“Buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals,

selling even the sweepings with the wheat. The Lord has sworn by himself,

the Pride of Jacob: “I will never forget anything they have done. (Amos 8,6-7)

 ROLANDO J. TRIA TIRONA, O.C.D., D.D.

My dear brothers and sisters! 

In recent weeks, we witnessed the unfolding of an unconscionable scam in our country. We are shocked and aghast by the discovery of widespread plunder of public funds through the pork barrel system. We thank the heroism of the whistleblowers who risked their lives and the institutions that saw the urgent need to act on the issue.

His Excellency, President Benigno Aquino III, has announced that the PDAF will be abolished and that more stringent procedures will be observed so public funds will not be used for ghost projects.

We acknowledge his response to the nationwide clamor to abolish the pork barrel. However, the pork barrel is not merely an administrative or an accounting issue. It is a moral issue and as such, can only be resolved with a fidelity to truth and justice.

THE TRUTH ABOUT PORK 

We acknowledge that discretionary funds are necessary for governments to run. But like political dynasties, the pork barrel is a cause of our unending poverty: lawmakers are at the behest of the Chief Executive and, appallingly, the people beg for what actually belong to them.

With the Chief Executive controlling the release of the funds to congressmen and senators, our laws may not be the will of the people. With congressmen and senators releasing the funds for their pet projects, public funds may be used for their personal interests, as what is happening now.

There may be projects from the PDAF of some congressmen or senators that benefitted the people. But these are mere fragments compared to the benefits reaped by congressmen or senators as the PDAF strengthened patronage politics. Truly, the pork barrel system is a way for politicians to appear clean when their intent and purpose are in fact corrupt.

PORK, BY ANY OTHER NAME, IS STILL PORK 

The decision of the President to regulate the PDAF is meaningless for as long as the heart of the pork barrel continues to beat strongly in our political system. It is the same heart that gave life to political dynasties. The essence of the pork barrel system and political dynasties is concentration of power.

In a democracy, the concentration of power in one person or one group is evil. It results to wholesale corruption and dehumanizing poverty. Social development is impossible when the people are crippled by poverty and enslaved by corruption.

The clamor for the abolition of the pork barrel system does not end in scrapping numbers in the national budget or lessening the discretion in dispensing the fund. Instead, it is a cry for social reforms. It is a collective desire for social justice. And we pave the way for social justice when we end the concentration of power.

SOCIAL REFORMS 

I call upon the faithful to see this crisis as an opportunity to initiate reforms. The call for the abolition of the pork barrel is a call for active participation in governance.

Demand for a speedy and fair investigation of those who misuse public funds. The lawful conviction of those guilty will signal the commitment of our government to truth and justice.

Demand transparency and accountability from our political leaders. Push for the passing of the Freedom of Information Bill as it will provide the structure for the public to have greater access to data on government spending.

Demand for projects that are truly responsive to the needs of the people. When the people themselves identify the services and infrastructure, there is no room for ghost projects and vigilance will be enhanced.

Do not partake of the pork in any form being dangled by corrupt politicians. Although President Aquino has decided to regulate the pork barrel system, such measure does nothing to patronage politics which hurt the poor the most.

Restore integrity beginning from the barangay level. In the election for Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan, choose leaders who will represent your barangay as a family and not candidates who represent political patrons.

Be vigilant at all times. Closely monitor the performance of public officials. In three years, we will re-evaluate the choices we made in the May 2013 election.

To the people in government, we urge you to restore the integrity of public office. You are accountable especially to God, the source of all power. Serve His people, especially the poor. The pork barrel system is oppressive and unjust. Use your office as a means to end the oppression and to uphold justice.

INA, our model and guide, continues to provide us her examples of virtues so that we, her devotees, may be true agents of social transformation.

As we prepare for the feast of Our Lady of Peñafrancia, let us reflect on her courage and perseverance as she stood by her Son suffer and die on the cross. Our Ina journeys with us. The road to social transformation is long but is blessed with heavenly rewards. May her devotees find enlightenment and strength in the coming celebration of her most awaited feast.

I invoke God’s blessing for all of you!

ROLANDO J. TRIA TIRONA, O.C.D., D.D.

Archbishop of Caceres

August 25, 2013

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