by Rey Claro Casambre

9 Oct 2013

What do Marcos and all his successors  have in common? Presidential Pork.

What do Macapagal, Marcos, Estrada, Arroyo and Aquino III have in common? Whistleblowers

What do Manuel Roxas and all other Philippine presidents after him have in common? US backing

I first heard the term “pork barrel” when I was still in early grade school (late 1950s).  It would crop up every now and then in conversations or in the newspapers in connection with some anomaly in government, which later I would associate with graft and corruption.  It was not clear though, exactly what it was, why it was wrong and who were involved.  But I was pretty sure that “pork barrel” anomalies then were seen as isolated cases, aberrations in what was widely believed to be a basically vibrant, progressive and democratic Philippine social and political system.

Then there was Harry Stonehill. The ex-GI multimillionaire who put up the US Tobacco Corp., Republic Glass Corp., Philippine Tobacco Corp., Far East Publishing Corp., Philippine Cotton COrp., American Asiatic Oil etc. and was investigated in 1962 by the NBI under then DOJ Secretary Jose W Diokno  for frustrated murder, tax evasion,  smuggling,  misdeclaration of imports and bribery.  Diokno personally led the raid on Stonehill’s offices, hauling away truckloads of evidence including a “blue book” that had Stonehill’s list of pay-offs to government officials for various favors.  On top of the list were no less than incumbent President Diosdado Macapagal and Senate President Ferdinand Marcos, both of the ruling Liberal Party, and more than 200 big names in Congress and the Executive branches, from both political parties, as well as members of media. Stonehill was promptly arrested and at the height of hearings on graft and corruption conducted by the House of Representatives Committee on Good Government led by then Rep. Jovito Salonga, Macapagal conspired with Speaker Cornelio Villareal to have the HOR pass a resolution releasing Stonehill from custody, and then had him promptly deported, abruptly aborting the investigations and prosecution of Stonehill, to the surprise and consternation of Salonga and Diokno, who was also promptly dismissed from his office.

(Interestingly, like the Napoles pork scam, the Stonehill case came to the fore after Martin Spielman, a close Stonehill associate, sought protection from authorities after Stonehill allegedly tried to have him killed over some business transactions. In the process of being interviewed by the NBI, Spielman revealed Stonehill’s other shady deals and illegal activities such as tax evasion, smuggling, misdeclaration of imports and bribery of government officials.)

Aside from these parallels with the Napoles scam, what else does the Stonehill case have to do with the pork barrel issue?  It is well known that Macapagal deported Stonehill partly because he was exposed to have received a P 3 million campaign contribution from Stonehill in his presidential bid against the incumbent Carlos P. Garcia. It appeared Macapagal was only shielding his name from further disgrace.  What is not well known is that it was Col. Edward Lansdale who persuaded (or ordered?) Stonehill to help fund Macapagal’s bid against Garcia.

Landsdale was the infamous CIA operative who directed the campaign against the PKP and the HMB, engineered the election and was a close adviser of Ramon Magsaysay and his predecessors. But Magsaysay reportedly incurred the ire of Lansdale, shortly before he was killed in a plane crash in March 1957, when he rejected Lansdale’s proposal to send Philippine troops to Vietnam. Garcia, who was Magsaysay’s vice president, assumed the Presidency and won in the next presidential elections in November. He was eligible for another term in 1961,  but was perceived by the US-CIA as having taken his “Filipino First” industrialization policy of import substitutions a bit too far, contrary to US imperialist interests. Thus, the support for Macapagal.

Here is a 50-year old clear but not well-known demonstration of how US imperialism intervenes in Philippine politics to ensure that the ruling regime remains compliant with US impositions, i.e., a reliable puppet . From colonial times, the US has set up and nurtured a political system dominated by the local big landlords and comprador-bourgeoisie who benefit from and perpetuate the semi-feudal agrarian pre-industrial economy and the dependent and subservient neocolonial state. These local reactionaries are amply rewarded by being allowed to use the state bureaucracy to further enrich and entrench themselves in power. This is what the national democratic movement calls “bureaucrat capitalism”.  Until the 1970s, a two-party system was installed and functional, with the rival political parties alternately taking power, competing with and accommodating each other while collaborating in exploiting and oppressing the rest of society, ever mindful of their common interest to preserve the ruling system.

This  compete-and-accommodate modus vivendi, however, has its limits. The chronic crisis inherent in the semi-feudal economy and aggravated by the global economic crisis meant that the pie for accommodation among the reactionaries was steadily contracting. In the late 1960s, that crisis would reach its terminal level with the exhaustion of the land frontiers that had hitherto effectively served as the “safety pressure valve” that had prevented or mitigated peasant unrest and rebellion.  It is no historical accident nor coincidence that in the late 1960s,  armed revolution erupted nationwide under the leadership of the CPP-NPA and in Western Mindanao under the MNLF-Bangsamoro Army.

