Saturday, January 3, 2015

Political Corruption, Business and Reform (Part II)

By Cristian Ramirez
University of Mindanao


The Greek philosopher Thales is remembered for his cosmology, in which water forms the basic material principle of an orderly universe. Over the course of time, it was Anaximenes who said that the essential element for the universe is air. Many other pre-Socratics declare the inconsistencies of these thinkers and created their own. Until such time that Empedocles proclaims that the universe is made up of four fundamental elements namely, the earth, air, fire and water.  Thus far the discovery of atoms by Democritus and Leucippus led to the new conception of the origin of universe. Now we rely heavily on what is said by the famous thinkers about the world. When Newton said that in every action, there is always an equal but opposite reaction, we tend to wait for a reaction as a consequence to the action we’ve done prior. When Pascal said that love has its own reasons in which reason itself does not understand, well, we don’t try to understand love, we just feel it as we cannot know what reasons it has to take. 

And when P-noy (Pres. Aquino) said that ‘our country has zero remaining balance,’ the majority of the Filipino people would just sit at their own safety and mutter, “oh how pity our destiny is”. The point is that all characters involved in these examples have given their full authority to investigate the world and thus make these to be scientifically approved or if not, our common-sense perspective even tells us that what they say has somehow a trace of truth. They gave us their perception about the world and thus shape our knowledge. But the last example is an exception. When P-noy says that we have the diminishing value of peso and that we lose our economy, most of us bring ourselves to a safe zone where our awareness to such case is highly neglected. I mean we see riots and rallies over television, but they just constitute little fragments of the Filipino people (I don’t intend however to make ourselves rally over the streets). The majority of us blame these leaders for bringing us down, but what do we do when we see them doing the wrong thing? We go with them; we do the same. That is the reason why there is a never-ending quest for development.

Michel Foucault is quite a reformist. He critically sees the development of science in a different perspective. The body, as Foucault calls it, is an ‘automaton’. Being docile, it is subject to repression. The will or man’s rationality can never be taken hold of that is why it is the body that is subjugated and controlled. The body has been the target of penal repression during olden times. But because of the advent of humanization, punishment that is directed to the body disappeared. Humanists posit that we should do away from brutal and vulgar punishment. With the ‘modern rituals’, torture becomes no longer a public spectacle. Also, the disappearance of pain was strongly imposed. Foucault believes that in order to transform the condemned, it must be the soul that must be subjugated. This translates into the very idea of reform. The ‘prison system’ was invented in order to address this concern. But does the state have the legitimacy with regards to dominion and power? Why does the state impose punishment? The state, as the governing body, puts forward the welfare of its citizens. Policies are therefore imposed so that people will submit to authority. And if individuals break the rules, he is then entitled to a certain legal punishment. Punishment, hence, is used in order to make manifest the whole concept of power.

Now, what is the implication of this? The soul is said to be the prison of the body. As it makes possible the existence of the body, it becomes the very factor by which power manifests itself. The basis of knowledge is ‘power relation’. As Foucault claims, epistemology is latent in the society that we have. Knowledge and power directly imply each other. It is power which produces knowledge. There is no power without a correlative constitution of a field of knowledge; nor any knowledge that is not constitutive of power. There is therefore a ‘power-knowledge’ relation. Foucault describes knowledge as being a conjunction of power relations and information-seeking. He states, “It is not possible for power to be exercised without knowledge, it is impossible for knowledge not to engender power” (Foucault 1980, 52).

The conventional understanding of knowledge, and particularly scientific knowledge, is that it is shaped by a series of isolated creative geniuses, for example, Newton and Pascal. They are characterized as exceptional people who were able to transcend the conventional ideas of their period and who were able to formulate completely new ideas and theoretical perspectives. Same with corruption, our knowledge of it is what the situation tells us to be as it is. Our knowledge of political corruption is not what the original definition of it signifies. Political corruption means an abuse of public power for private benefit but the way the status quo reacts to it is quite the opposite. Our supposedly reaction to this act is negative but we become blissful the moment the concept of corruption is applied to us. Instead of limiting the definition of corruption to ‘private benefits’, I guess, the private that is already meant here is a ‘public-private’, that is, almost all of us take advantage of things surrounding us by means of corruption.

“Thus, where there are imbalances of power relations between groups of people or between institutions/states, there will be a production of knowledge” (Mills 2003, 69). While there is an overwhelming influence of the wealthy or the authority in our society, then our society is in turn shaped by the very prominence of these people. In the case of election for public office for example, there are of course wealthy politicians who give money or whatever ‘gifts’ it is to the people in return for their support to that certain politician. Then the knowledge that will be produced in our consciousness is that these rich individuals can only run for office because in reality, they are the ones who have the sole capability to bribe, to give gifts to the people. That would then be the measure of these affluent individuals for winning the election.

