The Youth, the DAP, and Public Finance in General

Professor Sarah Raymundo of the University of the Philippines said that one of the indicators that specific issues are already socially relevant is when they become part household humor. In the “Search for the Hidden Pork Forum” held at the UP College of Law, she shared how, when her relatives recently acquired two piglets, one of them was named Janet and the other one was named PDAF.

The Pork Barrel system has transcended the political and it is now in the realm of pop-culture. People are angry and tired with the idea that their taxes are not going where they’re supposed to. And the manifestations of corruption really are infuriating.

Private mansions are being built instead of schools or hospitals. In the South, lavish capitols are built at every change of regime, depending on the politicians’ “baluarte”, while most of the farming communities still live in abject poverty.

Ill-gotten wealth allows the politicians’ children get to go the most expensive schools and universities, sometimes abroad, where they ironically learn about social justice and equality. All the while little girls are married off at 12 and boys become farmers at 11 in rural barangays where public education is nothing more than a fleeting concept. Teenage girls and boys are prostituted and/or abused, sometimes by their parents. Teenage girls bleed to death at their first miscarriage.

 If somebody asks if there is a “struggle” among the Filipino youth, well the answer is yes. This has less to do with juvenile heartbreaks on Facebook and hashtags than the actual implications of a broken system of public finance to the lives of young people.

When we talk about corruption, we generally think that it’s a topic that’s too mature for us. If we assume a demographic based solely on birth year, I’m talking about the Filipino Millennials or those born in the 1980s to the early 2000s; a sector that comprises around 1/3 of the population. The term “Millenials” can also refer to a certain demographic of attitudes, psychological and sociological traits apparent in young people. We are supposed to be the tech-savvy, narcissistic, socio-liberal and globally informed, online generation on Twitter. We speak through hashtags, memes, gifs and Youtube.

But do we talk about corruption? More specifically, do we talk about the DAP?

The Pork Barrel System: from PDAF to DAP

The Pork Barrel system, with the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and the Malampaya Fund, has been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. The premise was that it violated the balance of powers in the government because it allowed the Legislative to assume Executive roles in the usage of public funds. This led to collusion between the two branches of government. Through the PDAF, which totaled around P25 billion for this year’s budget but was “eliminated” after the SC decision, Legislators could “recommend” projects by non-government organizations. A lot of these NGOs turned out to be bogus and none of the projects were actually made. The Legislators got kickbacks and that’s ONE way that money is corrupted in government.  This is how Napoles did it.

It’s not just the Legislative of course. It is highly unlikely that the Executive had nothing to do with pork barrel scam. One of the problems that we’re facing now is tracing the dynamics of corruption in government. It has become a systemic form of cancer in governance where with every malignant lump that we remove or find, we find more and more. The PDAF was one of these lumps that we have superficially removed, but a further look into the budget and government would show that the pork barrel system is very much alive.

The pork is not dead. It was simply tucked away somewhere in the system.

#DAP

 The Disbursement Acceleration Program is the next big issue in the world of Philippine public finance. In monetary amounts, it’s around PhP 130- PhP 150 billion pesos. It’s hard to simplify the issue but basically it’s a mechanism that allowed the Executive to “pool” “savings” from unspent appropriations from government agencies and use it to augment existing projects or fund new projects through Department of Budget and Management Circular 541.

Funding projects without appropriation cover in the General Appropriations Act is against the law. On this premise alone, the DAP is unconstitutional, at least to the petitioners against the DAP in case filed at the Supreme Court. The petitioners include no less than the Philippine Constitution Association, and public finance experts Prof. Emeritus Leonor Magtolis Briones and Dr. Benjamin Diokno.

The Disbursement Acceleration Program is another scandal like the PDAF in the sense that there was collusion between the Executive and Legislative as well. However, instead of the Legislative assuming Executive roles, it was the other way around. Instead of actually following the budget law Budget Circular 541 made it possible for the Executive to allocate funds outside the GAA. These allocations were given to Legislators, essentially making it pork barrel.

Again, the DAP is pork barrel. In the Supreme Court Oral Arguments on the program, the DBM was on the edge and short of admitting its unconstitutionality. The most damning is DBM’s admitting to cross-border transfers made by the Executive to different government agencies like the Congress and the Commission on audit. They justified it through its perceived merits, like the need for the Executive to be flexible with the budget, regardless of the presence of a present budget law.

 Strangely enough, along with praising its benefits, they have also killed the DAP.