Martial law was the state’s response to the crisis. The Marcos ruling reactionary faction employed force to maintain itself in power, suppressing not only the growing protest and resistance of the people but also the political opposition from rival factions of the ruling class. Accommodation gave way to cronyism, kleptocracy and monopoly.  US imperialism fully backed the Marcos dictatorship because it had no doubt that Marcos was willing and able to preserve the ruling system, go along with US impositions and serve US interests in the midst of global economic crisis, precisely to keep that support.

Was the pork barrel system abolished with the abolition of Congress and the two-party system? Only if you believe that there is only Congressional pork. Again, the little-known fact is that it was Marcos, during martial law, who instituted presidential pork by issuing a decree allowing him to disburse funds not included in the line-budget. Aside from this, the monopoly over the reins of government opened new avenues to plunder the national coffers and profit from selling out the economy and national sovereignty and patrimony to foreign monopoly capital, such as enormous bribes for projects like the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant, Chico River Dam, etc.

When the Batasang Pambansa was established in 1978, Marcos reintroduced Congressional pork through the Special Fund for Development Projects amounting to P500,000 per assemblyman. Kleptocracy, cronyism, corruption and human rights violations (especially with the assassination of Ninoy Aquino) amidst economic crisis reached such proportions that people’s resistance and protest, including armed struggle and military rebellion rose to a crescendo, prompting the US to dump Marcos in 1986, in another demonstration of how decisive US imperialism is in shaping Philippine politics according to its interests.

(Was it mere coincidence that the EDSA people’s uprising that overthrew Marcos started when his close associates, Ramos and Enrile, sought refuge in Camp Crame after they learned that Marcos had ordered their arrest after uncovering a coup plot?)

When martial rule ended with the overthrow of Marcos, the Cory Aquino government did not rescind the decree on presidential pork and instead retained the power to disburse funds through lump-sum appropriations. Aquino further ensured US and other imperialists’ support by declaring, to no less than the US Congress, that her government would honor all its international financial obligations. At the brink of overthrow in the 1989 coup attempt, the Cory government was rescued by the US when it sent two F-4 jets in what was called “persuasive flights” against the military rebels, clearly sending the signal that the US will not allow the coup to succeed.  And to cement support from local reactionaries after the series of coup attempts, Cory likewise restored the Congressional pork in 1990 through the Countryside Development Fund with P12.5 M annually for representatives and P18 M for senators.

In 1996 Pres. Fidel Ramos increased the Presidential Pork through the Public Works Fund, School Building Fund, Congressional Initiative Allocation, El Nino Fund, & Poverty Alleviation Fund.  In his national development program deceptively called “Philippines 2000” that promised to make the Philippines a “newly industrialized country” at the turn of the century, Ramos fully opened up the economy to foreign capital, drastically reduced tariffs even beyond the GATT/WTO schedules, and set aside even the bogus land reform program in favor of agricultural showcases.

Estrada for his part retained the congressional pork, merely renaming it Lingap para sa Mahirap Program and eventually the Priority Development Assistance Fund. It is common knowledge that Estrada narrowly escaped impeachment by bribing some members of the Senate Tribunal into voting against opening the second envelope that might have led to his conviction. Although this move backfired as the people rose in indignation and took it upon themselves to force his resignation, the incident gives us a glimpse of how the so-called system of check-and-balance among the branches of government had been grievously undermined by political patronage and bribery.

(Was it just another mere coincidence that the Estrada corruption case came to the fore when one of his close associates, Chavit Singson, sought protection from the authorities after an ambush attempt on him allegedly by Estrada’s orders, then spilled the beans on Estrada?)

But it was Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the beneficiary from Estrada’s ouster, who used political patronage and bribery to the hilt and succeeded in defeating several attempts to impeach and oust her from office, using her presidential pork such as the Malampaya Fund and her control over the congressional PDAF. At the same time, GMA ensure continuing US imperialist backing despite her extreme isolation by banking on her economic expertise to satisfy the impositions and comply with the neoliberal prescriptions of the IMF-WB-WTO, and ruthlessly carrying out a murderous counterinsurgency campaign, the Oplan Bantay Laya.

(Again, was it mere coincidence that GMA’s “Hello Garci” and NTN-ZTE whistleblowers, Sgt Doble and Engr Lozada, came to the fore because they were being targetted for liquidation?)

Now we are faced with the same phenomenon, more overtly monstrous and diabolical,  but with its real nature and essence still unveiled. While public outrage is strong and unabating, the anger is directed at the ugly surface manifestations such as corruption, thievery, deceit, etc.   Aquino continues to enjoy US backing and support, as his predecessors did, by continuing the policies that protect US interests, especially the neoliberal economic policies and counterinsurgency campaigns. The true and more sinister nature of pork as a mere form of bureaucrat capitalism — set up and sustained by US imperialism, and thriving with feudalism — is yet to be revealed and understood.  Only by grasping and addressing this can the pork system be decisively uprooted, and ultimately bureaucrat capitalism, along with imperialism and feudalism.

[i] Paper prepared for Alliance of Concerned Teachers Forum on Pork Barrel, 09 October 2013