Then why are all of us accountable to political corruption? Why not the politicians only? Foucault characterizes power/knowledge as an abstract force which determines what will be known, rather than assuming that individual thinkers develop ideas and knowledge. Our generation of knowledge according to Foucault has been based to the authority because for him, the subject who knows, the objects to be known and the modalities of knowledge must be regarded as so many effects of [the] fundamental implication of power-knowledge and their historical transformations. In short it is not the activity of the subject of knowledge that produces a corpus of knowledge useful or resistant to power, but power-knowledge, the processes and struggle that traverse it, and of which it is made up, that determines the form and possible domains of knowledge. (Foucault 1991, 27–28)

Corruption becomes existent because of the power relation that occurs between the politician and the civilian or the agent and the private citizen.

Foucault contends that rather than knowledge being a pure search after ‘truth’, in fact, power functions in that processing of information which results in something being labeled as a ‘fact’. For something to be considered to be a fact, it must be subjected to a thorough process of ratification by those in positions of authority. Such is the case for political corruption where we do not see the clear picture that it implies a long term negative effect to the economic progress of the society. We only see the positive consequence that comes out of it.

Political corruption has become beneficial because of the way we all react to it positively. Our acceptability to corruption is what makes it normative. The politicians shape our conception of corruption. They give us money, and then we become happy. But the thing is when we try to deliberate the long term effect that it brings to us, sure enough that it collapses the value of perseverance and willful determination in our society. It deteriorates the very essence of political corruption as totally defined towards positivity, thus making political corruption beneficial.


By Ryan Maboloc
Ateneo de Davao University

With estimates running as high as 100,000,000 million pesos, the December 30, 2014, ‘royal wedding’ between Marian Rivera and Dingdong Dantes may be considered as the most excessive or lavish in Philippine history, or if one is more circumspect, the most morally insensitive. Let me explain why:

1. A typhoon, which reportedly killed 51 people, was ravaging the country on that day. The President opted to attend the wedding, and chose to waste a couple of hours therein, instead of giving highly important leadership to those who have been put in charge in coordinating efforts to mitigate the typhoon’s impact. Many politicians are mostly absent when calamities strike, preferring to appear in photo-ops when relief goods are distributed, but as of late, this is the grandest abuse committed by the highest office of the land. Mr. Dantes, a commissioner at the irrelevant National Youth Commission, might want to check how difficult life has been and will always be for the country’s majority youth population, thousands of whom work under inhuman conditions, receiving measly pay from the rich who continue to exploit the nation’s wealth. Indeed, this does not only speak of the travesty that is Philippine socio-political life, but it also pushes forward an ill-timed, self-serving, evil interest on the part of Mr. Dantes, and that is, finding himself a seat in the Senate one day.

2. The most recent surveys indicate that the majority of the country’s population still rate themselves as poor, or earning below the poverty threshold, with double digit figures for those who say that they are hungry, if not starving, and so a cake for the wedding which reports say costs 12,000,000 million pesos, is indeed blatantly immoral. Not contented with all his good looks, the groom chose to ride a brand new Ducati motorcycle, as if eight bridal showers are not enough to brandish arrogance and a derelict conscience. A gown, imported from Dubai, and made to the tune of two million, will certainly make a million would-be brides insecure. Yet, purity can never be bought, and one sick infant or two might have lived than died on that day if not for a malignant and misplaced notion of a ‘life-long dream’.

3. The wedding is the most lucid manifestation of gross injustice in the country. A giant network, most powerful indeed in terms of forming the wrong mentality of people, made the most by branding the ceremony as ‘royal’, sans any true royalty, of course. In a country not so known for the mental prowess or if not, the cunning talents of its leaders, one blog says that it was actually the wedding between two ‘not-so’ intellectually illustrious graduates of the country’s top two private higher education institutions, Ateneo and La Salle. No further comment, except that it matters to say that this country has had too many experts, yet, it continues to suffer from socio-political decay.