This seems like an attempt to subdue the strong criticism and allegations against the DAP, but the case has gone too far in the Supreme Court, media and social consciousness; at least for certain sectors who are watching the budget.

The Youth in all of this

We’re taxpayers. The age range for the youth is 15-35, making us either studying, employed, or both. But many are also out of school and unemployed, some even married, and even they pay consumer tax with everything they buy. From socks to Jollibee, when we pay, we pay taxes.

Many of us get to go to school where we can learn about these things but according the National Statistics Office, one in every eight Filipinos aged 6 to 24 are out of school. I come from the University of the Philippines, where we’ve always maintained that education a basic right, and statistics like this is very disturbing.

My point here is that the Filipino youth is asymmetrically informed and empowered, though I believe that all the youth have the shared responsibility to address this issue as well. The “Millennials” among us who have access to education, information, and yes, the internet, have the capacity to usher in the change that we need in budget and political reform- for those in our sector who are currently vulnerable and incapacitated by the current system.

What do we do about it?

Aside from being informed and following issues in public finance, and DAP in particular, I believe that there are plenty of avenues where the youth can become part of the change, and I hope we never get tired of hearing this. “Becoming part of the change” has become a jaded motherhood slogan for so many of us, even for me, after being exposed to a lot of youth politics that use it for campaigns but ultimately focused more on individual gain than actual change. Even in UP, there were “trapos in the making”. But in spite of that, I believe that we aren’t just part of the change, but crucial to it.

I want the youth to care and become part of organizations that carry advocacies that matter to us. Hopefully, public finance becomes one of these advocacies and we can start with the issue of Pork Barrel. Aside from the DAP, PDAF and our loathing for Janet Napoles, there are plenty of things to look into. There are still things called “Lump Sums”, “Special Purpose Funds”, “Presidential Pork”, and agency level corruption.  It would be great if these were also raised in the discussion of the Freedom of Information Bill, which is at least already on the move.

I work for Social Watch Philippines, a civil society organization that’s fighting for transparency in government and citizens’ participation in public finance. It does this through capacity building activities and local engagements with people’s organizations and various groups.

Eventually, we’d like to have a youth arm for SWP. It’s still on the drawing board and there’s plenty of work to do, but for young people out there who are interested, the SWP Facebook page is really friendly. Or you can help us out and shoot me an email at justin.crisologo@gmail.com.

I’ll write you a poem if you do. 

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Disbursement Acceleration Program Series: Part II

Part II: Killing off DAP

The Disbursement Acceleration Program was credited by Budget Secretary Florencio Abad to have contributed 1.3 percentage points to the country’s economic growth, with the Budget Secretary citing the World Bank for this part of his presentation.

However, IBON Foundation has released a statement saying otherwise.

“It is an exaggerated interpretation of a misleading World Bank report,” IBON executive director Sonny Africa said. The World Bank’s March 2012 Philippines Quarterly Updated said that “the government’s DAP was partially successful and contributed 1.3 percentage points to GDP growth in [the fourth quarter of] 2011. The same report, however, clarifies in a footnote that this contribution actually refers to that of total government consumption and public construction and not just DAP-related spending.”

Social Watch Philippines has also traced the original World Bank report and arrived at the same conclusion with IBON. The 1.3 % growth was credited only in the FOURTH quarter of 2011, not the entirety of 2011.

One of the basic premises of the report was the importance of government spending to stimulate the economy. There were slow-moving projects that meant “lost opportunities” for the government, so money was realigned elsewhere. DAP was reported as an economic stimulus that helped the Philippines not only progress economically, but socially as well.

With the DAP purportedly contributing to the GDP growth, not only in 2011 but in up to 2013’s momentous 7.6% rating as well, Sec. Abad also implied that it enabled the government to spend more for education, infrastructure and social services. For the last one, he showed that spending for the 4Ps or the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, the country’s version of the Conditional Cash Transfer program, increased from P 6.6 B to P62 B in 2013.(However, I wouldn’t be too proud of the 4Ps, given that it’s calculated rate of leakage is around 29%. Social Watch Philippines has a whole other critique on the 4Ps.)

Though the government argued heavily on the benefits of DAP, it also strangely asserts that the current administration has used it “less” compared to past administrations.

The Solicitor General talked about how, in the past, the government’s realignments were more extensive and primarily used for partisan and political reasons. The current administration, however, was simply responding to the “dynamic needs of the country and evolving demands of governance”.

Nevertheless, they realigned funds, without the knowledge of the Congress or the public, to projects but in smaller amounts. Still, these were billions worth of public money.

