COMMENT: At Random: Patronage Politics (1)

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I. Despite the Doctrine

Patricio P. Diaz

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, November 8, 2013 – Do we really want to rid the Philippines of the social and political evils hounding the Filipinos as far back as they can remember? If evils have stuck like leeches, the fault is ours. We see the evil fruits but not the roots – at times, relishing the fruits and nourishing the roots. Or, we see the sheep-clothing ignoring the wolf underneath. Or, we like the good end not minding the means.

That’s patronage politics — how it sticks, how its curse dissembles as a blessing.

Despite the Doctrine

Media sensation on the PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund) scandal has leveled off or is dying down. Hogging the headlines and opinion columns instead, the DAP (Disbursement Acceleration Program) and the PSF (President’s Social Fund) are seen as “pork barrel” like the PDAF. Since the end of last August, the President and the Palace have been trying to disassociate the DAP and PSF from the PDAF. Instead of dousing the criticisms, the President refueled them with his 12-minute prime time address to the nation last October 30.

The DAP and the PSF are being questioned in the Supreme Court for their constitutionality; they are also questioned in the media for the President’s discretion in using their funds. Resolving the issue of constitutionality, the Supreme Court will not drive away the evil. If the DAP and PSF are upheld, they will not only continue but will breed; if they are struck down, a different breed will soon emerge. The genius of political leaders should never be underestimated.

The PDAF scandal and the corruption – real or imagined – attributed to the DAP and PSF are the consequences of the abuse or misuse of the good. We have a good system of government under the principle of “separation of powers” bolstered by the doctrine of “check and balance” as enshrined in our Constitution. But our political leaders find ways to circumvent the system to entrench and perpetuate themselves in power.

Pursuant to this doctrine, to safeguard the use of public funds, the President proposes the annual budget; the Congress scrutinizes and approves the budget; the President spends public money as provided in the approved annual budget, the GAA (General Appropriations Act). The President proposes; the Congress authorizes; the President implements.

But as seen in the PDAF, the DAP and the PSF, the President and the Members of the Congress connive to corrupt the doctrine using the people’s money to promote their political interests and enrich themselves. Yes! The President proposes and implements; the Congress authorizes. But, No! Obviously, through mutual understanding or trade off, the President and the Congress share with each other their “check and balance” powers. All’s well until the public smells the rot and raises hell. For the “balance” to work, the vigilant public must “check”.

The Pork Barrel

The Philippine pork barrel, a corruption of the American original born in 1817 [The Bonus Bill of 1817], was introduced in the Philippines in 1922 and carried on into the Commonwealth period as a political patronage fund. It was abolished by President Marcos with the abolition of the Congress during the martial law. He did not restore it upon establishing the Interim Batasang Pambansa in 1978 or the regular Batasan in 1984. No one else but he must be the patron.

Whether by her own decision or on the urging of seasoned politicians around her, President Corazon C. Aquino revived the pork barrel under the name Countryside Development Fund” – later renamed “Congressional Initiative Fund”; in 2000, it became the “Priority Development Assistance Fund”.  In two cases, the Supreme Court — “G.R. No. 113105 in 1994” and “G.R. No. 164987 promulgated in 2012” — did not declare unconstitutional the CDF and PDAF, respectively; the Members of the Congress only recommended projects.  The recommendatory power has now become mandatory — the Members of the Congress following up the project with the implementing agency.

The budget provides for the Special Purpose Fund (SPF) in lump sums – not programmed items – to enable the President to help victims of calamities, cope with emergencies or provide funds for other exigencies like assistance to troubled government corporations without running to the Congress every time they occur. In the 2014 budget, the SPF is allotted P449.95 billion or 19.84 percent of the P2.267 trillion budget; 5.5 percent of the 2014 SPF (P25.24 billion) is for the PDAF.  Judiciously used, the SPF can withstand questions. But power corrupts.

PSF, DAP Not “Pork”

The expediency and convenience of the SPF must have inspired the creation of the PSF and the DAP.  These have given Presidents fiscal power to spend public money beyond the authority of the Congress in the annual budget. Abused, the PSF and the DAP feed corruption.

The Palace insists that the PSF and DAP are not “pork”. Only the PDAF is.  But what really are the difference of the PSF, DAP and PDAF? As earlier stated, the Philippine pork barrel was copied from the long-practiced American original. How do the original and the imitation copies compare?

