Commentary

Myanmar and the Oct. 4 rally

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I was in Myanmar last week to give a talk to industry leaders from nine countries, having been a former president of the Asean Federation of Cement Manufacturers (AFCM). I took this occasion to visit officials of the National League for Democracy (NLD). Its leader is Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.

An indication of a better Myanmar scenario is the progressive infrastructure thinking of Industry Minister Yu Maung Myint, whom I was privileged to meet. After my talk with Myanmar residents, I realized how lucky we are to be able to freely rally against our government’s pork barrel.

In 2010, the NLD boycotted the Myanmar election because, it claimed, it was not a free one. However, after changes were made in the election laws, NLD ran in the 2012 elections. Of the 45 parliamentary seats, NLD won an impressive 43. Suu Kyi emerged as one of the newly elected parliamentarians.

On Sept. 26, on the 25th anniversary of the NLD Party, the Associated Press (AP) reported that “Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has sharpened criticism of her country’s incomplete transition to democracy, saying the next election in 2015 cannot be fair unless the army-imposed constitution is amended.”

I related to NLD leaders the Alyansa Agrikultura’s opposition to our pork barrel. The NLD leaders said their main issue was far deeper than ours: changing the Myanmar Constitution.

According to AP, the Myanmar Constitution “favors the army with a mandatory allocation of one quarter of the seats in parliament to military representation appointed by the commander-in-chief, giving the military veto power over all major constitutional amendments.”

After 25 years, Suu Kyi is still taking the peaceful path.

The Alyansa wished both parties well, noting that each side has taken steps to achieve better democracy. The Alyansa cited its own experience when, in 1986, martial law was dismantled and a democratic government restored.

It is this same spirit of dialogue and democracy that is behind the Oct. 4 rally. The Million People March of Aug. 26 is cited as the main reason why our legislators are now agreeing to give up their pork barrel. The Oct. 4 rally is an exercise in citizen vigilance that Myanmar may still be deprived of.

The devil is in the detail. What is the detail behind the Oct. 4 rally?

Under our constitutional democracy, Congress enacted a law that created a public-private sector body called the National Agriculture and Fisheries Council. After the Oct. 4 rally, it is hoped that the NAFC will be allowed to exercise its legally mandated function of monitoring the use of Department of Agriculture budget and resources.

At the Aug. 12 meeting of the NAFC budget committee, which was formed upon the recommendation of Alyansa Agrikultura, the Alyansa repeated an earlier recommendation for an investigation of the DA’s use of pork barrel funds. On that day, a DA official said this was just politics, and that NAFC should not be involved in it.

The Alyansa representative objected. He said it was NAFC’s legally mandated function to look into this. Thus, there was much surprise when it was learned from a Sept. 17 report of Thomas Ancheta that “NAFC, a mere advisory body of the Department of Agriculture, gave more than P116.7 million in pork barrel funds to various non-government organizations and peoples’ organizations for the implementation of various livelihood projects last year.”

The NAFC budget committee was never informed of this. The committee insists in playing a role in the investigation of DA pork barrel use to provide the necessary check-and-balance with private sector participation.

This kind of action may still be not be possible in Myanmar. But it can and should be done in our democratic system. The question is: “Will the Oct. 4 rally now motivate the needed action on allowing the public-private sector NAFC budget committee to do its legally mandated function of monitoring DA’s resource use?”

If so, then the government misuse of our taxpayers’ money will be minimized. If not, then we may need a person like Aung San Suu Kyi to lead this fight beyond the Oct. 4 rally.

(The author is chair of Agriwatch, former secretary for Presidential Flagship Programs and Projects, and former Undersecretary for Agriculture, Trade and Industry. For inquiries and suggestions, e-mail agriwatch_phil@yahoo.com or telefax  8522112).

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