Then he drops this bomb: The DAP no longer exists. Therefore, the case is now moot and academic.

Why? Assuming that the DAP is reasonable and all good, with the economic performance improving and all that, why kill it now?

He says it’s because it has already done its job of expanding the economy. The circumstances and conditions that necessitated the DAP no longer exist. When grilled repeatedly by the justices on why the program was created in the first place, the Solicitor General repeatedly said that “reality isn’t perfect” that’s why it was necessary for the government did what it had to do.

So has the government “perfected” reality now that the DAP is nullified? Are the agencies finally spending at the rate expected of them and there are no more slow-moving projects? Not likely.

Or is there another mechanism, as yet unknown or created, that would allow the Executive appropriate savings without the Congress or the public knowing? This possibility is quite terrifying.

DAP Petitioner Greco Belgica states that “DAP cancellation is Admission- NOT MOOT. The Government’s attempts to make our DAP petitions moot, in effect, is an attempt to make illegal acts impossible to punish. Justice requires retribution and restoration.”

Federico Pascual wrote in Philippine Star that Malacañang’s legal logic is “bizarre”, and it “is like asking that charges of rape be dropped just because the accused has stopped raping his victim or has promised not to rape other women.”

The inconsistency in the government’s position is obvious and the justification is a hard sell. “We no longer need it so the SC might as well drop the case”. The question of constitutionality doesn’t automatically disappear because it’s a question of principle and governance.

Constitutionality is now the realm of words, interpretations, and ultimately, justice.

To be continued.

The Disbursement Acceleration Program Series: Part 1

Part I: From PDAF to DAP

The decision from the Supreme Court isn’t out yet, but the position taken by many individuals and organizations on the Disbursement Acceleration Program is already clear:

It’s unconstitutional.

If there was anything good from Sen. Jinggoy Estrada’s “why-just-me” tirade, which was the first the public even knew about the DAP, we can say that he was the proverbial child with a proverbial snow globe. He shook it and now we’re in flurry of things, from issues of constitutionality to corruption in the inner workings of public finance. His privilege speech was historical, in a way.

According to Estrada, amounts of around P 100 M pesos were given to some Senators with the intention to influence the decision concerning the impeachment case of the then Chief Justice Renato Corona. He was eventually impeached, and those who voted for his conviction allegedly got “love gifts” or “thank you’s” from the Executive in the form of additional funding that was then later revealed by Budget Secretary Florencio Abad as DAP.  The totality of DAP is estimated at around P137 B.

This money was then supposedly used to fund projects recommended by the Senators, essentially making it a form of Legislative Pork Barrel. It wasn’t exactly the Priority Development Assistance Fund or PDAF, the fancy legal name we have for Legislative pork, but it basically worked the same way. Legislators played a hand in tasks they weren’t supposed to; that is, the discretionary and Executive task of directing the flow of money. The amounts given to Legislators from DAP was, in essence, Pork Barrel.

By now, all of us should be aware that the PDAF was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. It was vulnerable to abuse and it went against the balance of powers in the government. PDAF was used as a bargaining chip, or carrot and stick, whatever you want to call it, by the Executive to negotiate with the Legislative in the approval of the budget.

Even in public finance, when it’s time to tango, it always takes two.

PDAF is now dead. Well, at least we probably won’t call pork “PDAF” anymore. There are still huge lump sums in the 2014 budget; huge amounts under Executive control that have no details or appropriation cover. These, we still have to look out for.

But now we’re moving on to DAP. So how is it so different from PDAF? Well, PDAF was at least actually in the budget, albeit a lump sum. DAP was not. It almost came out of nowhere. If PDAF was unconstitutional, DAP should be an open and shut case, right?

Well, as much as we want it to be that way, the Supreme Court has to intellectually nitpick at it as much as they can so we’re certain. If the Oral Arguments are any indication, the Justices can really nitpick at words and their interpretations. Words like “savings”, “respective”, “obligations” etc. are given a whole new dimension that shames our peasant vocabulary and understanding. These words will become relevant later when I write about the next parts of this series.

Justifying the DAP

In the Supreme Court DAP Oral Arguments last January 28,2014, Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad prepared a PowerPoint presentation on the DAP entitled “The Performance Informed Budget”. Here, the Secretary explained the history of DAP, its different forms in past administrations and, more importantly, its rationale.

