This was Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago’s speech at the West Visayas State University Commencement Exercises in Iloilo City, 28 March 2014
In my approaching old age, I am now supposed to share with you what life has taught me, and in the end to encapsulate for you what is the meaning of life. From where I am now, I find that these conundrums are easily answered. First, life teaches us that, whether we perceive it as predestined or as random, it is beyond any person’s control. Second, there is no template for the meaning of life. Instead, the meaning of life is what you choose to make it mean. In making your choice, when you reach my age, your journey becomes an affirmation of the warning that life is a consequence of our moral choices.
The Problem of Evil
As professionals in a small developing state, you will be living in an environment of poverty and corruption. I will deal separately with poverty and with corruption. For me, these two features constitute the problem of evil. For example, the P10 billion pork barrel scam is definitely a problem of moral evil, as contrasted with supertyphoon Yolanda, which was a natural evil. We can see that human evil can be defined as “the suffering which results from morally wrong human choices, specially when the moral wrong is of an extreme kind.” It is not difficult to identify the sources of evil in our society. There are many sources, but I will deal with only two.
The first source of evil in Philippine society is self-interest. Every day, many people pursue their self-interest at the expense of others. However, self-interest becomes a moral evil when selfish politicians make our people suffer in hunger and poverty. Another major source of evil lies in “a failure in moral imagination.” There are many psychopaths in Congress, but they are unable to imagine the sufferings that they cause on millions of Filipinos who are poor. Let me give you one example.
In the present pork barrel scandal, the most guilty are not only the senators and representatives, but also the executive officers of the so-called implementing agencies, which could be a department, an agency, or a local government unit. Under the Government Procurement Reform Act, the choice of the NGO is subject to competitive bidding or through negotiated procurement. As we are beginning to see in the publicly televised proceedings of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, the problem arose because the senator or the congressman insisted to the head of the implementing agency that the service or supply contract should be given to the legislator’s chosen supplier or contractor, from whom the legislator got a kickback of as high as 50%.
The executive officers of many of these implementing agencies, such as the Technology Research Center (TRC), National Agribusiness Corporation (NABCOR), and Muslim Youth Foundation appear to be equally guilty of the crime of plunder or malversation committed by the lawmaker who exerted pressure to give a contract to one specific supplier or contractor. Accordingly, I shall file a resolution for the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee to expand the scope of its present inquiry on the pork barrel scam, so as to include executive officers of implementing agencies. These officers should be required to explain the criteria that they applied, in choosing the corrupt NGOs that became the ultimate beneficiaries of the pork barrel.
The implementing agency should never have allowed the corrupt politicians to exert pressure in favor of NGOs. After all, NGOs are supposed to have their own funds from non-governmental sources, such as international donors, international financing institutions, corporate donors, etc. At present, there appears to be no government agency that monitors the flow of public funds to hundreds of NGOs, legitimate or illegitimate. They could be political NGOs, quasi-NGOs (QUANGOs), NGOs run by socialites, or NGOs run by wives of business tycoons.
It is the implementing agency who chose the corrupt NGOs. But these implementing agencies were not even created by Congress. Instead, many are subsidiary corporations of existing departments or government-owned corporations created by mere administrative orders or created through the SEC. According to former budget secretary Benjamin Diokno, the proliferation of implementing agencies is highly anomalous, because some of them receive more funds than the legitimately created agencies of government.
We have to act. First, we need to establish the criminal liability of their past and present executives. Then we should recover the misappropriated funds. And then we should throw into jail the liable public officials. After we have accomplished these measures, it follows that the guilty implementing agencies involved in the pork barrel scandal should be abolished or reformed.
How were the NGOs able to capture either the Senate or the conference committee on the budget drawn from the two chambers of Congress? The answer is not so simple. In the past, the COA required government agencies to make a full liquidation of public funds prior to any future releases of their funding. But in last year’s budget, the requirement of full liquidation was reduced to merely 70%. Who inserted this corrupt provision? Was it the Senate finance committee, or was it the bicameral conference committee on the budget? In any event, this provision was “administratively” vetoed by President Aquino, leaving its implementation unclear. This question should be answered by the DBM secretary.