Please, Sirs, We Are Not Idiots

U.S. lawmakers just voted (or more precisely did not vote) to shut down the Government. If only the Philippines was so lucky.

Right now our Government is one big pillow fight. The Administration charged three Senators with plunder. One of them retaliated with a “bombshell” –or at least what he thought was one- accusing the President of “bribing” legislators and the rest of his peers of all sorts of terrible things. With everybody a crook, he asked, why are he and his band of brothers being singled out? (Those with an answer the line starts here).

Despite the pre-marketing, the speech did not generate the expected buzz. On the contrary, it triggered a social media blowback.

One, the public is uninterested in what it already knows. The President is political, check. All lawmakers are bad, check. Pork barrel is evil, check. The system sucks, check. So now what?

Two, the speech lacked “cojones”. The Presidential “bribes” were actually “incentives”, lawmakers (himself included) took the money but were not “necessarily sinners”. You cannot, I am afraid, be half pregnant.

Three, don’t use “politically motivated” more than once in a sentence with the pronoun “me” or its diminutive “poor me”. Political motivation is actually okay as long as the public agrees with the motivation behind the political motivation. Example, the President was accused of “bribing” Senators to impeach Corona. Compared to the billions that are wasted daily, THAT is arguably money well spent. In management it is called a performance bonus. Similarly if the President was to offer, say, a Supreme Court position to the Sandiganbayan judge who convicts the Senators.

Three, never insult the public’s intelligence. Do not claim to be a victim of “ a flawed system so ingrained it has become institutionalized” when you spent millions to get elected to that very system. The victims are the Ondoy families who never got their relief, the farmers who never got their fertilizer, the kids who never got their schools. No, sir, you are not a victim but if you are feeling bad you can always, like, resign?

Lastly, do not seek righteousness from a lynch mob. The Senator is frustrated because he is innocent until proven guilty. The mob is frustrated for the same reason.

The speech did some good in that it confirmed why PDAF and its clone, the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), should be abolished (not suspended). Reacting to the speech, Budget Sec. Abad said his department can withdraw “unobligated allotments of agencies with low levels of obligations both from continuing and current allotments. NB Circular No.541 allows withdrawn allotments to be used to augment existing programs and projects of any agencies (are you still with me?) and to fund priority programs and projects not considered in the budget but expected to be started or implemented during the current year”. The P72 billion DAP is to “fast-track disbursements and push economic growth in light of the global slowdown and the onslaught of recent calamities.” Thank you for the explanation.

In English -and some might be lost in translation- what Abad really meant to say, I think, in twelve words or less is if there are savings in Government, the DBM is allowed to hand these over to lawmakers for the charities of their choice (or as it turns out for themselves) because the Government cannot spend it fast enough. You are kidding, right?

Under Art. VI, Sec.25 (5) of the Constitution the heads of the Executive, Legislative and Judicial  branches of Government are “authorized to augment any item in the general appropriations law for their respective offices from savings in other items of their respective appropriations” i.e. the DBM can re-allocate savings within departments but not across branches of Government. Abad therefore should clarify, one, the DAP money did not go to the legislators as the public seems to think, only to projects identified by them; and, two, the funds were intra-departmental transfers and not from the Executive to the Legislative branch. Otherwise he (and the President if he approved them) could be in trouble.

Another thing, if the Government has problems “fast-tracking” funds for economic growth why give it to legislators? Why not write the P72 billion check to 95 million Filipinos who can do an even better job at it?

Lastly, savings are supposed to be just that, money put away for a rainy day, for lowering taxes or reducing our yawning budget deficit. Last Christmas then Senate President Enrile was excoriated for channeling his office’s savings to select Senators. Sec. Abad, a seeming honest man, admitted to the exact thing, sort of.

Filipinos do not like being treated as idiots by their leaders be they the bad guys or the good guys. We don’t want to be patronized, spun or lied to, told that black is white or even gray.  Sure, sometimes good outcomes require questionable deeds, that is the reality of governance. In that case just level with us or, if indelicate, even a wink and a nod will do.

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About Leo Alejandrino

The blog is principally a commentary on Philippine politics and economics.
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2 Responses to Please, Sirs, We Are Not Idiots

  1. Joe America says:

    I’ve been pondering the matter of discretionary expenditures and the influence they can buy. What kind of President do we want? One that is influential and good? One that is not influential and good? One that is not influential and bad? One that is influential and bad?

    I personally prefer a “near dictator” who is influential and good, so that he can make some progress against the heavy morass of complaint and customary corrupt ways of doing things hereabouts. Like, energize the economy, which is what President Aquino has evidently been using the “savings” for. Keep the money in the bank or create jobs?

    He chose jobs, and I agree with that. The failing here is really with the People for electing representatives of such low character in the legislature. Mr. Aquino should not be hamstrung because the People are doing a lousy job of voting, or the legislators are of poor character. And he should be given considerable latitude to act. The only missing component to this approach now is FOI, which would allow the People to monitor the good, influential President.

  2. Dear Mr. Alejandrino,

    Greetings! I’m KARL R. De MESA, the consulting editor for GMA News Online’s Opinion Section. Our site clocks in an approximate of 1 million hits per day.

    We’re very interested to re-post your blog entry titled “Please sirs, We Are Not idiots”, which is quite relevant in light of recent events.

    In lieu of this, we’d love to post it in our Opinion section (http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/opinion) if you’ll give us permission? I hope it has only appeared on this blog and not in any other mainstream media outlet (Rappler, Interaksyon, etc)?

    We can provide a short introductory paragraph for context, a link back to the original URL of the post, credit you aptly, and provide a short, two sentence biography at the end. Kindly also provide us a profile pic we can use to accompany the post.

    Also, may we re-title the piece to fit our stylebook and editorial standards?

    You may send me an email at karl.demesa@gmail.com or contact me at 0919-6927048. Hoping for your swift and positive response.

    Thank you very much!

    KARL R. De MESA
    Consulting Editor
    GMA News Online

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