Sec. Abad explained that DAP was a program that was made so that idle money in government agencies’ slow-moving projects could be put to better use; “economic expansion” to be precise. The government tagline, succinctly stated by the Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza, was “use it or you lose it”.

He also said that managing the country’s budget was far more complex than managing a household budget. He’s very right in this respect. Actually, he may be right only in this respect.

The Solicitor General said that, in the household, every peso saved is a victory. In the government, “savings” mean lost opportunities for jobs, the multiplier effect, etc.

The DAP works like a siphon that gets funding from agency allotments and puts these in a pool of savings for the government, which is then supposedly used to fund or augment existing projects in the government. Which projects get augmented funding depends on agency recommendations, and more broadly, “its necessity”.

The shining example of this in Jardeleza’s presentation is Project NOAH through the Disaster Risk Exposure and Assessment and Mitigation Project (DREAM). This was handled by the Department of Science and Technology and it has provided us with crucial information on storm surges and other warnings when typhoons hit the Philippines. DAP funding here was around P 1.5 B.

Aside from DREAM, the evidence packets submitted to the Supreme Court contained 115 other projects that were “legally” funded through savings from DAP, and they challenged the petitioners to look into all of these projects to expose if there are any irregularities.

Another argument was on the need of the President and the Executive branch to have enough flexibility or “elbow room” to do their job. It’s constitutionally enshrined as well, according to the government, as cited in Article VI, Section 25 (5) of the Philippine Constitution.

Bribery

When Sen. Estrada revealed the existence of DAP, the “stimulus package” clause was pretty much ignored or seen as a cover up. It was a bribe, plain and simple. Predictably, the Executive denied this. Statements from the Palace asked whether the amounts could be considered bribes when they were “given after the fact”.

The DAP is now under fire from so many groups, from the actual petitioners to their supporters. But the curious thing is, the government’s move was to take the DAP out of existence, thereby making the case “moot and academic”.

Yes folks, DAP is dead. Or is it?

To be continued.

Old lumps, new lumps in the 2014 budget

 by Prof. Emeritus Leonor Magtolis Briones

Social Watch Philippines Lead Convenor

*This article is also published in The Manila Times website, sans the table on Special Purpose Funds. 

http://manilatimes.net/old-lumps-new-lumps-in-the-2014-budget/69318/#comment-56421

 

Last December 20, 2013, the President approved the 2014 General Appropriations Act and signed it into law. The public is asking whether it is any different from earlier GAAs.

 

The 2014 budget has the same features as earlier budgets, except on the matter of PDAF and the lump sums.  Even as the PDAF has been officially declared unconstitutional, the public is not fully convinced that it has been totally excised. This four letter word is nowhere to be seen in the 2014 budget but the lump sums of the Executive are still in place.

The disputed PDAF was originally proposed for Ph25 billion.  It was part f the Ph310 billion Special Purpose Funds of the Executive.  While the PDAF has either been realigned or removed, the Special Purpose Funds under the control of the Executive  have been retained at the whopping total of Ph282.570 billion. The following are the allocations in the Special Purpose Funds for 2014:

 

SPECIAL PURPOSE FUNDS

         2014 National Expenditure Program

                   2014 Gen. Appropriations Act

Budgetary Support to                           Government Corporations

46,696,697,000

46,255,210,000

Allocation to Local Government Units

19,705,022,000

19,588,843,000

Calamity Fund

7,500,000,000

13,000,000,000

Contingent Fund

1,000,000,000

1,000,000,000

DepEd School Building Program

1,000,000,000

1,000,000,000

E-Government Fund

2,478,900,000

2,478,900,000

International Commitments Fund

4,815,644,000

4,815,644,000

Miscellaneous Personnel Benefits Fund

80,713,614,000

53,535,086,000

Pension and Gratuity Fund (formerly Retirement Benefits Fund)

120,495,952,000

120,495,952,000

Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Program

20,000,000,000

Priority Development Assistance Fund

25,240,000,000

0

Feasibility Studies Fund

400,000,000

400,000,000

TOTAL

310,047,901,0002

282,569,635,000

 

Source: Bicameral Report; General Appropriations Act FY 2014

 

The allocations are not significantly different from the original allocations except for PDAF which was removed, Miscellaneous Personnel Benefits Fund which was reduced,  Calamity Fund which was increased, and the new lump the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Program

CHALLENGES AND ISSUES IN THE 2014 BUDGET

1.   The biggest single challenge in the 2014 budget is the continued presence of lump sums.  The Executive’s Special Purpose Fund is composed of 11 allocations totaling Ph282.570 billion.

