A Waste Of Our Money

Pork barrel: “The granting of government funds to legislators for their local projects. The term is said to originate in the practice in the U.S. of giving slaves a barrel of salted pork as a reward for a job done.”

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It’s more fun in the Senate.

The recent Commission on Audit findings on supposed irregularities in the (mis)use of the Private Development Assistance Funds -more commonly known as PDAF or pork barrel- of Senators Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla; is the latest in a series of controversies that have hounded this august body.

It appears these three endorsed P195 million of their PDAFs to the ZNAC Rubber Estate Corp. and thence to Pangkabuhayan Foundation Inc. (PFI), a seemingly bogus organization.

The Senators, being otherwise preoccupied, are reportedly unaware as to how the money disappeared. They claim they selected the recipients from a list prepared by the Dept. of Agriculture. Outraged, they have asked for an investigation (has the COA not already done that?) of this wanton waste of taxpayer money while castigating the DA for its sloppy work. The Senate had previously investigated the P728 million fertilizer scam involving the DA (yes, the same department); so it is not as if the MO was new to them. Yet, apparently, they fell for it again. The COA Chair, Grace Pulido-Tan, has  absolved the three Senators of liability.

Yes, I know what you are thinking, all of you with the quizzical looks: How did ZNAC and PFI get on the preferred DA list? What was so compelling about their projects three seasoned (and closely allied) Senators simply had to endorse them for not one but two consecutive years? Did they or their (taxpayer supported) staff exercise any due diligence or did they just throw darts at the DA’s list? Would they be this flippant about spending P195 million of their own money? I mean, did ZNAC or PFI even send a thank you note?

The controversy raises the bigger question of what indeed is the role of PDAFs. Pork barrel is theoretically designed to help legislators finance projects in their districts. This might make a little sense for Congressmen who are familiar with the special needs of their localities; but none for Senators whose mandate is nationwide. This is the work of the Executive branch.

The President has full discretion on pork barrel, it is part of the national budget he presents for approval to Congress. In 2012 the President recommended and Congress (quickly) approved P24.9 billion in such money to be divided among 23 Senators at P200 million each (Total: P4.6 billion) and 287 Congressmen at P70 million each (Total: P20 billion) with the balance of P300 million, presumably, for odds and ends. The money does not go directly to the legislators but to projects they endorse which at any time may include roads, irrigation and, reportedly, cock pits. There is no suggestion (OK, I lie, there are various suggestions) the venerable legislators receive a kick-back from the projects.

 For the Senators, P200 million a year over 6 years is P1.2 billion so there is indeed the temptation to mess around. This might answer the age-old question why candidates are prepared to spend P100 million for a Senate seat.

The PDAF is additional to the P 9.8 billion the Budget assigned to Congress for administrative costs and, if there are savings, to “bonuses” for legislators. The latter, incidentally, do not have to account for the money with receipts (as the BIR requires of ordinary citizens), they simply have to certify –I am not kidding- the funds are well spent.

There are three reasons to ban pork barrel. At P25 billion it is the single largest inducement to legalized theft. As a perspective, it is about 8% of our budget deficit. More to the point, it is 25 times the money allocated to build schools for our kids.

Two, pork barrel makes a mockery of the Constitutional provision for separation of powers: It effectively allows the President to “buy” the legislative branch. This might work well with a good man in office but works horribly otherwise.

Three, pork barrel perpetuates family dynasties and the politics of patronage. By giving incumbents the financial wherewithal to ingratiate themselves with their constituencies, it makes it difficult for newcomers to compete for elected office.

Nowhere is it written -not in the Constitution, not in any statute- that our legislators are to be granted such behest. However for the President it presents a conundrum: How can he cut the lifeline of lawmakers whose co-operation he needs to govern? The President could not have ousted CJ Corona nor passed the RH Bill without it.

So if the nation is looking to kill pork barrel, I suggest we not hold our breath.

As for ZNAC and PFI, I guess it is just another rip-off that gets away.

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About Leo Alejandrino

The blog is principally a commentary on Philippine politics and economics.
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2 Responses to A Waste Of Our Money

  1. alfadeb says:

    LEO,

    Thanks for this nice article.

    Although you did address the point, I would have wanted you to stress that the accumulation of funds over his term by a lawmaker makes it that much more difficult to dislodge a seating corrupt politician since his easily-earned war chest creates undue advantage. On the other hand, an honest and well-off candidate who wins one election will not probably have second thoughts about running for re-election since his fortune will be severely depleted. One can only do so much for love of country. So far the only compensating factor – other than the discerning voter – for an honest politician is that there are wealthy people who contribute to politicians who are perceived as competent and well-intentioned. On the other hand, these same contributors (if they are businessmen) also donate to the campaign of dishonest politicians as a matter of self-preservation.

    Whew. I hope you can come up with a suggestion as you are, to my mind, one of the most discerning political analysts of the times.

    ARIEL

  2. Where are the legislator SALN’s one is inclined to wonder.

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