THE WORM’S EYEVIEW: Pork barrel politics

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 2 May) – When a candidate runs for office, nowhere is it stated in his job description that once elected he can take advantage of his position or help himself to the government’s resources in order to secure his position. Nor is it stated anywhere that he may promote his re-election by using government funds and resources.

In fact there are laws against such uses. Laws compelled by ethical considerations, backed by norms of propriety. But does anyone do anything about the abuse?

Comes now the issue of Pork Barrel, or simply Pork—the practice of gouging out chunks of the national budget, then apportioning parts of it to elected officials, for them to use at their discretion. That it is camouflaged by its stealthy label “Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF)” does not hide the fact that Pork is a gratuitous grant—cash or in-kind—to members of Congress and other favored officials for patronage purposes.

Patronage, of course, is the power to grant political favors—power that partakes of the people’s sovereignty, which is the power to bestow public authority and privilege. This being so, it is a curious development that no one questions Congress or the President for arrogating said authority of the people or for bestowing said privilege without the people’s concurrence. But no one challenges them for taking liberties with the people’s money.

They cannibalize the public treasury. They give huge portions of it to officials like themselves. They allow the latter to use or dispense government funds, goods, and services unrelated to their job description. In other words, they add new duties and responsibilities to the prescribed job description. The new duties in turn enable them to do whatever suits their purposes, doing so even against the public interest.

Adding tasks to their job description is tantamount to adding new terms and conditions to their election. Granting political favors is not their job; serving the people is. Determining what public works are to be constructed is not their duty; filing legislation for that purpose is. Prescribing or supervising infrastructure projects is not their responsibility; doing so impinges on the executive department’s area of responsibility and expertise. But they do all of these and more.

In other words, to be blunt about it, the awarding and use of Pork Barrel funds is legalized abuse of public funds. No policy requires. No management consideration necessitates it. No imperative mandates it. No law ordains it. What allows officials to avail of it to the point of profligacy is not the law, it is ARREGLO!—between Congress and Malacañang. An arrangement made in the best traditions of patronage politics. You-scratch-my-back, I-scratch-your-back, and to hell with the people!

Dispensing patronage or political favors is not part of a legislator’s duties, nor is using public funds to promote one’s image or to ensure one’s re-election. Not only are these outside their duties, to do them is unethical.

So the question arises: why is rampant spending from the Pork Barrel a routine feature of a lawmaker’s activities today? The frenzied spending of public funds has replaced lawmaking as a congressman’s preoccupation! Needless to say, it is wrong to make overseeing Pork-funded projects an acceptable substitute for legislative work.

With Election Day so near, people should ponder such questions earnestly.

(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. He can be reached at [email protected])