In the prelude to the Php 729 million fertilizer fund scam instigated by the Executive Branch in the previous administration and inflicted upon the public to purchase a presidential mandate for an incumbency that enjoyed none, a specific congressional district in the metropolis enjoyed one of the largest allocations from the Department of Agriculture – a cabinet level department that is part and parcel of the official presidential family.
The unholy link between the Executive and a local official is critical to patronage politics. Such fastidious family ties foster patronage. Ironically, the implicit signature must be explicitly evident. The direct and thickly drawn line to the benefactor agency was necessary where patronage and padrino politics is concerned. Nothing was left to chance. Nothing for a congressman to misinterpret. Any moron, even those we’ve elected to the House of Representatives, should be able to see the message. The allocation was not about fertilizers. The fertilizer fund was a doggy-biscuit.
Note the incongruence stretching the logic between a philanthropic public purpose and one patently personal. The controversial congressional recipient was not only distinctly urban, highly built-up and settled in the middle of a concrete jungle with not a single square inch planted to agriculture, but its congressional officialdom then belonged to one of the most loyal to the previous administration. There is that insidious and personal umbilical link. What figuratively rotted fertilizer there was in the district overflowed with attendant stench from the mutually parasitical political relationship with Malacanang.
The direct route from the hand-that-fed to bloated bellies fattened with pork was not only meant to clearly to identify the true albeit darker purposes of the allocation but more important, to openly brandish the presidential provenance of the stinking funds so that even the most intellectually-challenged local government official does not misinterpret the political gesture and catalyst.
Substantially akin to the corrupted Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) that drains astronomical amounts from the taxpayers and misappropriates billions into the whimsical political projects of legislators, the fertilizer fund had insidious objectives.
Far from providing incremental assistance for a municipality that extends beyond its internally generated funds and the internal revenue allotments granted it, the fertilizer fund was arbitrary and its grant as subjective as those applicable to the PDAF. Such subjectivity is critical. Even necessary. Where both the PDAF and the fertilizer fund are tools to purchase canine loyalty, blind and unquestioning allegiance from that huge kennel at the Batasan Hills, the funds are more an instrument of patronage politics than anything else.
As we attempt to pursue the righteous path given the crooked route that the previous administration had taken us through, such perspective attains ironic significance. In the light of recent scandals it is even more important given the bullheadedness that the Benigno Aquino III cabinet applies in perpetuating such patronage politics toolkits.
Graph the trail tracked and the peso amounts of the PDAF under whatever guise it wears. Substantially diminished during the administration of the popular Joseph Estrada, post-Estrada from Gloria Arroyo to Aquino the Heir, the pork barrel had increased exponentially, draining from other much needed productive expenditures.
Aquino, despite the spin and sound bytes, when analyzed as essentially a traditional dyed-in-the-wool politician, remains openly defiant of the public clamor to junk the PDAF. The pork barrel remains in Malacanang’s budget and in its other reincarnations, there increasing to purchase loyalties and future electoral derbies.
It is no wonder that the public is righteously incensed, some, partly at Aquino’s subalterns for stubbornly perpetuating the paradigm, and others, partly at the PDAF as a means to corrupt political loyalties. Sometimes public indignation is necessary where those cloistered in ivory towers are hard of hearing and are patently selective save for nearby whisperers and influence peddlers.
Indignation however cannot be allowed to degenerate into a frenzied bloodlust where reckless accusations come fast and furious, wantonly, indiscriminately shooting from the hip, absent of intelligent discernment and responsibility. Worse, it cannot be biased and selective. And even more badly, it cannot have an agenda of the mercenary or malicious kind.
Media, as it happens, can indeed haphazardly resort to blind and blanket impunity at times, conjuring from nothing, self-appointing, even deluding itself an entitled superpower fourth estate. Never mind that it is only the “scoop” and the raw and unprofessional one-upmanship that might be the singular catalyst behind a story. There are mediamen who are self-fashioned superheroes with super egos to match.
At least one media organization has gone to town with the PDAF issue. So far, sans hard evidence, verifiable documentation, incontrovertible proof or anything more substantial than a whistleblower’s handful of un-validated accounts, they have raked in circulation, sales and profits.
Scandals sell. When these are accompanied by voyeuristic videos of kitschy extravagance, the latter meant to incite and anger more than anything else, blood is drawn and bloodlust catalyzes profits.
Admittedly, producing such evidence is not within the responsibility of media. What is, however, is the basic diligence required before the written word is published; the responsibility to get all sides and the exercise of a reasonable amount of evenhandedness and fairplay of a media professional. When names and reputations are on the line, the least courtesy in a civilized society is proper verification.
Unfortunately, media can be terribly uncivilized. Note the following instances surrounding the PDAF frenzy and see where bloodlust is instigated beyond the primary issues.
In an obvious attempt to draw-in solons from the previous administration into the current PDAF frenzy, perhaps to link partisanship to the current scandal or in an attempt to add a cabinet-level department into the boiling brew, a few paragraphs in a 2011 Commission on Audit (COA) report on the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) were recklessly cited to found a banner headline.
The headlines screamed of 700 computers missing. It likewise blared that several congressmen were implicated because these computers were supposed to have been funded by their PDAF. Strangely, the initial report said that the covered period by audit was the calendar year (CY) 2011. It was not coincidental that the news broke as echoes of the larger Php 10 billion PDAF scandal involving few and select solons still reverberated. News reports have limited shelf lives and it was necessary to keep the issue from going stale by expanding it to include others and cover variations of a discretionary fund.
To the discerning immediate anomalies from the initial reports are evident.
One, of the congressmen listed at least one was no longer in the government service by 2011. Either the report covered previous periods or the news reporting was sloppy, reckless and unverified. If it was the former, then the reporter could easily have carefully read the exact verbiage of the COA report. If it was the latter then what is media’s excuse for sloppy reportage?
Had the reporter done his basic homework he would have realized that a 2011 report cannot possibly cover a 2011 event. More than that, the reporter would have realized that the report did not mention “missing 700 computers” at all. That was his spin. What the report stated was that the distribution and receipt of these had inadequate documentation and paperwork emanating from the DOTC end. That is not the same as “missing 700 computers”.
A third aspect is the fact that the inadequacies were the responsibility of the DOTC and not of the congressmen. In the aftermath, not a few of those solons in the report stated quite emphatically, that they had receipts that, indeed, the so-called “missing” computers had in fact been received. If the DOTC did not have adequate documentation, then the solons did. That the report zeroed in on the solons and thus conjured political ghosts is suspect and specters of an agenda start to appear when reporters resort to such innuendo.
A comprehensive audit involves physical inventories and not simply random checks. It also involves documentation from various entities and not simply from one department. It involves comprehensive bean-counting. A reporter is not expected to be as thorough. But he is expected to be fair. He is also expected to write sans an agenda.
Indeed, the PDAF issue is as ugly as it can get. It riles. It incites, infuriates and it angers. That is more the reason that we should be applying intelligent discernment. We should be angry and we should apply righteous indignation. But at the same time, we should be careful that we do not fall prey to astute and insidious political gamesmanship.
The information and views set out in this post are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of Blog Watch. Responsibility for the information and views expressed here lies entirely with the author(s).