By BENJIE OLIVEROS
Two issues present major challenges to the Aquino administration, which is now on the second half of its term. The first issue involves 97 mayors, five senators and 23 representatives of the Lower House, as of the last count. The P10 billion ($232 million) pork barrel scam could have provided the Aquino administration with the opportunity to show that it is serious in its “daang matuwid” (righteous path) campaign. An issue of this magnitude – involving so many government officials – amid the worsening poverty could have moved the Aquino administration into undertaking drastic measures such as abolishing the pork barrel and running after not only the conduit or operator, Janet Lim-Napoles, but also all current government officials involved.
President Benigno Aquino III, in his past state of the nation addresses since he took over the reins of government, has appeared determined in running after those from the previous administration who were involved in graft and corruption cases. However, the true test of his determination to pursue a “righteous path” is in not only making sure that officials of the previous administration who were involved in plundering the nation’s coffers land in jail – a feat which his administration has not yet accomplished – but in running after officials of the current administration who commits the same. Otherwise, his talk about the “transformation” that is happening within his administration would be pointless.
The money involved in the current pork barrel scam P10 billion ($232 million) might be peanuts compared to the amounts the previous Arroyo administration plundered, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are other operators out there. It is just Napoles who got caught. A scam involving so many government officials – whether their signatures were faked or not as claimed by those who have already been named – could not have been masterminded by an outsider such as Napoles. An operation of this magnitude involves no less than government officials from both the executive and Congress.
But instead of undertaking drastic measures, the Aquino administration even defended the inclusion of pork barrel funds in the proposed 2014 budget. To add insult to injury, the Aquino administration even increased it. This move of the Aquino administration defies the logic of the so-called “righteous path.” Even Malacañang, in defending the pork barrel, admits to it being a tool for political patronage. So how could political patronage be a part of “good governance”? Political patronage breeds corruption and results in the disempowerment of people.
As for running after officials involved, both from the executive and legislative, that remains to be seen how hard the administration would pursue the case and who would be targeted. If, as the opposition claims, no one from the ranks of the ruling coalition would be charged, then it is all a game of politics.
The second issue involves the ongoing negotiations for the increase in “rotational presence” of US troops. It is very clear from the pronouncements of US officials that it is not taking sides in the competing claims between the Philippines, Japan, Vietnam, China, among others over the Spratly islands and the Panatag shoal.
It is also very clear that the US is seeking to reinforce its deployments in the Asia Pacific region to pursue its own interests. And it is not to the interest of the US to engage in a conflict with its biggest debtor nation, the destination of choice of US companies that want to bring down the labor costs in its factories, as well as US companies that subcontract its production such as Apple, and one of the biggest markets in the world: China.
So in begging the US to increase its “rotational presence” in the country, the Aquino administration is practically offering the US a free ride, on the illusion that it would side with the country in the event that the border conflict escalates into armed clashes. In doing so, the Aquino administration is handing to the US all remaining vestiges of sovereignty left in the country. The Aquino administration should realize that in offering the whole country to become a playground of US troops, it is not preventing China from knocking on our doors, but it is allowing the US to continue riding on our back. So far what the increased frequency of joint US-RP military exercises has done is to provoke China, make the country a target of attacks from the enemies of the US, and make the country more dependent and subservient to the US.