4. Eight bishops and seven priests, and countless more useless acolytes, bridesmaids, groom’s men and many a set of people involved in the unholy, commercialized ritual, characterize the kind of "split-level Christianity" that defines the faith. Now, poor people feel all the more poorer, not because they cannot afford any grandiose feast, but for fear that a wedding officiated or whatever you call it by so many men of God, is indeed one that is fit only for royalties, not for mere mortals like us. Yes, some are favored by the gods, or maybe just plain lucky and we, the Filipino people, are just stupid or otherwise. Still, it breeds unfathomable unreasonableness if not outright insanity why too many from the Catholic Church allowed themselves to become part of this inane brainlessness, unmistakably callous, and obvious vacuity.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Pork barrel: definition, history, influence and implication

By Dr. Adrian M. Tamayo
University of Mindanao

Pork barrel defined

Pork barrel has its origin in the American history. Prior to the civil war, the slaves in the Southern part of America were traditionally provided salted pork as a gift to enjoy on holiday. The slaves would run into frantic for the barrel . Kawanaka cited Evans that the onrush of the legislators to get a subsidy was evocative of the stampede of the slave of the pre American Civil war. Pork barrel formally defined as the appropriations of public funds for projects that do not serve the interests of any large portion of the country’s citizenry but are nevertheless vigorous promoted by a small group of legislators because they will pump outside taxpayers’ money and resources into the local districts these legislators represent ; an effective legislation and use of pork barrel results into the legislator being re-elected. As defined by a Civil Society group in the Philippines, PDAF Watch, “pork barrel funds are those allocated to politicians such as congresspersons and senators, to be used, based on their decision, to fund programs or projects in their districts ”.

Keeping the pork thin or thick?

In a position paper of Nograles and Lagman to decry the scrapping of PDAF , it was brought into the fore the origin of the pork barrel and how was it used in the Philippine fiscal activity. It described the American colonial accent with the keeping of central leadership of the ruling party with the pork barrel as spoiling incentives for the legislators. Towing the line would mean an increased access to the fund without contest of use or misuse during the martial law era. This offensive taking of the government fund by the legislators resulted into a mechanism after the famous EDSA of the 8th Congress that will ensure fund will make the “unequal equal” by setting up parameters, equal apportionments, built-in accountability and transparency (Nograles and Lagman). However, the current system provided a system where funds are included in the general appropriations act (GAA) but as an independent item without mention of definite project. Also, the GAA includes items where each legislator is given a definite monetary value which is reflective of the projects that can be made out from the amount. Kawanaka described the system vividly in lieu of the appropriation and the legislators’ control of the fund as:

“….legislators have been given items, namely the Priority Development Fund Assistance Program (PDAF) and the budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways. While an appropriation act is prepared in congress, no specific projects need be listed, since these lump – sum allocations. A legislator is given a free-hand to identify her pet projects, programs within budget, and requests the concerned departments to implement them, after a general appropriation act has been promulgated”.

The above statement signifies the space accorded to the legislator to determine the socially acceptable project in order to indicate “bringing the pork” to the level of the constituents as demands are effectively meet by the legislators. Such provision of the public good will be in competition with the executive branch with its implementing agency working along the line of a systematic and sustainable development.

As it was noxiously termed, pork barrel was changed into an innocuous Countrywide Development Fund in 1990 where which the intention is to fast-track development. However, it evolved itself in 2000 into an even milder which up to present holds it name, the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) .

The Philippine Constitution describes the separation of the powers between the Legislative and the Executive departments with the former having the “power of the purse” and appropriation while the latter has the power to implement or veto the Congress’ resolution. With the Executive department directly engaged in the operation of the government being apprised by the bureaucratic office of every agency down –the-line – up, the Executive holds a better vantage than the Legislative department on the priority needs of the whole nation, thus information of the important projects, programs which can significantly re-structure the economic status of the poorest of the poor. This will therefore place the Legislative department in a comparable insufficient situation for project or program implementation. But with the intention of the separation of powers, the check-and-balance mechanism will indicate the need for the later to determine the priority needs of the whole nation thus allocation of fund, the monitoring and monitoring of the same being the representative of the general public.

Such mechanism will ensure that the resource allocation is a constitutional public spending and ‘taking out of the purse’ mean thickening of the pork of the legislators.

Types of Pork barrel

Kawanaka (2007) described two types of pork barrel. The first type refers to the pork-barrel that focuses on the discretion of the national leaders. This emphasizes the “tow the line” principle as it highlights the control of the leader over the members of the legislative. The second looks at the characteristics of the legislators. This means that the legislators’ stay in congress, position in the legislative branch, and expertise are factors that settle distribution of the fund.

The first type tells that the legislators who are members of the ruling party are given share of the government share in abundance as a mode of tapping the shoulder for supporting the priority programs, initiatives and development projects of the Executive department. The second type will stress the discriminating aspect of seniority, positions in the committee to distribute the fund. The Speaker of the House, the House leaders will have a greater piece of the pork.