Since the Special Purpose Fund is in the 2014 budget which now has the force of law, what can media and the citizens do?

First, they have to join hands in closely monitoring the budget, especially the lumps.

Second, they can insist that the general provision requiring DBM to report quarterly to the Committee on Finance of the Senate and the Committee on Appropriations of the House on the status of all lump sum appropriations.  In 2010, the Commission on Audit noted that the DBM has not been complying with this requirement.

Third, they can remind the Commission on Audit to conduct a special audit of these funds regularly.  The last time an audit was conducted on the SPFs was in 2009. The period covered was up to 2008.  This is now the year of our Lord 2014.

2.  Another equally daunting challenge is to accelerate the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Program.  It appears that there is no lack of funding, whether from domestic or external sources.

3.  A related problem is Disaster Planning and Preparedness.  As a people, we are quick to respond to the destruction created by calamities.  We are not as quick and forward-looking in terms of preparing for future calamities. This is very clear in the 2014 budget.

4.  Still another problem is governance.  Citizens are fed by the media with a daily diet of scandals and new evidences of massive corruption.  The total national expenditure program is Ph2.264 trillion. Total programmed appropriations is Ph1.468 trillion.  Unprogrammed funds amount to Ph139 billion.  It cannot be said that the government does not have sufficient funds. The challenges of good governance remain formidable.

5.  Finally, the budget has yet to become a tool for poverty reduction. For decades, the budget has not functioned as an instrument of redistribution of income and wealth and of inclusive development. One look at our poverty and social statistics raises the all important question: if our budget is so large, how come so many of us are poor.

CONCLUDING REMARK

It is claimed that many reforms have been introduced in our budget system.  The entire country was euphoric about the Supreme Court Decision on congressional pork, or PDAF.  Citizens are looking forward to its decision on the Development Acceleration Program.  DBM has just announced its GAA as Release Document System.  Any attempt at reform must be given a chance to work.

Unfortunately, the lump sums will not be covered by this new system, precisely because lumps don’t have details.  Thus, the very problem that is the object of citizens’ demands is not covered by this newest reform.

One is almost tempted to repeat the adage that “the more things change, the more they remain the same!”

The year 2014 is fraught with challenges. We are threatened by looming natural calamities even as we are still struggling to recover from past disasters.  The scandal which has ignited people’s rage has not been completely solved. the Office of the Ombudsman is still sifting the evidence.

In the meantime, poverty continues to rise, along with unemployment and all the other social ills even as the GDP likewise continues to rise.

Allow me to repeat once more what I have endlessly stated: only the combined forces of media and citizens can bring about genuine budget reforms.

Yes, the battle against the constitutionality of PDAF has been won.  Nonetheless, the war against the rest of lump sums in the budget continues. Perhaps, just perhaps, if we citizens, CSOs, civic and educational institutions, faith based organizations and media put our act together, 2014 may just become an annus mirabilis (wonderful year). 

Beyond plywood and floor measurements

by Erick Crisologo

Social Watch Philippines

All over the world, Typhoon Yolanda left her mark. In the Philippines, we saw in her wake the devastated communities which lost billions worth of property. Lives were broken, and there are losses in this that can’t ever be quantified.

 Yet here and in foreign nations we saw the flow of aid and donations. After all the things that made the world awful; the wars, the poverty, and the extinctions both natural and moral, humanity somehow redeemed itself, at least partly, when we showed that we cared.

 It doesn’t end there.

 After the storm, it’s now about rehabilitation for the individuals and families affected. It’s also never too late to be drawing up plans so we’re better prepared for disasters in the future. It’s now about building back; better if we can.

 One of the main issues right now is the construction of bunkhouses, which have been called “substandard” by Architect Felino Palafox. There are pictures of these bunkhouses and their specifications; 8.64 square meters, plywood walls, galvanized roofs, a window and a door.

 Palafox criticizes that the bunkhouses are too small and are not livable for people. He says that, according to international standards, it should be at least 21 square meters for a family of five. The design itself, with two slope roofs instead of four, makes the structures vulnerable to strong winds if ever another storm hits the place.

 Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson says that the bunkhouses are temporary and they’re not bound by international standards. How temporary? We’re not really sure, but he says that it will be around two years before the construction of all bunkhouses will be finished.

 Compared to the makeshift tents and tarps, the bunkhouses are relatively more tolerable. But should we, without the consideration of other strategies, simply expect the people to choose a lesser evil? 

There is a common bathroom for 24 bunkhouses, and therefore, for 24 families.

