Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Senator PanfiloLacson morphs from a highly controversial cop in past decades to today's highly effective conscience of Congress especially on embedded porks in the budget. 

That Senator Panfilo Lacson has emerged as effective conscience of the Senate is quite interesting, considering his colorful career as controversial cop in past decades.

Lacson has been scrutinizing, line by line  the proposed P3.9 trillion draft-spending bill f government for 2019, now being finalized by the Senate conference comitttee headed by Sen. Loren Legarda. Because of his studiousness in questioning budget data he considers  "suspicious pork" (officially referred to as "Priority Development Assistance Fund"), Lacson is given by media all the attention he needs nowadays.


Lacson's assiduousness in tracking down pork insertions has kept his fellow senators not only on their toes, but also quite irritated with him. In fact Senate President Vicente Sotto III threatens to pull out the current budget bill, so that prospects of a "reenacted budget" looms---something undesirable in an election year. Obviously it is oblique criticism of Lacson's incessant sleuthing about the PDAF, which was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2013 but which constantly morphs in different forms in Congress.

Just this morning (Friday, Feb. 01, 2019), the Inquirer bannered Lacson's revelation that each House member will get P100 M, as embedded in the National Expenditure Program prepared by the executive department, to which, Lacson alleged, Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo added P60 million more for each of her House colleagues.


Lacson has been scrutinizing the 2019 budget especially for gargantuan public works projects, which are the traditional milking cows of both houses of Congress.

Lately he has been targeting a favorite source of pork funds over various administrations---the multi-billion funds for dredging and flood control projects. As a pundit remarked, it's easy to finagle funds for these projects as they are literally washed away---no trace whatsoever.


Recently Lacson trained his guns on unfinished road projects in various areas, notably in Batangas and Bicol. It turned out that many big-ticket highway projects remain unfinished because of one pathetic and lamentable reason: some simple folks who own small land parcels that have been expropriated by DPWH to make way for these grand highways HAVE NOT BEEN PAID FOR THEIR SMALL PARCELS---despite the huge amounts programmed for the "Build, Build Build" road projects of the Duterte administration.

What's even more disturbing is that while construction of many highways remains unfinished because of this expropriation problem, in many cases FUNDS HAVE ALREADY BEEN PAID TO CONTRACTORS, WHO, IN TURN, HAVE ALREADY GIVEN COMMISSIONS TO POLITICIANS IN THOSE TERRITORIES WHERE HIGHWAY CONSTRUCTION HAS STALLED.

The Inquirer posed photos recently of a number of cases where highways lead to nowhere---because the contractors failed to pay the humble owners of tiny parcels of the huge land appropriated for the highway!


 In a recent interview, Sen. Lacson was asked if the senators' "individual amendments," amounting to P23 billion in the 2019 spending bill, could be described as "pork." He was quoted as asserting, "That is a very fair statement. If something was allowed, then there was horse-trading. That's unfortunate in our budgeting process."

Lacson also stressed that such revelations deprive the Senate of any moral ascendancy over the House of Representatives. His statement tallies with House Appropriations chair Rolando Andaya Jr.'s assertion in a recent Inquirer banner story that lump-sum amendments introduced by the Senate exceeded P190 billion, whereas the House proposal involved only P51 billion----A HUGE DISCREPANCY IN PORK BARREL PROJECT PROPOSALS. .

What;s interesting is that Public Works Secretary Mark Villar had admitted that the additional P75 billion in the DPWH budget that Lacson "stumbled upon" was NOT PART OF THE DPWH'S REQUEST. If Villar didn't ask for that additional P75B, who did?  A clear whodunit case!


Banner stories about Lacson's assertions of heavy pork embedded in the 2019 spending bill constitute only part of the evidence of his amazing transformation from his earlier years---when he was linked to various controversies---to his current role as crusader vs. pork. One such controversy involved his alleged master-minding of the infamous "Kuratong Baleleng" gang, that eventually led to his flight from the country  and his self-exile for 15 months.

 Among the controversies Lacson was linked to as chief of the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force (PAOCTF) was the disappearance of publicist Salvador "Buddy" Dacer and his driver Emmanuel Corbito in 2009. Upon Lacson's return from his self-imposed flight abroad, however, the Court of Appeals in February 2011 withdrew the murder charges against him as filed by Mancao, ruling the latter a non-credible witness.


Since his election to the Senate in 2001 under the LDP affiliated with President Estrada, Lacson has been exposing the evils of the pork barrel system and calling for its abolition. But pork appears to be too deeply imbedded into the body politic that it would take more than his exposes to surgically excise it.

 Thus, the recent admission of DPWH Secretary Mark Villar that the additional P75 billion in his department's budget this year WAS NOT PART OF THE DPWH'S  REQUEST only accentuates the fact that in this election year, congressional  politicians have to get their generous share of the embedded pork to fund their campaigns. It is a fact, indeed, that local elections involving representatives and local offices oftentimes prove far more expensive than national elections, such as for senator. The fight is far more intensive at the local level---thus, more funds needed.


Bureaucratic corruption has become so ingrained int our political system,  but it's brought to newer heights during elections, when voters expect to get grease money in exchange for their votes. Selling votes during election time is doubtless the citizens' revenge oftentimes on their politicos' negligence of their welfare.

 Until such time when the broad masses are rescued from grinding poverty and their educational level is raised by dint of duly compensated hard work---as well as when a more compassionate, caring and honest government emerges---many citizens' votes will tragically remain for sale to the highest bidder. The elected officials, with some exceptions, will then seek to recoup their "losses" through corrupt practices such as pushing substandard public works projects with fat kickbacks---and cementing their dynasties with these funds. A vicious cycle indeed.

Let's pray and work for better political times.

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