Villegas to laity: Pork barrel issue should lead us to action

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MANILA, August 17, 2013—The incoming president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) on Saturday urged the Filipino faithful to learn from the lessons taught by the pork barrel scandal, saying that this controversy must lead the people to “greater action.” 

Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas said Filipinos must not let time erase the lessons taught by the controversy to avoid the recurrence of other scams in the future. 

“(The scam) continues to [baffle) and hurt us every time we discover something new about it,” Villegas said in an interview after a mass he presided for an organization’s 15th anniversary at the EDSA shrine. 

“The hurt that it causes us should [lead us] into action. We should not just allow the hurt to lessen with the passage of time,” he said. 

Some lawmakers are currently under fire for the alleged P10-billion scam that involves the diversion of their pork barrel, more commonly known as Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), to bogus non-governmental organizations (NGO) for ghost projects in the past 10 years. 

The Makati Regional Trial Court recently ordered the arrest of Janet Lim-Napoles, the alleged mastermind of the scam, for the alleged kidnapping of whistle-blower Benhur Luy late last year. She is currently being hunted by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI). 

“I think it is called for greater action. It cannot be repeated,” Villegas added. 

However, the prelate declined to comment when asked about the Catholic priests who have allegedly come to the defense of Napoles in disputing the kidnapping claim of whistleblower Benhur Luy. 

Politics of patronage 

Last July, Villegas urged lawmakers to focus on their duty to craft and legislate laws instead of meddling with the practice of the executive to build infrastructures and provide social services to the people. 

“Let the legislators legislate and the executives execute,” he said in a pastoral statement titled “Pork Barrel, Stewardship and the Poor: The Morality of the Pork Barrel.” 

The pastoral letter came in the wake of reports exposing the controversial 10-billion pork barrel scam. 

Villegas added that the pork barrel fund makes patronage politics reign in the Philippine government as it compromises the independence of separate entities with debt of gratitude. 

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

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

He urged government leaders to establish the distinct separation of the executive and legislative departments to avoid “conflict of interest, parochialism, and corruption.” 

“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,” Villegas said. 

Villegas also called on the Filipino faithful to live the virtue of integrity to avoid controversies that corrupt one’s emotional and moral richness. 

“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,” he said. (Jennifer M. Orillaza)

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