio-economic planners and strategists. Our realm is religious and the arena where we operate is spiritual and moral. From the ethical and moral perspectives, therefore, we offer you these guidelines.

The separation of Church and State does not prohibit moral ethical values from influencing public policies. If governance were conducted from a platform that disregards ethics and morality, we only expose our nation to greater peril. We have only ourselves to blame and we make ourselves the victims of our own amoral conduct.

PRO POOR OR PRO POLITICIAN…

In theory, the Priority Development Assistance Fund is an attempt to make government projects available to the poor and the marginalized sectors of society who are not sufficiently attended to when the national priorities are defined. In theory it is pro-poor and pro-marginalized. Its goal is to alleviate poverty and to bring about a redistribution of public money for the benefit of the poor. And we would like to affirm those who have indeed used every peso entrusted to them to support genuine projects for the poor, even to the point of spending their own money to respond to the needy.

In reality, however, the pork barrel has been used by some elected representatives in Congress to prove to their constituents that they are concretely doing something for their welfare. In fact, it is not uncommon to refer to projects funded from the pork barrel fund as “Projects of Congressman X” giving the impression that this is personal money and not public fund. Epal has become so common that some of us are not disturbed by those billboards anymore.

In many instances, the pork barrel has become like a “discretionary fund” of elected Representatives. In theory, it is for the development of the poor and the far. In reality, it has served to strengthen the clutch of politicians to power.

But before we rush to pass judgment on our legislators who avail of the pork barrel, it would be opportune for us citizens to search our souls and ask “What have I done to contribute to this?”

In reality, we ordinary citizens partake of the bounty of the “discretionary funds” by asking our government officials to help our personal needs, family concerns, barangay projects or even Church fiestas. Let us make it our rule of life when we relate to politicians “Walang hihingi!” Every time we ask our politicians for monetary help, we tempt them to dig into the pork barrel coffers or jueteng chests to accommodate our request.

STEWARDSHIP NOT PATRONAGE…

Public service is public trust. When we elect our Representatives in Congress, we elect them to make laws to make our nation a better nation. The task that we entrust to the legislators is clearly legislation. They are trustees of the citizens for lawmaking.

The task of building infrastructure and providing social services is the responsibility of the executive branch of government. Its stewardship function is infrastructure building and social services. In theory, the Chief Executive has control of the disposition of these funds. In law and practice, the Chief Executive controls the release of the pork barrel to legislators. The consequence is the President can put pressure on legislators to toe his political line. The independence of Congress is compromised.

Filipino voters become “grateful” beneficiaries of legislators whom they expect to give them something when they need. Legislators in turn become “thankful” recipients of the largess of pork barrel whose release the Executive has control. Politics of patronage not stewardship cascades from top to bottom.

Public governance is stewardship but the pork barrel has made public governance a system of patronage. Stewardship liberates and uplifts. Patronage enslaves and insults.

One of the basic rules that make stewardship functional is transparency and accountability. Under no circumstances must transparency be excused and accountability ignored.

OUR MORAL OPTIONS…

For the Church…

Church based organizations and institutions must make it our mantra in relation to politicians “Walang hihingi!” We in Church can contribute to the corruption by grabbing a piece of the pie through our solicitations from government officials—from candles to basketball uniforms to bags of cement to government bulldozers. We tempt the public officials to get money from jueteng or the pork barrel in order to accommodate us. Walang hihingi!

We who are stewards of the materials goods of the Church must be transparent in our fund raising projects. We must prepare our accounting reports of how Church funds are disbursed insuring all the time that the principle of accountability is observed. When we are less than transparent in our accounting, we hurt the truth. Ang sinungaling ay kapatid ng magnanakaw.

For the Government…

On the part of government, for the sake of sound stewardship of public money, it is imperative that those who approve the budget are distinct and separate from those who implement the projects. The present system is very vulnerable to conflict of interest, parochialism and corruption in the selection of suppliers and the bidding of contracts.

Let the legislators legislate and the executives execute.

In order to protect the national and local executives from the temptation of corrupting public money, the Commission on Audit must do its mandated duty with strength of will, vigilance and diligence. This is ethical public service.

On its part, the legislators must strengthen their oversight, monitoring and evaluation functions with the public participation of the Church, business and civil society groups like what PPCRV and Namfrel do together during elections.

Man does not live on bread alone, the good Lord taught us; but man does not need pork to go with bread.

It is integrity that must go with bread. Let integrity flow in our beloved land for “He who walks in integrity walks securely, but he who perverts his ways will be found out (Proverbs 10:9).

From the Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist, Dagupan City, July 29, 2013 Memorial Day of Saint Martha

+SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS
Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan

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