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Philippines
Wednesday, May 29, 2024

My beef with pork

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"Hating kapatid perpetuates the unequal distribution of government resources, and thus also the disparity in development."

 

Three hundred congressmen, elected to office to represent the people of a particular congressional district or a party under the party-list system, have an allocation of funds from the General Appropriations Act passed each year, for “projects” in their district.

Twenty-four senators, except for one who has publicly abjured “pork,” also get a particular amount for projects they identify wherever in the country.  The distinction is territorial: members of the House for their district; members of the Senate, for anywhere in the country since they have a constituency at-large.

The senator who has declined pork barrel allocations after his first year in the upper chamber has now become a crusader against the budgetary practice. Year in and year out, he has been scrutinizing the budget submitted by the House to the Senate and exposed what he perceives as interstices of fat inserted into the budget of several departments but clearly earmarked for the entitlements of the House members, or his colleagues.

After the Napoles scandal blew over along with the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) which was attributed as a “reward” for the senators to vote for the expulsion of PNoy’s hated Chief Justice Renato Corona, the Supreme Court ruled that inserting pork in lump sum allocations was unconstitutional.

In a unanimous decision with one abstention (Justice Presbitero Velasco because his son was a member of Congress) penned by Justice Estella Perlas Bernabe, released Nov. 19, 2013, the high tribunal nullified “all laws and provisions of pat and present Congressional Pork Barrel laws.”

 A lot of financial sleight-of-hand tactics have been ingenuously utilized, better yet, invented and thence innovated upon, both by the leaderships of Congress and their Finance Committee in the Senate and the Committee on Appropriations in the House, as well as or in conspiracy with the DBM to hide these slabs of pork in the General Appropriations Act.  Along with these tactics, a different name for what is nothing else but pork barrel, whether the countryside development funds (CDF) or Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), Food Security Fund, Lingap para sa Mahirap, etc. and generically, as “hard” or “soft.” This has been going on through all those years, whether under Cory all the way to her son Benigno Simeon. The Bernabe-penned decision chronicles the Philippine history of pork barrel.

For the executive department, compromises have to be made to the demanding legislators in order to pass the NEP or President’s budgetary submission on time, as well as to protect the president’s economic plans and priorities.  The budget after all, as explained by one of the country’s brightest fiscal minds, of revered memory, Senator and former Finance Secretary Dominador Aytona of Bicol, is “nothing more than the country’s economic program in numbers.”

This time around, Senator Lacson could not hold his horses on the pork, and exposed an alleged attempt by House leaders to allocate P700 million per member and P1.5 billion each for 22 deputy speakers.  This he did after the House passed the budget with landmark speed.

Assuming 700 million each, with some 300 representatives, that amounts to 210 billion pesos, plus an incremental 800 million for 22 deputies which total 17.6 billion, or a whopping, nay, mind-boggling 227.6 billion! 

Now the House is on the warpath against Lacson, charging him not only with parliamentary discourtesy, but with disparaging the image of a co-equal legislative chamber.

Having approved in plenary the budget for 2020 amounting to more than P4 trillion, and with Congress soon to recess until they reconvene after Dia de los Muertos, it will be the turn of the Senate Finance Committee under Senator Sonny Angara to look over the budget. That is when the hostilities re-open, with Senator Lacson and some others looking for the slabs of pork hidden in the woodwork.

Technically, the congressmen have a point when they, and even Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano insists that what they passed is a “pork-free” budget.  There are no lump sums; instead they itemized the projects for funding, most of which in fact were discussed with the DBM and supposedly incorporated in the President’s budget.  Incorporated, not inserted.

Still, the over-arching principle in the allocation for each congressional district is “hating kapatid”  which means everyone gets the same amount, whether 100 million each, or 400, or even 700 (but that’s way too much not to be detected by the eagle eyes of some senators).

And that’s my beef with pork.

Some districts are wallowing in cash and completed infrastructure since they are amply funded by their internal revenue allotments and collections from real estate and other taxes.  They are rich and well-developed,  versus so many districts that are poor and under-developed.

Why should Metro Manila districts get the same pork barrel allocation as say, Kalinga or Apayao, or Zamboanga Sibugay or Samar?  Equal distribution in this case means rich districts get more “developed” to the point where enterprising congressmen destroy well-paved roads so they can be re-paved?  While in many truly “countryside” areas, no roads exist to connect hinterlands to the center; people ford the rivers via rafts or bancas because there are no bridges.

Hating kapatid perpetuates the unequal distribution of government resources, and thus also the disparity in development. The rich get richer, and the poor stay poor, or get marginally better off.

Senator Ping and the public of course are wont to highlight the “commissions” that  legislators get from contractors who they identify with the connivance of the DPWH district  engineers whom the legislators themselves have caused to be assigned to their districts. In some cases, the congressmen themselves own the construction companies through dummies.

When the Senate finishes their pruning of the House-approved budget, and likely put in their own re-alignments, to augment this agency  or that, for purposes either noble or self-serving, then approves their version in plenary, the case now goes to the “third” chamber of Congress, the Bicameral Conference Committee.

That’s where the bloody confrontation begins, albeit with less legislators, but extremely powerful.  Last year, because the change in House leadership also brought about a last-minute insertion of some P95 billion in “new” pork,  the GAA was derailed, and the impact on the 2019 economic growth figures was devastating.

I hope that will not be the case this time.

There are so many urgent  needs that have to be funded, from universal health care to free tertiary education that the same Congress ratified last year, which is why the appropriated amount is more than P4 trillion.

Will these and other priorities now suffer from under-funding due to the hating kapatid of resources reserved for legislators’ pork barrel?

Abangan ang mga susunod na kabanata in the annual teleserye, the saga of pork barrel. Like Ang Probinsyano, never ending.  But more significantly, it's our—each and every one of us Filipinos—hard-earned money.

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