Sunday, August 10, 2008

It’s all in the family

Television talk shows have of late taken to introducing the new congressmen, many of them young. Young enough not to be classified as "trapo", even if most of them are scions of retired or expired traditional politicians. Because papa’s term is over, anak gets to inherit. "Bimpo" they are instead called by Abante’s Rey Marfil, as in "batang itnulak ng magulang sa politika". And, as in the case of Camiguin’s Romualdo clan, son JJ inherits the governorship, while papa Loloy goes back to Congress, when his son JJ’s three-year stint expired. Loloy and JJ will continue this game of "puli-puli" as they say in Camiguin, until perhaps Loloy’s grandson is old enough to take over. All in the family.

In the Senate, we have a Senate president whose wife Cynthia is also the representative of Las Piñas. Figure it out in terms of the coveted pork barrel. Manny has 200 million pesos a year as senator, and Madam Cynthia has 70 million. That’s a total of 270 million pesos in a year, or 810 million in three years, not counting Manny Villar’s slush funds as Senate president, with only Kiko Pangilinan, his favorite Wednesday dinner guest, privileged to control the "accounts" of the Senate. And that does not include the usual last-minute "insertions" in the budget that’s usually rushed during the bicameral conference committee. But that’s another story. For another time.

Youngish Chiz is in similar fine fettle. He gets 200 million in pork, and his father Sonny gets a 70 million slab of bacon for his district in Sorsogon. Of course Chiz also heads the powerful ways and means committee, which has the power to go over taxes, and the more important power of recommending which taxes should not be imposed, or which taxes could be reduced. That’s the more important power as far as taipans and moguls are concerned, and Chiz now has the power to make them happy or disappointed. Ralph Recto made them happy, forgave them their "sins", but disappointed a lot more with his reformations on the VAT. How shall young Chiz comport himself? We will be watching.

The even younger Alan Peter Cayetano is in to bigger pork shares, along with his family. Ate Pia gets 200 million a year, Alan gets another 200 million, and wife Lani, the second youngest congresswoman, gets a 70 million "ambos". That’s almost half a billion smackeroos in a year. That’s almost 1.5 billion in the next three years of GMA’s unelected term. For Alan and Pia together, that’s 2.4 billion in the six years that the public has gifted them with a senatorial term.

Now I understand why Iggy of Jose Pidal fame isn’t perturbed by his tormentor’s ascent to the Blue Ribbon. All he has to do is ask Doña Glo or Hermano Mike to order Rolly Andaya of DBM to tighten the screws on the release of the humongous pork which Alan and Pia and Lani are entitled to. Sige ka, Alan, balik ka sa tag-gutom.

Recall how Alan when he was a staunch oppositionist in his last term in the lower House, would publicly rue the "sacrifices" he and his kind would undergo because they dared fight GMA and her family. Ginutom ang mga distrito nila sa taba ng baboy. While guys like Joey Salceda were getting billions to sink into washed-out projects in Bicol, Taguig-Pateros got nothing even for its balut industry. And so his local adversary, Mayor Freddie Tinga of Taguig could always tell their common constituents – "ano ang napala ninyo sa inyong congressman?" Alan was indeed deprived of pork for two of his last years in Congress. But not in the 11th Congress, when he was one of Erap’s "bright boys" in the lower House. Neither in the 12th, when he was still supporting GMA to the hilt. Likely, the young Alan found the last two years of his three-term stint in the House such cruel punishment that now he will not be deprived again.

With Manny Villar as his "guarantor," Alan and his Ate Pia, along with Lani, should not suffer from a hunger for pork much longer. That must be why Iggy and Mikey are unperturbed. Alan has the power to make noise, but if it gets to hurt their eardrums, there’s always Malacañang to tighten the strings. To make basso crescendo transmogrify into a pipsqueak. Will Alan make "tiis" once more, and like his avowed "idol," Ping Lacson, declare his abhorrence of, and abnegation from – pork and more pork? Vamos a ver.

Still into pairings, octogenarian Juan Ponce-Enrile gets 200 million in regular pork, just as his daughter-in-law gets seventy for their northern Cagayan fiefdom. On top of which, the "minority" senator whose "solid bloc" of pro-Gloria senators supported Villar, gets to be chair of the most powerful Finance Committee. Watch those cabinet members pale and tremble when confronted by the thunder of the gentleman from Aparri and Gonzaga. Then after the bicam, look into the usual "insertions" in every line department’s budget, if you can.

Ditto for Senadora Miriam, whose 200 million will be augmented by 70 million from her son’s seat as party list congressman. All in the family likewise.

Of course there’s that fiefdom upon the high Sierras that gaze upon the roaring Pacific, that hamlet once closeted by forests primeval – Aurora, fiefdom of the Angaras. Papa Ed is senator with 200 million, anak Sonny is congressman with 70 million, sister Bella is governor, and brother Juan is mayor of the capital in Baler. If only all that pork could nurture more trees in Dingalan, and Casiguran, and other parts of the Sierra Madre.

Senador Tocayo’s son Mark has lost the quarries of Pampanga to Among Ed. But there’s still enough "comfort food" for the next three years from his 200 million in pork. Senador Pong gets his usual 200 million slab, as well as his son Ruffy for his Muntinglupa. Queer though that a day after the fire that razed part of City Hall, the Lady would sashay into her press secretary’s former fiefdom, and woo opposition mayor Aldrin San Pedro, the Biazons’ ally, with 50 million to repair his partially-burned castle. And forthwith declare a state of "calamity" in the suburban city. Nasunog lang ang City Hall, calamity na? Wow! Do we see another "convert" to Kampi? Or is it because the national penitentiary, which sits on a hundred hectares of precious Muntinglupa land, is up for sale?

Did I miss any other families who have 200 million in Senate pork and 70 million in House pork?

In any case, it’s worth mentioning that Speaker Jose de Venecia has neither wife nor son occupying any seat in Senate or House. Even when every sipsip in this country was telling Manay Gina the Senate needed her, Manong Joe put his foot down. One of his sons got snowed under by the Boao railroad that got the country the ZTE broadband deal, thanks to Leandro Mendoza of the DOTC, whose son Mark is now the gentleman from the 4th district of Batangas, and it is said, the chair of the Commission on Electoral Cheating. Again, that’s another story which Dr. Raul Fabella and the UP School of Economics have rightly concluded to be another backbone too costly and unnecessary.

They said, quite eloquently, that the nation needs no government-owned broadband to serve as its communications backbone, and what it needs is to have "moral backbone".

I know that backbones are organically fortified by calcium. Pork in a barrel is all cholesterol, and in the history of our solons’ insatiable cravings, it certainly has not been good cholesterol for the country.

Malaya, Ausgust 10, 2008