The Pork Ball From Different Angles

I have been fortunate enough to have been invited to the Rotary Club of Manila by its President Rudy Bediones at the Manila Polo Club, August 29, 2013. The Rotary Club of Manila (RCM) has a long tradition of inviting excellent speakers, many of which come from their esteemed membership. The motive for me was both personal as I wanted to see some of my late father’s old friends as well as the fact that I was drawn by curiosity in hopes I could learn more about the “Pork Barrel” from an alternative angle.

The meeting was called to order around 12:30 PM followed by the usual Rotary rituals. The guest speaker was Rep. Roilo Golez of Parañaque who gave a presentation entitled “Pork Barrel: A Requiem for the Good, the Bad and the Ugly”. With such a title, one would expect a fair and balanced view of the Pork issue but whatever seems fair always comes from a matter of perspective.

Rep. Golez proceeded to induce references on the Pork Barrel, starting with its history and usage in other countries such as USA, Germany, Australia etc. citing some of the worst cases abroad. The point being, that the pork barrel is used elsewhere and that some of the worst cases are perhaps not representative of the general scenario. The argument was then segued to how he used his Pork Barrel (Priority Development Assistance Fund) with a list of achievements such as the most number of covered courts, school buildings, infrastructure etc. With such as enormous list, perhaps the Pork is a good thing? To note, not a single centavo was given to any NGOs!
He really had me going until the point where I felt that I was being led. The argument is not that the money could do no good, but whether or not the money should be allocated and dispensed in that manner. Ironically, he made some validations in his speech that strengthens the argument for abolition.

  1. The pork can be easily abused: This is not the case just in the Philippines but also in other more developed countries which you would assume have better safeguards and access to information.
  2. The pork barrel is systemic ingratiation: The pork barrel systematizes the monetization of political capital flows from the President, all the way to the local constituents through the hands of the legislators. With much political capital borrowed from local constituents when running for national office, much is owed back and paid back in the form of the pork barrel funds. This perpetuates the cycle of ingratiation and systemic corruption. Secondly, with this type of monetary ingratiation, the principle of checks and balances between the two branches of government is destroyed.
  3. It is discretionary in nature and therefore arbitrary: Rep. Golez cited an example where a congressman as a legacy chose to allocate all of his pork barrel to fund 40,000 scholars in his district. While scholarships are never a bad thing, it also begs me to think whether or not this was the only need of the district over things such as: food security, health, infrastructure and disaster control. It just proves that the usage of funds is arbitrary and according to the whims or preferences of the Representative.

Some of the highlights of the luncheon came during the Q&A portion where Roberto Pagdanganan of Bulacan a former Representative himself cited the legislative praxis of former statesmen such as Sumulong and Diokno. Emphasizing that the job of the congressmen is to make laws and policies that would help their constituents rather than choosing and implementing projects themselves. He also mentioned that the ingratiation between the executive and the legislative branch also ruins checks and balance. “How can we effectively check and balance them, if we are ingratiated to them?” (nonverbatim)

Former Representative Payumo of Bataan also cited an example where constituents would often approach their representatives for support such as medicines in a far-flung place. The congressman would usually give out of his pork barrel funds with uncertainty that the support would go where it should. The point being that the congressman’s office usually would not have the administrative means to check and make sure that projects are implemented properly or if implemented at all. It is the structural limitation of their offices.

The primary function of legislation is thus legislative in nature and should have nothing to do with the administration, management and funding of projects. It is best that the representatives’ competence is reserved for “The House” where it belongs otherwise it is performing a disservice to its constituency and the nation.
The irony here is that where administrative capacity is lacking to select and implement projects among legislators, there are many legitimate, sustainable and competent NGOs that could implement many of these projects with utmost transparency. It is unfair that these NGOs are demonized due to a scandal involving government and the rotten eggs. Shame on them who are guilty of colluding but spare the innocent who continue to do their jobs better than you can, with or without your pork barrel support.