The Pork barrel and its many influences

In Philippine politics, the manifest of legislated pork barrel includes construction of waiting shed, single school room construction/re-painting of schoolrooms , road pavement, local health spending, training centers, purchase of chairs,tables, computers, scholarships, construction of overpass, livelihood programs and many other geographic-specific projects which would benefit a constituency – residents of the political districts.

Of equally interesting case is the pork barrel’s legislation practices of the senators who are elected nationally. In order to avail of the rent-seeking benefits, these politicians will spend on a specifically –defined geographic district that can assure of high voter’s turn-out. Normally, these are political districts found in highly – urbanized cities/provinces with dense population catering into immediate remedies done through legislative spending. Pork – barrel is the misuse of the people’s money for the purpose of gaining political advantage over a location-oriented accruing of benefits using a national budget.

The pork – barrel legislation will cut expected efficiency of public finance. Rossi and Inman (1998) described pork barrel as having a ‘distributive’ nature of public goods citing Lowi with benefits concentrated within an identifiable constituent group using general taxation of government borrowing . This would mean, the whole society will pay for the project which full benefit accruing to a small portion of the public. Allowing the legislators to fund the local projects using a nationally – legislated resource using the national governments revenue will further thin out the slices of the pie thus pressing the depressing conditions of the not politically aligned constituency even more poor.

The Rossi and Inman paper theorized that if the demands of the constituents were echoed by the elected representatives, and that, it leaves no spillover effects to non-constituents will result into inefficiency of public spending on the distributive goods, with the elected officials crying for an increased budget for the constituency’s needs while the constituents share of paying in the form of tax declines. This is attributable to the non-zero elasticity of demand. This will lead into “Harberger triangle ” which is an indication of the problematic political economy, and a consequent reduction in the benefit of the public spending.

The planned expenditure of the government will be hampered as a result of the PDAF as the government’s limited resources were used to fund locally-beneficial programs, leaving national agencies deficit of budget of its carefully planned spending using the most appropriate formula to address systematic perils of the society like hunger, criminality and the chronic poverty and hunger. Also, it is hard to dissociate the impressions of corruption in the dealings of infrastructure projects which leads into usurping the DPWH with its notorious tag as the most corrupt agency, scholarship programs with DEPED officials’ dirty hands and many other agencies. Proven or not, the impressions of the public remained glaringly suspicious.

As earlier stated, the fund is a lump-sum allocation of the appropriations act, but with the full discretion of the legislator on the amount, is an inviting scene for corruption. Parreno(1998) described in a report for the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism on the rates that a Congressman will be receiving as a cuts, kickbacks, commissions, rebates and discounts are robbery done on the very poor. The report mentioned that the contractors have to provide 30-50% discount or rebates to a legislator for granting the contract. This will lead into reducing by 20% the cement on a road project making it substandard – the poor thus paying the high cost.

On the one hand, the PDAF is a representation of an effective leadership of a people’s representative. If the districts’ needs for bridges, roads, bridges are meet due to the PDAF or initiative of the Congressman. If the social benefit is higher on the benefit of congressional project such as providing scholarship to students for training or formal education belonging to a poor family but wanted to learn, the social and personal benefit will be higher than the social cost as these individuals will contribute productively in the society – thus, reducing the risk of potential criminals and society’s menace.

Also, the PDAF brings the government into the small units in the community who were away from the short but caring arms of the State. The PDAF supports the small important projects that will directly enjoyed by the district constituents hence, providing an opportunity for democratic and productive practices towards economic development.

In Conclusion

The Pork barrel, PDAF or CDF in any of its moniker has its Janus face indicating its sullen past and its likely future.

1. It had perennially showed that it will undermine the whole framework of the organization, fund and budget, and operation in favor to a small and geographically determined beneficiary.
2. When the benefit is large and the obligation of the constituents is small, there is the tendency to demand for an increasing pork value. Pork barrel promotes inefficiency of public spending resulting to a loss in the welfare of the greater number of people, that is the marginal national benefit (benefit of carrying the national plan) against marginal local benefit (political district project).
3. Looking at pork barrel as a reward for support of the ruling party’s priority agenda, of the attribute of the legislator may result to corrupt the officials of its slightest padding of budget into the most horrendous misuse of public funds.
4. PDAF projects effectively and efficiently addresses the needs of the “political constituents” as opposed to the national agenda.
5. The misuse of the fund will be reduced when the mechanism of transparency and accountability will be put in place and appropriately implemented.
6. Pork barrel remained an American model which cannot be transplanted into the political system of the Philippines as this will only cause the “on-rush” of the politicians to get a share of the pork leaving the poor Juan crumbs for his family, and the generations to come beholden to the vicious cycle of poor getting poorer and the politicians getting richer.