Buencamino writes political commentary for Action for Economic Reforms. This piece was published in the April 1, 2009 edition of the Business Mirror, page A10.

“The number one rule of thieves is that nothing is too small to steal.” – Jimmy Breslin

This paper’s Monday editorial criticized Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s veto of the transparency clause in the 2009 budget.

The provision Arroyo could not stomach stated:

“subject to limitations as may be provided by law, the right of the people to information on matters of public concern, guaranteed under Section 7, Article III of the Constitution as well as with the state policy of full disclosure of all its transactions involving public interest, every government agency shall, upon request by any citizen, make available the data under their possession for information, scrutiny, copying, or reproduction of all records of information, in any form whatsoever, pertaining to the implementation of the appropriations under this Act including but not limited to information on projects, disbursement of funds, reports, contract bidding and awards.”

The veto, according to the editorial, “opens the floodgates anew for unscrupulous bureaucrats to stuff their pockets full of public money…away from the glare of public scrutiny.”

It concluded that the “lack of transparency and accountability in the disbursement of this year’s budget as a result of the presidential veto offers us yet another concrete proof that, in fact, we may have the complete opposite of good governance at work in this country.”

I agree with everything in that sentence except for the word “may.” There is no question that we have the complete opposite of good governance in this country and the veto is yet another concrete proof of that.

But, in all fairness to the Philippine mafia, politicians all over the world are allergic to light.  That’s because politics is about compromise.

An honest politician may never compromise his principles but he will compromise his priorities from time to time.  And so even an honest politician will, like his crooked colleague, favor opacity over transparency. After all, he too lives or dies by the vote.

In America, transparency over congressional earmarks became an issue when President  Barack Obama proposed that members of Congress open their requested earmarks to public scrutiny by posting them in advance on their websites.

“The public and the press can examine them and judge their merit for themselves.”

Obama emphasized he was not against earmarks per se.
“Done right, earmarks give legislators the opportunity to direct federal money to worthy projects that benefit people in their district.”
But he added, “On occasion earmarks have been used as a vehicle for waste, fraud and abuse. Projects have been inserted at the eleventh hour, without review, and sometimes without merit, in order to satisfy the political or personal agenda of a given legislator, rather than the public interest.”
The American people welcomed Obama’s proposal. Their representatives did not.

Legislators from both sides of the aisle knocked Obama’s proposed reform.

Defeated presidential candidate John McCain displayed his cheap-shot artistry once again when he criticized Obama and offered an option that, if taken, would be political suicide.

“The president’s rhetoric is impressive, but his statement affirms we will continue to do business as usual in Washington regarding earmarks in appropriations legislation. The president could have resolved this issue in one statement — no more unauthorized pork barrel projects — and pledged to use his veto pen to stop them,” said the sly crusty loser.

Obama’s party mate, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, also did not cotton to  complete transparency. Standing on the separation of powers principle, he said, “I don’t think the White House has the ability to tell us what to do.”
Like I said earlier, opacity is the refuge of politicians. Expect them to protect it. However, a little high-mindedness won’t hurt.
Hoyer used the US Constitution to dismiss Obama’s reform plan. Arroyo simply told the public it was none of their business how she spent their money.

According to the editorial she said “some measure of confidentiality needs to be enforced on certain matters, and every government office has the right to control its operations and, as such, may regulate the manner by which the public can examine or copy any public record.”

That justification proves the present dispensation is not only totally corrupt, it is also incredibly crude.  And there is no “maybe” about that.