 For two years, if these families are not able to build back their own homes, they have to live with in this communal world filled with vulnerabilities.

A lot can happen in two years.

 In times of disaster and rehabilitation, people’s lives immediately shift into a new dynamic. Daily habits have to adjust to the availability and lack of resources to keep on living. A common bathroom might not seem like the worst thing in a landscape of loss (at least there’s a bathroom) but imagine having the need to go there at midnight. There is no electricity and you carry a lamp to light your path, and along the way you are grabbed by someone in the dark.

 You are smothered by a dirty hand over your mouth, and in a few, slow moments, you realize that you are being raped. You try to scream, and everything happens in pitch black darkness. You go back to your house, possibly irreparably damaged by the ordeal.

 The occurrence of rape isn’t just a theoretical event that can happen, but it’s a form vulnerability that has manifested many times over in post-disaster areas in the Philippines. Women and children are especially vulnerable, but chances are that men have also been raped too.

 There are no public reports yet of rape or increased frequencies of rape in post-Yolanda rehabilitation areas. But it does not mean that it won’t ever happen, or that it eliminates its present probability.

 A terrifying quality of abuse is that it is rarely made public because many of the abused choose to keep silent. The revelation of rape can lead to the further disempowerment of the raped, when the very label of “victim” makes the victimization all too powerful and real.

 Children are the most vulnerable because they often do not understand the motivations and nature of abuse. Even now, in poor communities around the Philippines, such as those of informal settlers around dump sites and poor villages, the lack of security and social protection inherent to poverty has made rapes occur more frequently than in communities with decent or adequate living conditions.

A lot of cases of statutory rape happen in domestic environments and many are incestuous, with an older, usually male, relative, molesting and abusing a younger member of the family. Domestic violence and spousal rape also happen in conditions like this.

 Architect Palafox has also said the structures should address gender-oriented issues, like having separate rooms for male and female members of the family. The structural integrity also carries obvious implications of the level of security expected for the families.

Another issue of vulnerability hinged on gender and age is human trafficking, which again concern mostly women and children. The threat of this has been cited by Plan International, a United Kingdom-based charity currently involved in post-Yolanda operations. Samar, in particular, has been cited as one area where this has frequently occurred- even before the supertyphoon hit. 

Like many people who talk about this issue, a lot of the information I am getting is from social media, the news and accounts from some close friends and co-workers, some of whom have families affected by the typhoon or are working on the ground in the rehabilitation process.

I have not been to Tacloban, before or after its desolation. I have not seen the controversial bunkhouses in person; I haven’t looked into the eyes of the people who lost their homes, or smelled the decay in the streets a few days after the storm. I didn’t see that precise moment when a father was shot, when food was stolen, and when things became really desperate. I was not there when a child or a woman was raped in the night and couldn’t talk about it in the morning.

 

But these things did or can happen, whether or not you and I will ever see them as they do. We can’t go back to the way things were because people were vulnerable even before the typhoon hit.

It’s now not just an issue of criticizing the physicalities of the rehabilitation process; the thickness of the plywood or the steel roof, but to socially develop the broken communities as well. This comes with the acknowledgement of vulnerabilities in its different forms, and the masks under which they can be hidden.

It’s time to build safe communities and homes, not just houses.

 

Sex and Money: Gender in the Scope of Public Finance

by Erick Crisologo

 

After Yolanda struck, a wonderful young woman named Raine Calucag, a friend of mine, organized a relief operation called “The Butterfly Project”. What made it different from other donation drives is that it particularly focused acquiring sanitary napkins, diapers and hygienic products for the Typhoon victims.

 

“The Butterfly Project” was a smart project because it was sensible enough to give a something specific to hang onto when, in the throes of generosity and the compulsion to help out, we end up giving so many clothes, canned goods and instant noodles.

 

However, in my opinion, the greater implication of the project is that it contextualized needs in terms of gender.

 

 

The idea that gender plays a profound role in society and individuality has been established with the diverse array of academic and popular literature that has been devoted to it through the years. Gender can be a lens for social development, and it has become a key factor for developmental plans in policy and governance frameworks. We’re exploring sexuality in more insightful ways than your “experimentation” in college.

 

But what are we really talking about when we throw in terms like “gender sensitivity”, “heteronormativity”, “patriarchal dynamics” , “reproductive rights” etc.?