To end, I’d like to thank the Rotary Club of Manila who gave me the opportunity to write this article with an even greater view for the Pork Barrel issue due to the Speaker’s presentation and the rebuttals of his colleagues. It is a privilege to see the pork barrel from different angles, which makes an even more compelling argument for its abolition. While everyone seems to have their eyes on Napoles, let us keep our eyes on the ball instead for its abolition.

My special thanks goes to Rudy Bediones who has allowed me to see my dad’s “old” club in a “new” light. I am assured that RCM is relevant still. Hoping for more enlightening discussions such as this.

Still Les Miserable Over Argo

It’s been more than a week since the Oscars and more than a couple of weeks since I’ve seen two of some of the most talked about movies of the year. Two weeks, and I am Still Les Miserable over Argo.

Having seen both Les Mis and Argo, I would’ve thought that Les Mis would’ve won the Academy Award for Best Picture. This is not to discount that Argo was a fine film, as it really was, but looking at both from the angle of “making the most out of a medium” the aspect would have to favor Les Mis. While readers would dismiss this blog as being biased for Victor Hugo, I would like to posit my opinions in both praises and criticism for Argo.
For those who haven’t seen Argo a synopsis of the movie could be found here:
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1024648/synopsis

Argo was a good story told on film and would rank to be one of the finest examples of “story telling”. Argo proves that it is very hard to ruin a really good story, especially if it is one from history that remained untold. Cinematography was rendered in style and feel that made you think that you were watching a film from that period (circa 1979).

Perhaps some of its minor flaws are pointed out due to its sincere efforts to be “era-correct”. These efforts noted were the use of a warm tones for the entire film and the non-high-tech cinematographic techniques such as the hand zoom-ins from aerials. There seems to be an effort to portray cinematographic techniques available during the time. There was even a scene where the camera focused on a picture of Lee Majors on a wall. These images purposefully draw us into a particular point in time. Some of the throw-offs however were:
The use of Blue LED lights in one of the robots seen on a set. Blue LEDs were not popularly used till late.
The wipers on the Canadian Ambassador’s car used one of those floppy rubber types which didn’t come into popular use till the late 90’s to early 2000s

Speaking about cars… I was also thrown off by the appearance of a yellow Pontiac Firebird in the beginning of the movie. You would think that the protagonist would’ve used such a car, it turns out that he didn’t. Cars play an important role in movies as they are often used to develop the characters of leading men. In this case the yellow Firebird was just a scene-stealing fluke. These minor flukes are enough to throw off the “suspension of disbelief”.
In fairness I would have to say that we saw Ben Affleck at his best, as an actor or maybe even as a director. He successfully disappeared into his role as a kind-hearted CIA operative. Remembering the classic singly dimensioned Ben Affleck in “The Town”, he was able to reinvent himself in Argo. Do I believe it was good enough for the award? “I don’t know”… So Alan Arkin says: “Argo F#¢* yourself!”

In contrast, “Les Miserable” in my opinion represents the best of what film could do to an already great classic story, even-more-so one of the best-loved musicals of all time. Having seen Les Mis twice on Broadway, once as a High-School student and another time in College. I was somewhat familiar with the story but even more familiar with many of the songs. Seeing a show on Broadway tends to be more of a musical experience rather than anything else. It was a cultural experience that is less on the story but more on the performance.

Seeing Les Mis on film adds a strong visual element from what is usually missed on stage. Film complements the entire story by painting scenes that are difficult or impossible to portray on stage. Even if you had the best seats in the house, you can never have the multitude of literal perspectives and angles that cameras could give. The stage could never display the poetic illusions that film could give in terms of scale, colors and effects.
By adding strong visual elements, stories are better understood and the totality of the experience is enhanced by a ten-fold. In all honestly, I never understood the story behind Les Mis until I saw the movie. Scenes, which were confusing on stage, were clarified on film. These instances were especially true when scenes required apparitions. The story was replete with them.