In its original: “The term pork barrel politics usually refers to spending which is intended to benefit constituents of a politician in return for their political support, either in the form of campaign contributions or votes. Typically, “pork” involves funding for government programs whose economic or service benefits are concentrated in a particular area but whose costs are spread among all taxpayers. Public works projects, certain national defense spending projects, and agricultural subsidies are the most commonly cited examples. (Wikipedia)

Citizens Against Government Waste outlines seven criteria by which spending can be classified as ‘pork’: (1) Requested by only one chamber of Congress; (2) Not specifically authorized; (3) Not competitively awarded; (4) Not requested by the President; (5) Greatly exceeds the President’s budget request or the previous year’s funding; (6) Not the subject of Congressional hearings; (7) Serves only a local or special interest.” [NOTE: In the U.S., “pork” is only for the Congress members; in the Philippines, it’s also for the President.—PPD]

From the above, it can be seen how the LDAF has corrupted the American original. Considering the definition and criteria (2), (3), (6) and (7) and to some extend (5), can the PSF and DAP not be construed as “pork”?

But Malacanang says they are not “pork”. The PSF, in particular, cannot be scrapped, is not part of the annual national budget and is “mainly funded by revenues from state-owned Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor)”. The other lump sum funds the SPF — calamity fund, contingency fund, and miscellaneous personnel benefits fund — are not pork barrel. The pork barrel is the layman’s term for what is referred to as the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).” (PDI, August 28, 2013: Malacañang: President’s Social Fund not pork)

PSF, DAP Funding

As inferred, only revenues collected by the Bureau of Internal Revenue, the Bureau of Customs and the Treasury go the General Funds and are the bases of the GAA. Others like those from Malampaya gas project, PAGCOR (Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation) and the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes are treated as trust funds under the control of the President and are the sources of funds for the PSF and the DAP.

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said the funds for the DAP — designed to ramp up spending and help accelerate economic expansion — are “from national government savings, including realigned and unprogrammed funds generated from windfall revenue collections, unreleased appropriations from slow-moving projects, terminated programs, as well as the withdrawal of unused allotments already released to government agencies”. (The Philippine Star, November 4, 2013: Noy open to talks with DAP critics; with Rappler.com)

Malacañang has maintained that Aquino’s power over savings – from which funds are drawn for DAP – is justified under the 1987 Constitution, contrary to what his critics are saying. The clipping of the President’s fiscal powers will require the amendment of the Constitution. (The Philippine Star, November 2, 2013: Palace bucks clipping of Noy’s fiscal powers)

Malacang is referring to Article VI, Section 25(5) of the 1987 Constitution: “No law shall be passed authorizing any transfer of appropriations; however, the President, the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and the heads of Constitutional Commissions may, by law, be authorized to augment any item in the general appropriations law for their respective offices from savings in other items of their respective appropriations.”

 Justification

Malacanang justifies the PSF and the DAP. Presidential spokesperson Abigal Valte said (The Philippine Star, November 2, 2013: Palace bucks clipping of Noy’s fiscal powers):

First: The President is prudent. He “is ever mindful of how taxpayers’ money is spent and limits his own powers over funds that are controlled by the executive. The President did already implement several reform measures by way of limiting the uses, or at least the purposes, that can be funded out of the PSF.

“Another indication of Aquino’s prudent use of fiscal powers is his limiting the use of the Malampaya funds to energy-related projects. Instead of construing it liberally, including ‘and such other projects that the President may determine,’ the President has adopted the strict implementation – meaning, such other projects should also still be related to energy development.”

Second: Various government agencies presented what they called proof of the DAP’s benefit to the people. Among them, TESDA (Technical Education and Skills Development Authority) received P1.1 billion in October 2011; DOE (Department of Energy), P1.5 billion from February 2012 to January 2013 for its Sitio Electrification Program; DSWD (The Department of Social Welfare and Development), P1.97 billion in 2011 additional allotment for the implementation of various social services in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

From its various skills courses, TESDA graduated close to 150,000 putting to work 90,000 of them. The DOE’s line connection and enhancement projects covered 2,219 sitios nationwide. The DSWD was able to help ARMM fast track projects like construction of day care centers, modified shelter assistance project, emergency shelter assistance, supplementary feeding, sustainable livelihood and cash-for-work.

One other justification for the PSF under previous presidents and the DAP together with the PSF is that they are contingency funds. New government agencies and political units before Aquino were funded through PSF until they got regular appropriations from the Congress. The SPCPD (Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development) in 1996 initially operated with PSF money; the ARMM P8.5 billion ‘stimulus fund’ in 2012 was from the DAP. The President is faced with many other contingencies which he could not cope with without ready funds.

The concepts underlying the SPF, PSF and PDAF are good. However, presidents and our leaders in the Congress have tampered with the concepts to promote political patronage and trade off for their political and private interests.

(Next: Heart of Controversies)

(“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards recently honored Mr. Diaz with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You can reach him at [email protected])

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