Wednesday, September 01, 2004

The embarrassment of pork
Exactly what is it that is so odious about the pork barrel that just about everybody, save the legislators themselves, seems to hold it in such low esteem ? One Batangas congressman I saw on ANC was quite at pains to point out that allegations of corruption are unfair because congressmen never get to actually touch pork barrel money; other agencies, according to him, handle the cash. Congressmen simply identify the worthwhile projects.

I don't know if that congressman was on medication--he seemed rather lucid--or was simply pulling the legs of the ANC viewers, whom he must have taken for simpletons. Corruption of the pork barrel money is a concrete social fact, so concrete in fact that Sen. Lacson in a privilege speech last year even gave a breakdown of hte various cuts for construction projects funded by the pork barrel:

2% COA as SOP
10% District Engineer/other officials of the DPWH
2% Barangay chairman
5-10% Governor/Mayor
20% Legislator who identifies the project

There is also this sad story of an educational materials supplier about how she was initiated to that delicate art of bribing people:

"When we were new, we were really serious with our presentation," recounts the supplier. "We stressed the benefits the congressman and his constituents could get from our product."

Unfortunately, the first congressman she presented her product to was not at all interested in the materials she was selling. Less than two minutes into her spiel, the legislator, who was then on his second term, interrupted her by asking "Magkano ba (How much)?" The supplier told him the price, but the congressman repeated his query. That was when it hit her, says the supplier; she was being asked how big a cut the lawmaker would receive.

"Sir, 30 percent ang binibigay naming rebate (we give a 30 percent rebate),"she remembers telling him shyly. She still wasn't used to bribing people, she says, especially legislators whom she had often seen on television. The supplier says she could not look at the congressman in the eye because she was so ashamed of herself; at the same time, she also felt embarrassed for the lawmaker. "Totoo pala ang tsismis (The rumors are true after all)," the supplier recalls thinking. "Tumatanggap pala sila (They do get cuts)."

That was four years ago. Today the supplier claims "pera-pera na ang usapan (money is the point of discussion)" whenever she tries to convince a legislator to buy her products. She says she has learned to accept this reality. "We show the materials sample and then it's straight to 'Sir, the discount is 40 percent.'" According to her, the kickback rates for educational supplies have now also increased to between 40 and 50 percent.

Many more distributors, I assume, must have had the same coming-of-age experience as our jaded educational materials supplier. (Whenever I find myself at the Batasan, I always cannot help but think, If the walls could speak to me, what secrets would I learn, what depravity could I be privy to ? )

No matter how hard we try to deny it, pork barrel money makes every legislator suspect -- including, unfortunately, the righteous ones. What is troubling is that our honorable legislators do not seem to mind the public’s suspicion.


R. O. said...

depressing! but at least graft and corruption is now so out in the open!!!

Anonymous said...

Really nice to be powerful, eh? ---Auberon