Eat your pork there*

Interesting link: Tweetwheel. I use Tweetscan when I’m searching for certain tweets in Twitter.

The House of Representatives has published a pamphlet entitled "Understanding the Pork Barrel," in order to make the people appreciate the pork barrel system. This move is reasonable since ordinary Filipinos are equating the pork barrel with corruption.

According to the website of the Lower House, the pamphlet will be distributed to various business organizations, non-government organizations, tri-media agencies and other sectors to help the public better understand the pork barrel. The pamphlet is also proposed as part of the required reading material in schools.

The primer is a good reference to learn the legal and historical basis of the pork barrel. But it will achieve little in making the people appreciate the controversial system.

The authors of the primer are Speaker Prospero C. Nograles and Albay Rep. Edcel C. Lagman. It is peculiar that they cited Wikipedia as one of the sources of the document. Is this unprecedented in Philippine legislative history?

The authors correctly mentioned that the pork barrel system was an original American legacy. Since the mid-1800s, American politicians have been dependent on the pork barrel. Like the Filipinos, Americans have a low regard for the pork barrel.

Nograles and Lagman forgot to cite any document defending the pork barrel system in the United States. But they mentioned several criticisms of the pork barrel. For example, they quoted Brian Kelly who wrote the book “Adventures in Porkland” in 1993: "Pork is the politics of self-interest, and – let’s be realistic about this – it’s human nature. Pork is a free lunch. It’s spending other people’s money. It’s check without balances, school without teachers, highways without traffic cops, law without prisons.”

The primer points out that the use of pork barrel funds in the Philippines dates back to the 1930s during the U.S. colonial occupation. The pork barrel system was continued even after the independence of the country in 1946. During Martial Law, pork barrel distribution was dictated by former President Ferdinand Marcos. Pork barrel became synonymous to cronyism.

After the EDSA revolution, Congress imposed “definitive parameters, equal apportionments, built-in accountability and clear transparency” to democratize the pork barrel system.

In 1989 the Mindanao Development Fund and Visayas Development Fund were created. But Senators and politicians from Luzon also clamored for a similar privilege. Thus, the Countrywide Development Fund was established in 1990. A decade later it was renamed as Priority Development Assistance Fund. For many people today, it is still simply known as pork barrel.

Today each member of the House of Representatives is entitled to P70 Million PDAF while senators are entitled to P200 Million PDAF allocation each. Lawmakers can choose between “soft” and “hard” projects.

Soft projects are basically “non-infrastructure projects like scholarship programs, medical assistance to indigent patients in government hospitals, livelihood support programs, the purchase of IT equipment and financial assistance to local governments for the latter’s priority projects and programs.”

The primer explains that the PDAF can also be used to fund small infrastructure projects like roads, bridges, footbridges, pathways, multipurpose buildings, school buildings, potable water systems, flood control, drainage systems, irrigation facilities and electrification projects.

According to Nograles and Lagman, there is nothing dishonest in the pork barrel system. They wrote that "Members of Congress neither handle the funds nor implement the projects. Their authority is limited to the identification of projects and designation of beneficiaries, subject to a specific menu. The implementation is undertaken by the appropriate government agency after an open public bidding."

Pork barrel projects are governed by “a requirement of utility and relevance, stringent procurement and public bidding procedures, accountable implementing agencies and mandatory post-audit review by the Commission on Audit.”

Nograles and Lagman stressed that the power of the purse is constitutionally vested in the House of Representatives. They added that even the Supreme Court affirmed the legality of the pork barrel. The Supreme Court ruled in 1994 that:

“The Countrywide Development Fund attempts to make equal the unequal. It is also a recognition that individual members of Congress, far more than the President and their congressional colleagues, are likely to be knowledgeable about the needs of their respective constituents and the priority to be given each project.”

Nograles and Lagman exaggerated when they argued that “Scrapping these allocations would mean more indigent patients not getting free medical assistance, more students deprived of scholarships, more rural folk denied of livelihood support, more people without potable water and electricity, more farmers without irrigation facilities and more unemployed because of fewer infrastructure projects.” Does this mean that all government agencies are non-performing? Delivery of social and economic services is now the main duty of Congress?

Reacting to the aggressive image-enhancing measures of the Lower House, award-winning Naga Mayor Jesse Robredo said these “hardly scrape the bottom of the rot that goes in the implementation of most projects funded by the pork.”

He added: “It might have gone unnoticed. But it is not uncommon that a new District Engineer usually takes over after a new Congressman assumes his post. The District Engineer, who owes his appointment to the Congressman, is now of course hostage to the biddings of his real boss. What follows are rigged biddings, bloated estimates, favored contractors and a patronage laden payroll.”

He dared Speaker Nograles: “If he is truly interested in refurbishing the image of the House, he may want to consider doing more than just issuing press releases. He can do what no other Speaker has done. He will tell his colleagues in the House to lay off their hands in the implementation of their pork-funded public works projects.”

Abolishing the pork barrel has been proposed before. Ofcourse it was not seriously tackled by Congress. A few senators like Sen. Panfilo Lacson and Sen. Miriam Santiago are not using their pork barrel funds. The opposition clarifies that unused pork barrel funds are diverted to the national treasury which can be tapped by the Office of the President. Therefore, they said it is not wise to give more funds to the “corrupt president.”

Nograles and Lagman failed to highlight the key role of the president in distributing pork barrel funds. The president can always withhold the release of pork barrel funds of Congress. It is his/her most effective weapon to buy the loyalty of lawmakers.

The people will appreciate the pork barrel if they see tangible social and economic benefits from the use of these funds. Right now, lawmakers are using these funds to build waiting sheds, basketball courts, greeting streamers, street signs, and ofcourse, mansions, vacation houses and beach resorts.

There is nothing wrong with pork barrel. Robredo notes that “The fault lies not in the pork but in the manner that it is programmed, dispensed, and disbursed.”

Perhaps progressive partylist solons should release a primer to teach their colleagues about responsible, efficient and patriotic use of pork barrel funds.

*Heidegger’s “Mange ton Dasein!” – Eat your being there!

Related entries:

Queen of house
Interview with Solons
Sons and politicians
Sona and Ramos
Vanity politics


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