Why the Philippines is forever imprisoned by pork barrel politics

avariceWell now, isn’t it just so not typical of Philippine Congress to shrink away from what could be a media bonanza for the vote-hungry lot. If anything, the Pork Barrel Scam is a gold mine of media mileage for any politician who has the cojones to take the reins on this one. After all, there is nothing like a Senate or House inquiry for the purpose of “aiding legislation” that draws in the cameras and sets the tongues of Manila’s chattering classes wagging.

As North Cotabato Vice Governor Manny Piñol observed

Indeed, this was the same Senate and House which initiated and concluded the impeachment trial of former Chief Justice Renato Corona, the same institutions which conducted a probe into the “pabaon” system in the armed forces which led to the suicide of former AFP Chief of Staff Angelo Reyes, and the same bodies which dipped their fingers into such inane issues as sex scandals.

Today, the usually trigger-happy Senate and Congress both said it would not be a good idea to investigate its own members, with House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. downplaying corruption among Congressmen.

But of course. Why open a Pandora’s Box that could bring an entire kleptocratic infrastructure down in front of national television? Seen from that perspective, Speaker Sonny Belmonte does make sense in the simple position he takes: Huh? What pork barrel scam?

I beg to differ with Vice Governor Piñol on one thing though. Congress did initiate and saw through the impeachment trial of former Chief Justice Corona. But did it follow-through on the main legislative learning from that whole exercise, the archaic and justice-process-hoblling nature of the Philippines’ bank secrecy laws?

Of course not.

Like this whole pork barrel fiasco we are currently embroiled in, bank secrecy is also a key component of the Philippines’ deeply-embedded kleptocratic infrastructure. To count on legislators to investigate issues that may very well impact their personal money trains is just plain unrealistic. It’s like asking them to shoot their own feet.

Even discounting its failure to go the whole nine yards and re-evaluate the purported wisdom of the country’s bank secrecy laws, the Corona trial for its part attracted more scrutiny on the lifestyles and ethical standards of the people who presumed to judge the former Chief Justice — the obvious elephant in the room that moved Ilda to write her seminal piece Some Senators who found Corona guilty committed worse crimes than what he was accused of.

As for the “anger” and “indignation” now gushing like a river as the drama surrounding the alleged misuse and misappropriation of Congress’s cherished “Priority Development Assistance Fund” (PDAF) unfolds, you just gotta wonder. Pork barrel has been around for some time and has always been a major source of corruption in government. Why all the noise only now?

Perhaps it does not help that many of the self-described “activists” who pine for a “clean” and “just” government traditionally did so under the banner of the Yellow “people power” and/or Laban movements of which key members of the Aquino-Cojuangco clan have crowned themselves princes and princesses. The interesting thing to note here is that pork barrel and the unique way it is practiced in the Philippines was a creation of the government of the late former President Corazon “Cory” Aquino, mother of current President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino III. This fact might go a bit of a way in explaining why calls to abolish the pork barrel in Philippine Congress in the past have never reached the crescendo we see today.

Even in the legal way that it is used, the pork barrel by its very nature results in astounding waste due to the lack of scale with which it is mobilised. This was described well by Manuel Almario in an article he wrote for the Inquirer.net earlier this year…

Under the PDAF, each senator is allocated a definite sum of P200 million and each representative P70 million. While it is true that formally their participation is only to determine the project on which the funds shall be spent, and the implementation and spending shall be done by the Department of Public Works and Highways or a government agency, in practice the individual representative or senator designates the contractor for the project. Here is the opportunity for kickback.

But because of the relatively small sums involved for each district or for each senator, the PDAF is usually spent for minor or insignificant projects like barangay halls, waiting sheds, basketball courts, sports gymnasiums, scholarships for a few, dirt roads and small bridges “leading to nowhere.” Such projects are usually uneconomical and unproductive. So we often see unused waiting sheds, unkempt barangay halls sometimes used for drinking parties, easily eroded roads, broken bridges, and gyms with no equipment.

In totality, the PDAF represents a huge part of the national budget. If concentrated on big infrastructure projects like hydroelectric dams, farm-to-market roads, highways, railways, airports, seaports, power plants, educational facilities and well-equipped modern hospitals, it can contribute more substantially to regional and national development, and create employment on a large scale. What happens, however, is that the national funds are dissipated in small projects, resulting in a massive waste of government money.

Yet all this escapes the cretinous intellectual faculties of Malacañang; “…it is really the share of the constituents in the budget yung PDAF so technically, ang trabaho ng isang legislator ay to bring to the attention of the national government yung mga concerns na hindi ho napapansin on the national level ngunit kailangan ng distrito, o kaya nung bayan, o munisipyo na hindi kayang pondohan ng local government unit,” Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte reportedly said echoing her boss’s position on the matter. Translation of Tagalog parts: “…so technically, the job of a legislator is to bring to the attention of the national government the concerns that are noticed at the national level but are needed by the district, community, or municipality that cannot be funded by the corresponding local government unit.”

To that, the question remains: Why do we need Senators and Congressmen to channel these concerns to the national level when there already exists a communication line via the offices of the local government units themselves? Indeed, the mind is most creative in justifying itself when it comes to thievery.

Why the “anger” and “indignation” only now? Simple. Too many distractions. Too many feel-good slogans. Too many “heroes”. Too many circuses. Too many spectacles. As the old saying goes, a fool and his money are soon parted. We take stock of the “anger” and “indignation” over this or that pork barrel “scam” then feel our eyes roll upward to the sky.

[Image courtesy John Hopkins Magazine.]

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Post Author: benign0

benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.