WORM’S EYEVIEW: Now comes the season of pork

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/23 June) — As the new term for senators, congressmen, and local officials begin next month, so will a new round of profligacy kick-in.

Under the guise of the innocent-sounding “Priority Development Assistance Fund” (PDAF), the pork barrel will begin its rounds dispensing funds and projects for favored constituencies. The Priority of course is what vanity requires; the Development, what the blossoming of their political career needs; the Assistance, what’s needed to buttress their standing; and the Fund, why, to fill one’s pockets with, of course!

Calculated to win or maintain public support and keep them loyal till the next elections, this patronage system constitutes de facto plunder of our treasury. But it is blithely legalized by agreement between Congress and Malacanang.

Referring to it as PDAF does not mitigate its flagrant use and abuse for politicking and for extorting as much money as possible from the national treasury.

Does a congressman or senator have the right to be re-elected at taxpayers’ expense? This question has attained urgency now that a new term is about to begin. Shall we continue to tolerate this scam that our elected representatives have institutionalized in defiance of the universal clamor for good governance, transparency and accountability?

Handling and dispensing Pork Barrel funds has become so profitable it is bringing out the entrepreneurial spirit and the greedy instinct in people searching for get-rich-quick schemes. Why do you think more and more people invest in congressional campaigns, either by running or by supporting candidates with lots of Pork Barrel-funded projects or contracts to farm out.

To be a senator is to enjoy P 200 million in yearly pork allocations—funds that require them (contrary to the principle of subsidiarity and good governance) to adhere to minimal transparency, accountability or even sense of responsibility. It is spent entirely at his or her discretion. And there is no limit to the kickbacks or commissions he or she can collect from contractors and suppliers.

Consider how the Cayetano and Ejercito siblings in the Senate must be wallowing in pork, with the yearly amount of P 400 million each pair gets to draw from! That’s P 2.4 billion by the time their terms end! That’s like winning a Super-Mega-Lotto-Powerball Draw EVERY year for six years!

It’s the same story in the Lower House, only a bit less in absolute amounts. There we have certified plunderers and opportunists raking in millions, living it up at taxpayer expense.

Politics without doubt has become a truly lucrative “industry” to invest in, with large commissions and kickbacks from Pork as return-on-investment. Its abuse has reached a point where, in many districts, only the greedy and the overly ambitious bother to run for public office. Indeed, why would a truly honorable person seek to be a make-believe lawmaker—whose role has more to do with aggrandizing political power, financial clout and dynastic dominance than statecraft or leadership in a democracy?

Because of Pork, there has arisen a mystique among gamblers and criminal minds surrounding a legislator’s role and its potential for accessing and abusing public funds. It is coveted for its multiple uses: as a platform for immunity and impunity, as occasion for illicit activity, as laundry service for drug money, as capital for electioneering and dynasty-building, as cover for treasonous acts like insurgency and rebellion, and as instrument for self-enrichment.

And because of Pork our republic has the dubious reputation for building inferior infrastructure, filling the landscape with credit-grabbing billboards, pompous streamers and epal improprieties. It’s what happens when an administration blurs the line between legislative and executive functions, between policy-making and implementing, between legislative offices and line departments, between lawmakers and lawbreakers, between the ornery and the exceptional, and between the selfish and the statesman.

It’s just too bad that these distinctions are lost to the very officials to whom we, the people, entrust our welfare, our sense of propriety and our standards of morality.

And so goes good governance down the drain, and with it, our dreams and ideals as the people of the very first republic in all of Asia.  (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Manny Valdehuesa  of Cagayan de Oro City is the president and national convenor of Gising Barangay Movement Inc. He can be reached at valdehuesa@gmail.com.)