 

Well, these terms are google-able and each one has extensive literature and issues. But basically, when we talk about gender and sexuality, we’re talking about certain qualities that define us as social individuals; who or what we’re attracted to, what our perceived roles are based on biological and social concepts of “me” and everybody else, etc.

 

In other words, though our sexuality and gender identity might not define us completely, these play a role in defining us in terms of what we do, what we need, how we see ourselves and how we’re seen by others. Gender can define the intangible degree of empowerment that we have as much as it can define our degree of vulnerability in the societies where we dwell, each having its own cultural nuances on the subject.

 

Gender is complex. And money is involved, too.

 

As a socio-developmental framework, gender in policy planning and implementation paints a clearer picture of people, their needs and the government’s role in providing the public goods and services. Contingent to the provision of goods and services, public finance plays a crucial role as well in development.

 

The United Nations and various civil society organizations have made great advances in promoting women’s and children’s rights and maternal healthcare, campaigns against violence, rape, human trafficking and hate crimes against members of the “third” sex. Governments have also made commitments to craft their developmental plans with gender as a factor.

 

All of it would eventually manifest in the operative and tangible implications of public finance. We now ask how much the government spends for women’s rights, or its efforts for gender equality. We ask what the government’s priorities are and what the gender implications of these are when they manifest into projects.

 

We can illustrate this concept with the relief operations in Yolanda as an example.

 

In affected areas, many people live in rehabilitation sites and make-shift homes that provide little security. Many people are coming in from the outside to join relief operations. There’s no electricity and bathrooms become communal and far away from where many of the people have made their temporary shelters.

 

 People, especially women and children, are vulnerable to rape and other forms of sexual abuse. The abusers can be locals or outsiders under the guise of being volunteers. There’s no light at night so some women have been raped on their way to bathroom. Practically anybody can enter their shelters and abuse them right then and there.

 

The point here basically is that they are vulnerable. When the plans are made, details like where the bathroom should be and the security mechanisms should take vulnerability based on gender as a factor. Having a picture of this would then give us an idea of how much we have to spend for it.

 

On a general setting, public spending on priority projects and departments has gender implications, particularly on employment. In the Philippines, government prioritization of infrastructure makes it easier for men to be employed in manual labor. Say, for example, if there was more spending on health and education, these gender neutral avenues can give women employment opportunities.

 

Gender dynamics at the home can also be affected by policies that entail public spending. While the Reproductive Health Law is still subject to much debate from various sectors, we will ultimately spend for the pamphlets and training modules to be mass produced. We will have to pay for consultations with experts and the salaries of the researchers and trainers. Then whatever ideal the state chooses to promote regarding gender will reach homes, affect our perceived roles in the family, and possibly shift our perceptions of gender and its diversity of concepts and manifestations.

 

 

I believe that we need something like “The Butterfly Project” in the greater developmental path the Philippines has to take to socially progress. The sanitary napkins and diapers didn’t just magically appear because people needed them. At one point in time, somebody had to conceptualize the project and then spend money for what was needed.

 

In a way, “The Butterfly Project” is an acknowledgment of the needs that are present in the details that can be overlooked even when with the idea that we have a definite goal. Gender in development is an acknowledgment of the social sphere that exists and that is inextricably affected by, maybe ironically, something as genderless as public finance. 

The Rape of the Filipino People

by Erick Crisologo

A few weeks ago, an article about Bolivia’s Manitoba Colony became trending over Facebook. It was shared 3,444 times, and “liked” over 16,000 times. It was about women in the community waking up soiled and abused, without any memory of the rape that had gone the night before. With Amish-like lifestyles; that is, deeply conservative, religious and with limited technology from the “outside world”, the conclusion was that the women were raped by ghosts and demons. Some men were raped as well. They prayed that the rapes would stop.

One night, a group of men were caught, admitting to the crimes they’ve committed in a four-year span, starting in 2005.

http://www.vice.com/read/the-ghost-rapes-of-bolivia-000300-v20n8

The story goes deeper into the heart of abuse and rape, often involving incest, in the seemingly simple and pristine domesticity of the community.

Thinking about the ghost rapes of Bolivia reminds me how frightening the issue of rape is. When it happens to individuals; women, children, and even men, I think it to be possibly the most invasive thing that can happen to anybody. Only a few weeks ago, two of lady-guards in the University of the Philippines girls’ dormitories were beat up and sexually assaulted. Somebody is being raped right now as I write this article.

