CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/06 April) — Pork Barrel, or simply Pork, is the so-called “Priority Development Assistance Fund” which is spent at the discretion of a congressman or senator. It is also a generic term for any government fund meant to serve a personal political agenda. And it is notorious for the ease of its abuse, especially for self-enrichment—as when a portion of it lands in the congressman’s or senator’s pocket.
Because no member of Congress honestly owns up to its abuse and corruption, Pork, along with related allowances, has become so bloated that no one who has had a taste of it wants it abolished.
Pork Barrel as Conspiracy
With P70 million++ awaiting a congressman’s distributive skills and P200 million a senator’s, the allure of Pork Barrel rivals that of Lotto, jueteng, or masiao combined. Just win the election, and you get to play with amounts many times larger than that miserable fellow at the lotto counter ever dreams of! Not only that, you’re guaranteed to win this Grand Lotto several times every year—and without having to work at that. Just make important-sounding statements when ambushed by the press, give the appearance that you’re always working, dress appropriately at all times, attend socials often, and get invited to be guest-of-honor everywhere!
People often ask: What law authorizes or governs Pork Barrel Allocations? Good question. In fact, there is no law; the term Pork Barrel doesn’t even appear in any document. But everybody uses it because it’s the term generally used for taxpayer money that’s sets aside to support a politician’s personal interest or agenda. There’s no law; it’s simply by arreglo—between Malacanang and Congress, and both will tell you it’s traditional practice. What else would traditional politicians, trapos, be guided by except traditional practice?
Every year congressmen and senators list down projects they want to undertake, cost estimates, locations, specifications, etc. The lists are collated by the Speaker in the Lower House and by the Senate President in the Upper House, then submitted to Malacanang for inclusion in the President’s proposed budget for the next year. There may be some bargaining in-between as the list is further consolidated by the department of budget and management. It is this department that goes over the lists and cubbyholes them into the budgets of the appropriate line units—e.g. public works projects under DPWH, farm projects under DA, or forestry and environment programs under the DENR, scholarships under the DepEd—depending on the type of project or service indicated. Once the President signs and signals the submission of the consolidated budget, it goes back to Congress for enactment as the General Appropriations Act (GAA).
Throughout this process, there is an unspoken understanding that in consideration of Malacanang’s act of integrating the Pork Barrel projects into the GAA, Congress will, among others, facilitate the approval of its nominees by the Commission on Appointments, approve or support the President’s priority bills, and undertake fishing expeditions or investigations into the executive branch. That’s basically the quid pro quo. It’s important to note that Congress cannot add budget items or increase amounts indicated in the proposed GAA. However, it can reduce it or remove items proposed in it.
In any case, Pork Barrel funds have become a powerful incentive for seeking public office in our society. It attracts the shameless, the undeserving, and even the unemployable to seek elective office. It tempts incumbents to engage in graft and corruption, doing so with impunity—since it gives misuse and abuse of public funds an official cover and frees the Pork user/dispenser/pilferer from culpability.
CULTURE OF IMPUNITY
These huge allocations that a congressman or senator spends as he pleases has multiplied corruption in our political system many times over. It has caused corruption to metastasize like cancer in our body politic, such that no district or its congressman today can claim to be free of corruption and abuse. Every congressman and senator is already tainted by the stigma of graft and corruption. Rightly or wrongly, the public presumes that no one in Congress is clean or honest. Everyone is tainted. And because not one of them bothers to render an account of where, how, or how much of his Pork allocation is spent beneficially, the silence is taken for a shrug—an evader’s noncommittal gesture of accepting ugly reality.
Furthermore, there is a perception that, except for a very few, Pork Barrel projects are flagrantly substandard—but always bannered by billboards and streamers trumpeting the face or name of the pork-handler. It is unfortunate, because their visibility on the landscape serves as a constant reminder of rampant malfeasance—infrastructure that crumble faster than a congressional term, rundown public buildings, and so on. It is breeding cynicism if not loathing in the public mind. It poisons the youth’s perception of statecraft and lawmaking as something selfish, filthy, and utterly corrupt.
Pork and its handlers’ abuses are incubating a Culture of Impunity. Petty graft, grand larceny, even plunder in the name of “priority development assistance” are accumulating like barnacles on the hull of our Ship of State, infecting all legislative councils on all levels of the bureaucracy.
Do Congress, its leadership, and at least some of its members realize that its addiction to Pork is spreading a Culture of Impunity in our society? Do they not recognize the damage it is causing in our society’s ethos? The impact of this spirit of impunity will take generations to mitigate but not entirely to eradicate given the type of persons that cling parasitically to legislative walls on all levels—from Sangguniang Barangay to Municipal and City Councils, to Provincial Boards and to the two Houses of Congress. It is time to rethink the Pork Barrel Scheme.
More on this next time. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Manny Valdehuesa writes from Cagayan de Oro and is the president and national convenor of Gising Barangay Movement Inc. [firstname.lastname@example.org])