Back in the day, pork barrel — known by a variety of euphemisms like “Priority Development Assistance Fund” (PDAF) and most notorious of all, the so-called “Disbursement Acceleration Program” (DAP) — usually involved funds “allocated” by the Executive Branch to legislators. Nowadays we are seeing an even bigger perversion of this crooked accounting sleight of hand. Legislators are now mulling over delivering a similar sort of discretionary funding to the Office of the Vice President (OVP).
The additional funding being considered is enormous. CNN Philippines reports that legislators are considering jacking up the budget of the OVP to one billion pesos — up from just 679 million pesos. And what would this additional funding be used for? According to the same report her office aims to “reach more pandemic-hit Filipinos”.
The OVP previously launched programs which rolled out personal protective equipment, free shuttle services, and dormitories for health workers. It also purchased coronavirus test and extraction kits which were delivered to various private and state laboratories.
Robredo’s office also recently launched the “Bayanihanapbuhay” platform to help Filipinos look for job opportunities online. For its second leg, they will launch within the week another initiative to provide opportunities for those from the micro, small and medium enterprises or MSMEs which earlier benefited from her anti-poverty program Angat Buhay.
Who can argue with that bit of emotional blackmail, right? But if we stop to think about this even for a minute, we will find that these are activities that fall within the remits of existing government departments and agencies such as the Departments of Social Welfare and Development, Public Works and Highways, and Health among others. One wonders then why the OVP sees itself as obliged to do jobs that are the responsibilities of other offices; considering too that these respective agencies and departments possess the in-house experience, expertise, and specialist resources to do these jobs properly and at scales that allow procurement and use of these resources efficiently.
The more important and more disturbing aspect of these sketchy budgetary wranglings is the track record of “vice president” Leni Robredo exhibits using such “services” she delivers to the public as platforms for engaging in partisan posturing and bolstering her public profile. Robredo, after all, is seen to be the “leader” of the Philippine Opposition and with national elections just around the corner, it is quite evident she is out for a bit of self-promotion on the state dime.
If it walks like pork barrel, quacks like pork barrel, and looks like pork barrel then, guess what: It very likely is pork barrel. The only difference is the gravy is flowing the other way this time — from the Legislative Branch to the Executive Branch contrary to tradition.
It is well and good that Robredo is using her office as a conduit for these “public services”. What is not clear, however, are her motives and agenda seeing that Robredo wastes no opportunity to make delivery of these “services” a big song-and-dance before the cameras of ABS-CBN, Rappler, and, of course the Inquirer. It is easy to see that this just does not make any sense as evident in the sophomoric logic her supporters use to justify these proposed budget allocations. Robredo ally Camarines Sur 3rd District Representative Gabriel Bordado reportedly asserted that “the OVP received the highest audit rating from the Commission on Audit in 2019” which, if one pauses to think about it, really has nothing to do with budget decisions. Bordado insists that the OVP “has been engaging in frontline activities against COVID-19. It has also launched livelihood, education, people empowerment, and other projects throughout the country, but its budget is still the smallest in the entire bureaucracy”. Another non-sequitur. None of the “activities” Bordado cites is part of the scope of work of the OVP.
One can only conclude that the requests for more money to be thrown into the OVP are motivated by dishonest and baldly political intentions. That’s just not right.
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