As far as performances are concerned the movie never failed as well. All the actors played roles where you didn’t see a Singing Gladiator, an Australian Drover or a Sex Slave that wears Prada. All three of them dissolved into their characters. Most of all, everyone was drawn into a visual and musical experience that makes you forget the world for at least a few hours. Everyone was gripped by the experience. All eyes were glued to the screen; everyone seemed almost captured by the music. Best of all, the audience was sympathetic to the all the characters and equally absorbed within the greater context of the narrative. It was a profoundly human experience that bridged across time and cultures.

Isn’t that what a great movie is all about? Aren’t we supposed to award great works of arts as so? I believe that the Oscars are more about the politics and actors rather than the human and cultural achievement brought about by the medium of film. It begs us to question the legacy of cultural and artistic value that we will leave behind. If that is what Hollywood is selling, then I have to say: “Argo F#¢* yourself too!” As for now, I’ll remain Les Miserable over Argo.

Fair Process and the Myth of Inclusive Growth

A friend recently passed an Industry article to me that quotes the Fraser Institute in stating in a rather succinct statement:

“And the places you should avoid at all costs are Indonesia, Vietnam, Venezuela, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Kyrgyzstan, Zimbabwe, Bolivia, Guatemala, Philippines, and Greece, concludes the survey.”
In a December 31, 2012 article by the Inquirer, the Mining Industry has estimated a Two Billion Dollar loss in mining investments for the Philippines. Beyond the obvious numbers we have to ask why industry investors would mention the Philippines as “one of the places you should avoid at all costs”? As a country that seems to be poised as the next emerging tiger of Asia, it is funny to note industry reports that signal a stink that drives them away.

The answers sometimes lie in the way we treat big business and foreign investment. Ironically these are the same people that we tend to court for the much needed capital infusion for economic development. Some of the more obvious reasons, which make it difficult for business are: Restrictive and Protective ownership policies that perpetuate the control of the ruling class, Extreme levels of activism against development and a general sense of apathy from government. While the administration touts “Inclusive Growth”, many especially the poor continue to get left out. The administration continues to fail in providing an atmosphere of fairness for all.
The argument takes us all the way to Sabah that now serves as a current and highest example of apathy. Wrong or right, the Sultan and his followers are Filipino citizens who now face the perils of Malaysia’s force. The recent reported conflict that ended in casualties (most of which from the Philippine side) is a foretaste to massacre, if it already isn’t. To do nothing is to consent to it!

The state has a responsibility to protect the interest and the lives of its citizenry and to ensure that a “fair-process” is observed. I firmly believe that the Sultan is only pressing for what he believes is his right and interest. While we might be able prove him wrong, it is the responsibility of our state to protect Filipino lives abroad and to ensure that her citizens are treated fairly under due process. To make pronouncements that a citizen is “hard-headed” and fighting a “hopeless-cause” makes the citizen indeed hopeless as his country obviously abandoned him. If the state cannot advocate for the lives and safety of its own citizens, what more if it were others?

Fair Process or Procedural Justice is lacking in this country. Decisions and regulations are enforced without the consultation of all parties involved and affected. Industry regulations are repealed at the drop of a hat sometimes using the highest office. Lobbies are usually weighed in favor of those who speak loudest and closest while others are subjected to apathetic delays. There is a general sense of antagonism towards certain industries; the worst victims of which have already invested in this country under a promise of fair-regulation from years ago. It is costly for them to stay; it is costly for them to leave. Nobody advocates for them or at least makes sure that fair-process takes place to protect everyone’s interest. How inclusive can growth be when others are excluded from the benefitting fold? If it’s not justice for all, then I’m afraid there is no justice at all!
The very government that we rely upon in upholding transparency, good-governance and fair play cannot provide an atmosphere of certainty. Therefore it cannot deliver the promise it intends to make for foreign investment.

While the economy seems to rally upwards, the richest get even richer while the poor gets poorer. The heavily taxed middle-class that has little or no charge to government services only progress in small financial increments where they are. Meanwhile there are no new high quality jobs being created. The promise of Inclusive Growth remains to be an elusive Myth to be sold; but nobody seems to be buying it. Perhaps you need to be an extremely wealthy Filipino to afford it.