One of the most — if not the most — despised royal advisors in history was Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin. Known as the “Mad Monk,” Rasputin was a Russian mystic who was an advisor to Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra during the tumultuous years of Imperial Russia under the Romanovs. Rasputin became close to the Tsarina because he was said to possess healing powers, which the Tsar and Tsarina believed gave relief to their only son and heir to the throne, Tsarevich Alexei, who was suffering from hemophilia, an incurable disease.
Rasputin became very influential to a point where Nicholas relied on Rasputin’s advice on matters of State. Many believed that Nicholas’ reliance on Rasputin had created the conditions that contributed to the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. However, it was corruption, poverty, and the oppressive rule of Nicholas that finally brought down the Romanov dynasty.
Almost a century later, the Nicholas-Rasputin model was replicated in the Philippines where she remains mired in poverty in spite of the economic bonanza that was being touted by President Benigno “P-Noy” Aquino III. But if one has to eyeball the numbers, the Philippines still ranks as one of the most – if not the most — corrupt countries in Asia.
While the genesis of the Disbursement Accelerated Program (DAP) might have been a noble attempt by President Benigno “P-Noy” Aquino III to boost the economy — which is to realign “savings” from slow-moving government projects to new programs — nobody questioned the method he used.
DAP similarly works like the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or “pork barrel” system. The basic difference is that Congress appropriates the PDAF while the Executive Branch transfers funds from the national budget to the DAP without the authority of Congress. But since the members of Congress also benefitted from DAP, nobody rocked the boat… until Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, in his privilege speech before the Senate, dropped a bombshell.
In his privilege speech, Jinggoy exposed – and questioned — the existence of DAP. He said that the 20 senators who voted to convict then Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona in 2012 were each given an additional P50 million in discretionary funds. Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad admitted the release of the DAP funds to the senators; however, he denied that they were used to reward the senators who convicted Corona.
The controversy about the creation of DAP was finally settled with unanimous vote – 13-0 — by the Supreme Court. The high court ruled that three key parts of DAP were unconstitutional. It was a major setback for P-Noy, who depended on Abad when it comes to fiscal matters, particularly the disbursement of funds from DAP and PDAF, which the Supreme Court had ruled unconstitutional last year. Indeed, it was a double whammy for P-Noy, who had hitched his presidency on the heavily funded PDAF and DAP to achieve his goals. However, many believe that P-Noy used PDAF and DAP to buy the loyalty of the members of Congress.
But what is really sickening is the revelation that P-Noy approved P177 billion for DAP. According to the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), they obtained copies of seven memoranda from DBM signed by P-Noy over the past three years, approving projects worth between P174 billion and P177 billion under the DAP.
According to presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda, 91% of the DAP funds was spent “properly” by the Executive Branch. However, he couldn’t account for the remaining 9%, which is about P16 billion of the P177 billion that P-Noy allocated for DAP. That’s a lot of moolah, Mr. President!
But PDAF and DAP are peanuts compared to what P-Noy had inserted in the 2014 national budget. According to former National Treasurer Leonor Briones and Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares, the lump sums under the President’s discretion amounted to around P1 trillion. This “presidential pork barrel,” as Briones and Colmenares called it, represented a whopping 38% of the national budget!
Collapse of an empire
Regardless of how P-Noy spins it, the fact remains that the highest court of the land had unanimously struck down the DAP program. But P-Noy’s defense of Abad amidst calls for his resignation, manifests the strong bond between them, which is an alchemy of a weak leader and a strong surrogate, just like Tsar Nicholas II and Rasputin. But ultimately the Nicholas-Rasputin alchemy failed and the House of Romanov, which had ruled Russia since 1613, fell when Nicholas abdicated the throne on March 15, 1917.
The question is: Could Tsar Nicholas II have stayed in power had he gotten rid of Rasputin? This question had been the subject of speculation by political scientists and history buffs. Some say that the downfall of the Romanovs was inevitable due mainly to the tyrannical and ineffective rule of the weak Nicholas who depended too much on Rasputin for advice.
During World War I, Rasputin claimed that he had a revelation that the Russian army would only succeed if the Tsar took personal command. Nicholas immediately went to the front line and took command of the Russian army. With no experience in commanding an army, the Russian army was beaten.
While Nicholas was away at the war front, Rasputin’s influence over Tsarina Alexandra increased. Pretty soon he became Alexandra’s confidant and personal advisor. He also convinced her to fill some government positions with people he had handpicked.
As the Russian economy rapidly declined, the people blamed their problems on Alexandra and Rasputin, whose immense influence over her was deemed the cause of all the ills of the empire.
It’s interesting to note the uncanny similarity between the Nicholas-Rasputin relationship and the Aquino-Abad tandem. Nicholas and Aquino were both perceived as weak leaders who had to rely on strong people for advice and direction. Nicholas had Rasputin. Is Abad P-Noy’s Rasputin?