Rudy Farinas, the representative of the 1st district of Ilocos Norte, has always been known for his brains. He finished eighth in the bar exams. He led impeachment campaigns in the House of Representatives and the prosecution team in the Senate trial of the late chief justice Renato Corona.
Praise for his mental prowess hasn't always been matched with that for behavior. Today, at congressional budget hearings, Farinas flexed his considerable political muscle in a contemptible way.
Farinas threatened Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Secretary Judy Taguiwalo not because of any incident of corruption or neglect of duty, but for rightfully implementing the Supreme Court decision against congressional pork.
Oh, he didn’t bludgeon her. Wise guys like Farinas threaten with the smoothness of molasses, but the menace is there all the same.
He crooned, asked Taguiwalo to treat him like her best friend … because as majority floor leader, he has the power to move along her budget request or leave her department stranded high and dry.
And, just in case, that didn’t sink into Taguiwalo’s brain, he added that he could also screw her a hundred different ways in the Commission on Appointments.
Anybody else – say, someone who’d worked all her life to get a plum post – would have squirmed.
Taguiwalo pushed back: “I’m fully aware of the power of the House of Representatives regarding the budget approval. Regarding your appointments, I don’t overestimate that whatever power we have in the department is really just an extension of the power of the authority given to us by President Duterte. Hindi po talaga kami ka-level ng House of Representatives.”
“I understand what you’re saying. I’m so happy that I have a best friend in you as majority floor leader and CA,” said the DSWD head, giving as good as she got.
Farinas threatening, because he doesn’t really care about Supreme Court decisions.
Why should he?
Under the former government, legislators were treated like gods – so long as they played ball with Benigno Aquino III.
The High Court’s unanimous decision was clear. Pork is intervention by legislators on where government funds go. It is a specific kind of intervention that happens after enactment of the national budget.
Taguiwalo’s “crime” was to issue DSWD Memorandum Circular No 9
The circular states that legislators are no longer entitled to dictate where DSWD emergency aid goes. It is exactly what the SC prescribed.
READ: DSWD head moves to shield welfare services from use as 'hidden pork'
We know, of course, that former President Aquino’s alter egos tried their best to go around the High Court.
Health Secretary Janet Garin met with legislators and assured them that the department’s Medical Assistance Program was still theirs to control – they just needed to send over referrals.
In short, she said that despite the SC ruling against PDAF, government funds were still reserved for legislators.
Read: SC ruling vs lawmakers' PDAF final
Taguiwalo’s circular did not order social workers to throw referrals into the dust bin.
She simply stressed that referrals are no longer “integral” to the implementation of the department’s Protective Services Program (PSP).
These would still be considered, she said, but would no longer be binding on DSWD staff. She also asked front-line employees to immediately report to her any attempts at coercion.
Data, not patronage driven
Legislators insist they know their constituents best. So what about all those six years of supposed streamlining of LGU and national data on the poorest of Filipinos?
Are these legislators now saying that the government does NOT have that kind of data -- despite the billions of pesos poured into programs for the most needy families?
Why shouldn’t the DSWD use its own data, the basis for the CCT and other programs, as the basis for identifying who needs that urgent aid?
Taguiwalo made it clear, anyway, that her department was open to discussing referrals, in case other factors cropped up to warrant aid.
Nobody is asking legislators to spend their own money. Where did Farinas get that idea?
What citizens – and the Supreme Court – have been asking is clear: Stop monkeying around with the budget. Stop pretending that citizens owe YOU for basic services because these are things owed them by the government.
Taguiwalo is finally giving citizens their due. Taguiwalo survived the Marcos dictatorship without abandoning her principles. She’s not going to be scared by the fat cats ike Farinas.
The DSWD showed in its treatment of distressed OFW workers that it can be efficient, impartial and compassionate to all, without needing legislators breathing down the necks of social workers.
Filipino citizens should tell the likes of Farinas to stuff their shafts of power where the sun don’t shine.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.