|The front page of Inquirer News heralding the Supreme Court decision declaring the pork barrel unconstitutional.|
That’s how one political analyst depicted the devastation that the recent unanimous Supreme Court (SC) decision wrought upon our political landscape.
“In a landmark decision that could spell the end of political patronage, the Supreme Court on Tuesday declared unconstitutional past and present congressional pork barrel laws as it ordered the criminal prosecution of individuals who had benefited from the schemes over the past two decades.” (Source: Inquirer News)
|The Supreme Court of the Philippines. Image source: The Nutbox|
In a nutshell, the SC upheld the principle of separation of powers, that is, the legislative crafts laws, the executive implements those laws and the judiciary interprets the laws. With the pork barrel system, the legislative is doing the work of the executive. (I will leave the discussion of the salient points of that game changing decision to law experts such as constitutionalist Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas S. J. Read his “SC decision restores normalconstitutional order”)
|The Supreme Court of the Philippines. Image source: The Observers|
Indeed, the SC decision dealt a lethal blow to political patronage.
But, to me, it’s not the killing blow.
The decision pointed out the need for change. But it can’t effect change. It’s a good start, no doubt. But we need to do a follow through.
|Senate and House of Representatives together in the State of the Nation address of the president. Image source: Social / -Isms|
As the Inquirer pointed out, the pork barrel system is a fruit of “political patronage.” People approach politicians for all sorts of help (read: dole out) from jeepney fares to hospital assistance. Most politicians could not and would not say “no” to those requests for fear of losing votes. (I said “most” because I personally know a few politicians who, believe it or not, are really there to help without anything in return.)
Now, in view of this SC decision, these politicians “fear” its negative effect on their poor constituents such as the sick and the scholars. According to Marikina Congressman Miro Quimbo, “They are unfortunately the innocent victims of the Napoles scam… It is high time too that congress now begins to craft a specific line item budgeting process that will ensure the needs of the indigent constituents in the different districts that have been the main beneficiaries of the PDAF [Priority Development Assistance Fund], at least in my district.” (Source: Rappler)
But, as Rappler noted, “Despite lawmakers’ statements expressing concern about students and patients, the budget that the House passed showed a different priority. The congressmen chose to realign their PDAF to 6 line agencies, with the least amount given to the education and health departments.” (Ibid) Obviously, the PDAF is not just helping their reelection. It’s also a big source of corruption.
|Image source: Inquirer News|
Thus, though I believe it was a landmark decision, we need to strike while the SC decision on PDAF iron is hot.
We need to be more vigilant. I believe these corrupt lawmakers will try to find a loophole to go around this decision. Though the executive can no longer dangle pork to curry their favors, these lawmakers can still wheel and deal before they would approve the budget. We need to make sure they will never ever have another slice of pork.
And to really make sure there would be no pigs to start with, we have to dismantle the piggery. What I mean is that we need to deal with this political patronage for good. We need to change this culture of dole outs. In an ideal (utopian?) world, if the budget is properly allocated, health services and education are affordable, if not, free. People need to see the value of hard work and not put their hope on the crumbs from the politicians’ tables. And we have to guard how the government funds will be spent.
The solution is not merely a change of laws but a change of heart.
As I’ve said, the SC decision is a great start. But it’s just a start. We need to stay the course and finish the race.