But in many ways, the case of the Manitoba Colony is far more insiduous because theydidn’t know how it was happening. They woke up bruised and stained with blood, dirt and semen and they did not have a memory of any of it because they were sedated. They thought that their rapists were demons, and being extremely conservative, the issue could not even be openly addressed. There came a point when it was just something they tried to forget, if not live with. When the rapists were caught, even as the rapes still did continue afterwards, the women were made to forgive their rapists and made to forget that they ever happened.

They were asked to forget.

In another dimension of rape, I believe that as a people, we have been subject to political and cultural rape for a long time. Like the rape victims of the Manitoba Colony, we knew only later to what extent it was happening. We knew what was happening in the most basic sense, but we lived with it.

We’ve lived so long with the idea that the government will always be corrupt. We lived with the idea, accepted it, and even chose to forget that it was wrong. We chose to let it happen eventually, predictably, because we couldn’t, or wouldn’t, find the proof that we needed.

It’s not exactly like the “rape” that happens when you feel that you lose yourself, or a part of yourself and it breaks your heart. Maybe nothing will ever be as dispossessing as physical rape, and maybe losing your taxes to corruption is a poor comparison to it. After all,”lust” and “greed” have qualities that are irredeemably different. But in spite of the difference in form or degree, the rape of our people has happened, and is happening.

Our politicians steal from us and we have always known. With the present issues on the Priority Development Assistance Fund and Disbursement Acceleration Program, we’re gleaning into the extent of how much was stolen, and can still be stolen from us. A lot of us relied on the fact that our lives are not completely ruined by it because, well, we don’t feel the need to be close to the government anyway. We pay our taxes, albeit resentfully, but we go back to work because we have to. Sometimes we could live with the idea because some of them were actually nice. It would be an honor if they went to our weddings or the christening of our babies. They’d be godfathers and they’d send us a ham on Christmas. They were powerful people, and being friends with them made us feel powerful too.

It was a given that they’d get a cut when there was a road project or a bridge. Well, so what if they did? We needed the bridge and wanted the road. At the end of the day, they still did their jobs and maybe it was forgivable that their houses, bigger than any of ours, just got bigger with another floor. We don’t know that road could have been finished sooner, or maybe some of the money could have gone to building schools and making jobs for farmers. Houses could have been built for the homeless, or hospitals maybe. Mothers could have been saved instead of bleeding to death at childbirth. Children wouldn’t have to be hungry or be prostitutes at eleven years old.

But let’s be fair. Perhaps these things aren’t simply due to corruption anyway and idealism really is stupid. The world is shit and there’s no point trying to clean it up. How can you clean shit anyway? I mean, the government didn’t force people to get pregnant or be whores or thieves or rapists. Crime is a choice, and whether or not you’re driven to it doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not the mayor or the congressman takes a few million from the people.

But is it really as clear cut as that? As accountable as people are to their lives, can we really not blame the government at all?

Maybe what’s worse is that we slowly and collectively came to the resignation that we would do the same thing if we were in their place- that if we could get a way with it, we would. We take the money that’s given to us during elections because our “delusions” of democracy and power are less real than the bills handed to us. Actually, that’s when we feel powerful because that’s when they need something from us- and we sell our rights because, why not?We’ve come to accept that corruption is not unethical, but rather, an opportunity. We play this perverted game of thrones as if we could ever win. We’ve been raped and we accept that. If we can, we’d even be the rapists, and in that, we have truly lost.

What I’ve learned from Philippine politics is that you don’t have to be good to be powerful. Actually, being good might even get you killed. Ethics is overrated and subjective, and being optimistic about the Filipino capacity for change is naive and annoying. Protests are ephemeral and symbolic, and media is made up of hypocritical vultures. Religion is mysogynist, vain and frivolous. We can’t worry about fixing these things because they have become philosophical luxuries and we need to find jobs, make money and survive. Optimism just makes us vulnerable to disappointment, and in a country like the Philippines, there’s a lot of disappointment to go around. But isn’t ironic that if we did fix these things, that there could be more jobs and more money to go around?

I think that we think that we’ve won with our cynicism when it makes us feel invulnerable. The government is hopeless and fighting for hopeless causes is admirably idiotic. We allow the rape because we can take it. But even if we can, because our lives are relatively stable, can we fight for those who can’t? Can we allow ourselves, after so many years of being desensitized to the idea of poverty and injustice, to feel and fight for the vulnerable because we can still be good people? If our current system fails us, can we make the choice to not fail ourselves?

The rape of our people, the corruption of our people’s money, our disempowerment and cynicism, and maybe even the corruption of our conscience; all of this, will not end if we do not choose it to.