Lacson and pork insertions

Lacson and pork insertions Featured

Panfilo Lacson was not really held in great esteem when he burst into public consciousness as top policeman of the Presidential Anti-Crime Commission (PACC), a crime fighting bureaucracy under Vice-President “Erap” Estrada during the administration of President Fidel Ramos. Lacson was perceived to be a no-nonsense policeman who, like his sponsor, might consider the nuances of the application of the law as mere inconvenience.

In 1995, the PACC was linked to the killing of 11 members of the Kuratong Baleleng organized crime syndicate who were into kidnapping for ransom, robbery and illegal drugs, among others. Lacson and his men were alleged to have engaged them in a shootout, but witnesses and evidence showed that the whole scenario was staged. It was labeled by the press as a cold-blooded massacre. Nonetheless, the notoriety of the gang and its vicious methods pitted the group against public opinion. Human rights advocates were in uproar, while many law-abiding ordinary citizens distressed with rising crime were tolerant with the PACC’s methods. The criminal case against Lacson and his men were eventually dismissed.

Upon his assumption of office as President, Erap organized the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force (PAOCTF), headed by Lacson, who was then Police director general. During the short reign of Erap, corruption was endemic and an influential publicist and political operator, Salvador “Bobby” Dacer, was in the forefront, allegedly helping destabilize his regime.

In November 2000, Dacer and his driver were abducted, and their corpses burned. Senior officers of PAOCTF and Lacson were implicated in this ghastly crime. The case dragged on for years, but before Lacson could be charged in court, he fled the country and became a fugitive for months. He returned when the case against him was dismissed, finishing his first full term as senator of the land.

Lacson’s comportment was not surprising because of his image then as an acolyte given hands-on tutorials by the infamous Col. Rolando Abadilla, who was perceived to be the executioner and master torturer of the Marcos regime when he headed the notorious METROCOM Intelligence and Security Group (MISG).

During the Erap years (as VP and later, President) Lacson cultivated his image as a scourge of criminals, a curse to the incompetent and crooked cops under him, and he nurtured a reputation as an incorruptible law enforcer. He was known to refuse emoluments from grateful families of KFR victims, parlaying these deeds to a seat in the Philippine Senate.

It was as a senator when he perfected his anti-corruption persona as he refused to avail of his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), the “pork barrel” funds, which were sources of corruption for congressmen and senators. He unsuccessfully called for its abolition but in his first six-year senatorial term he had his PDAF reverted to the National Treasury, only the second senator to have done so.

Many began to reassess this maverick who has been shedding the façade of a violator of human rights and who assumed a different role as a fighter of corruption in the highest echelon of government – the two houses of Congress. From one who went on the lam for 15 months to skip an arrest warrant and murder charges, he morphed into one who crusaded against wholesale corruption. He placed third on his second term election bid for the Senate in 2016.

It will be recalled that in 2013, the Supreme Court declared PDAF unconstitutional after the expose of a massive scam by Janet Lim Napoles and the involvement of members of the two houses of Congress. Three senators were incarcerated for plunder as a result.

Today, it’s all overturned. The three senators, Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla have been exonerated and are now running for their old seats at the Senate. And worse, their main source of corruption, the “pork barrel system,” is back in the 2019 budget. And the pork barrel insertions are again being replayed at the start of every budget hearing, although these are being denied by the House Leadership.

“This political striptease on pork – by those exposing its hidden fat and by those defending its value – is as old as the tired debate on political dynasties.… One lawmaker would leak all the hidden insertions, others would condemn the practice, and the beneficiaries would sing praises to it: pork builds bridges; pork paves farm-to-market roads; pork constructs recreational facilities for the poor; and pork brings hospitals nearer to them. It is the grease that makes basic services happen.

(“Rappler” Glenda Gloria, Dec. 11, 2018)

And all of them have their pounds of flesh as percentages cut from the fat they can pocket out of these services, I might add.

Enter Senator Lacson, the only senator now in the realm that has the decency to champion, this time, the people’s and presumably, the Deegong’s fight against corruption.

Among the bill of particulars are the allocation of P60 million for each member of Congress, with some favorites such as Congressmen Rolly Andaya and Carlo Nograles allocated billions more. The House Speaker, former President GMA and a freed plunderer herself, is back in her old ways with fund insertions amounting to billions – although again denied by her.

Lacson fully knows well the evil representing these anomalous pork insertions and has vowed to kill them in the Senate budget deliberations.

He will fail! A single senator against a community of “honorable gentlemen and ladies” salivating for their share is just too much for a maverick unless the people led by the “anti-corruption President” moves with alacrity. But will he?

Thus, the ongoing reinvention of Lacson as the senator who will storm the ramparts of his own house, the Senate, plays perfectly into the political theater. While DU30 has been perceived as the President with the political will to fight corruption in the bureaucracy, he has been perceived also to be overwhelmed and his initiatives sputtering. And the bigger fight on corruption has shifted to both houses of the legislative body where the majority is the Deegong’s allies. But by necessity one of their own must perform surgery against the perceived anomalous budget. This role is perfect for Lacson, and he is gaining traction.

Duterte’s supporters, particularly the avid DDS who have been contemplating the post-DU30 scenario on who will continue his “pagbabago agenda,” have been building up the feisty daughter Sara to assume his mantle after he leaves the scene.

But in the scheme of things — with the constant complaints of the President that he is tired, his failure to deliver on his campaign promises (federalism, the peace process), and overall governance ennui — he has created a dangerous perception of a vacuum in governance. That could be dangerously filled by the denizens of the political past, the GMA cohorts now populating not only the halls of Congress but even the key real estate in the Cabinet and major bureaucracies.

And in all these convoluted scenarios, a PRRD clone in the ascendant awaits on the sidelines: Panfilo Lacson.

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