Straight News, Smart Views|Friday, March 23, 2018

Reality bites 

Conrado De Quiros


It was nowhere as big as the rally on National Heroes’ Day at the Luneta, but it was significant nonetheless. Not least because the rally against pork in Ayala last Friday was the fifth in a series of such actions, showing at least that the outrage against pork, or corruption, or plunder, or pillage,  pandarambong, wasn’t just one loud and sudden explosion that died as fast as it arose. Or, it wasn’t just  ningas cogon, brittle stalks bursting into fire but the prairie itself taking fire. Or on the verge of it.

But it was also significant in that it was held in the heart of Edsa country, the one place that once saw yellow confetti raining down from all corners of its tall buildings on the throng of marchers below bellowing  tama  na,  sobra  na. Except that confetti did not rain down on last Friday’s marchers, except that the businessmen did not join the gaggle below.

Which was a good reminder of what the business community is. Before the businessmen threw confetti at Cory’s marchers, they threw garlands at Marcos’ feet. They were happy enough at his iniquity so long as it went their way, and became unhappy only when it went the opposite way. Truly, all it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.

Of course the rally last Friday was not against P-Noy, however he got his share of rotten tomatoes thrown at him. The rally wasn’t about regime change, the rally wasn’t about overthrowing government. Juana Change, alias Mae Paner, a fixture of the protest against pork who has been there in the various rallies, probably spoke for the bulk of the protesters when she said: “I am not calling for the ouster or resignation of P-Noy. What I want is for him to listen. That’s all we want, for him to listen to the people so that genuine change can happen. We want him to scrap all pork.”

It was  tama  na,  sobra  na, but it wasn’t  palitan  na. Except for pork. That was what the marchers wanted changed, that was what the marchers wanted stopped. I cannot sufficiently belabor the importance of this, I cannot sufficiently belabor my appreciation of this. At the very least, that is so because an awakened, vigilant and, yes, angry people is a joy to behold. The power, the vitality, of a democracy does not rest on a strong state—or “strong republic,” as the former nonpresident liked to put it—it rests on a strong people. A people who will no longer abide iniquity, who will no longer look at perfidy with cynical eyes, a people who will no longer agree to “move on” offer the only real hope for real change.

At the very most, this protest, the product of spontaneous combustion, is about corruption. It has never happened before, this depth of anger at the treasury being ransacked in this way. In the past, that anger has always been accompanied by a disgust at a despot, whose culture of impunity—as in Marcos’ and Arroyo’s time—made possible the wanton thievery. This is the first time we’re seeing a scale of anger that is directed specifically at corruption. More than just government’s vow of fighting corruption, or carving a daang  matuwid  out of the wilderness, that’s what gives me to hope corruption can truly be pushed back in this country.

Pork is the way the public has glimpsed that corruption. Pork is the way the public has grasped that corruption. It is by no means a distorted or misdirected perception. It’s not just the exposure of the Napoles scam that has made pork untenable, that has made the P-Noy government’s defense of it untenable. It is as well—a byproduct of that exposure, with senators like Jinggoy Estrada fighting for their lives after being made to answer for the intolerable profligacy—the exposure of the Disbursement Acceleration Program, a lump sum allocation given to senators. In one case simply because they voted for the conviction of Renato Corona. Whether by conviction or persuasion doesn’t really matter. That’s pork, any way you slice the pre-Christmas ham.

That alone pulls the rug from under government’s proposition to institute safeguards in the use of pork, in whatever guise it now appears. To begin with, the temptation will always be there to use it for expedient and not very principled ends, for pragmatic and not very ethical purposes. The use of the DAP to, well, accelerate the decisions of the senators in Corona’s impeachment shows just how powerful that temptation is. And how true Oscar Wilde’s witticism is, that the best way to deal with temptation is to yield to it.

More than that, you do not abolish pork, you rely only on safeguards, such as they can really be implemented, to moderate the greed, and it won’t just apply to P-Noy, it will apply to all those who will come after him. You do not have to look far to see the hell that can happen with a devilish leader having that kind of power. Gloria used pork in ways that allowed her not just to obliterate the divisions between the three branches of government but to rule the country for close to 10 years without ever having been voted president.

The notion that we cannot survive without pork, the notion that it’s what gives fairly instant or remedial nourishment to the specific localities that need them, is vapid. The refutation of it isn’t just theoretical, it’s historical. Joker Arroyo and Ping Lacson have shown so. Neither has accepted his pork, relying instead on general appropriations, which is perfectly transparent, to request for funding of very specific projects like roads and schoolhouses. Of course there are other ways to get rich outside of pork, but that’s another story. The point is, you don’t really need the pork at all, there are other and better ways to meet local needs.

There at least, the marchers have every right to shout “Palitan na.”

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