By Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani T. Zarate
Last July 17, I and six (6) other members of the Makabayan Bloc – partylist representatives from Bayan Muna, Gabriela Women’s Party, Anakpawis, ACT Teachers and Kabataan – jointly filed House Bill No. 1535, which calls for the abolition of the pork barrel system.
At that time, even members of the press took our move as an exercise in futility — “suntok sa buwan.”
They said that Congress as an institution will never allow such a measure to survive the legislative mill as it is tantamount to killing the proverbial goose that lays the golden egg.
They also added that, surely, even President Aquino will also ensure that such a Bill will be nipped in the bud since it is the pork barrel — particularly the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) — that facilitated a “harmonious relationship” between the executive and the legislative departments.
Finally, they added, in at least three (3) occasions since 1994, the Supreme Court has also declared that there is nothing unconstitutional with the creation of PDAF, even branding it as a “novel” move to “equalize” the distribution of the nation’s wealth.
Surely, our move earned us a few minutes in the following days’ primetime television news programs, some column inches of the country’s broadsheets and tabloids and several likes and shares in the social media networks.
It also caught some attention –both positive and otherwise – from several political circles and pundits, especially that the Napoles fiasco was also, by then, slowly unfurling.
Yet, in the House of Representatives, by and large, it was almost a non-issue at that time. In fact, some colleagues branded our move as “futile” and a “waste of time”.
As a neophyte member, I was even kidded by a colleague: “Tumikim ka muna ng pork para alam mo what you will be missed kung magkahimalang mawala ito!”
Despite all these, we persisted.
Since then, in every occasion, in every event that comes our way, we explained our principled position, hoping that before the 4th State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 22, it can generate a response from President Aquino himself by deleting the pork in the 2014 proposed budget.
Yet, during the almost 3-hour SONA, but for a short yet vague reference to the investigation of Janet Lim-Napoles and her gang of fake NGOs, Pres. Aquino did not mention anything about the pork barrel.
In fact, as expected, two (2) days after the SONA, on July 24, the Palace submitted to the House the country’s BIGGEST EVER budget proposal yet in history at P2.268T — a chunky proposal that is very much laden with porky lump sums, including the P25.2B porky PDAF share for Congress.
The Makabayan Bloc has always been for the abolition of the pork barrel system.
Yet, we realized that this diversion –- of PDAF, other lump sum funds and off-budget accounts like the P172-Billion Malampaya Fund by scam operators to bogus NGOs for ghost projects amounting to mind-boggling billions of pesos — could very well prove to be one of the “biggest corruption racket in our nation’s history.”
Indeed, long recognized as a massive source of graft and corruption, the pork barrel system enables patronage politics to piggishly creep into all levels of government — from the barangays to Malacañang.
Despite its mantra of “matuwid na daan”, the Aquino administration has proven itself to be “no less adept than its predecessor” at making use of PDAF and other lump sum funds, like the now aberrant Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) Fund, as a tool for imposing its will on Congress, reducing its role to a mere rubber stamp on many issues.
In short, the pork barrel system is a form of institutionalized patronage and officially tolerated graft and corruption.
Contrary to claims that more and better safeguards can be implemented to prevent abuse, the current scam proves that the pork barrel system is inherently and voraciously corrupt, thus, beyond salvaging and should be abolished.
When we filed HB 1535 last July 17, we recognized that, up to that point, such a position would make little headway in Congress.
Thus, even as we push for the urgent passage of HB 1535, during the deliberations on the 2014 proposed budget, we also waged a vigorous parallel fight for the abolition of the pork barrel system, particularly such lump sum allocations that comprise the even fatter “presidential pork”.
However, despite our vigorous objections, during the predawn of September 29, the House of Representatives passed on second reading the proposed 2014 budget, with a very minimal alteration or modification: taking away the chamber’s PDAF as a lump sum fund from the President’s Special Purpose Fund, but, realigning the same to six (6) line agencies, with each House member still given the right to recommend projects and endorse beneficiaries for the social services to the concerned agencies.
But, in the main, the approved budget retained the Palace proposal, particularly the even fatter “presidential pork” amounting to at least P920 Billion.
True, we may have lost this battle on the floor but the war against the pork barrel system is not yet over! In fact, far from being over!
We are confident that the righteous public outrage generated by the sheer magnitude of the plunder perpetrated by this billion pork barrel scam will provide the momentum needed to move the issue forward.
This voracious scandal has already taken a life of its own — unfurling in the process more and more revelations that show the extent and magnitude of the massive corruption and plunder committed by persons in power, both in and out of government.
Yes, the “pork” is still alive and kicking in House Bill No. 2630! Punong-puno pa rin ng sebo ng pork ang 2014 General Appropriations Bill.
I am VOTING NO to this PORK-LADEN 2014 BUDGET. The fight for the abolition, for the smashing of the pork barrel system continues.