As I See It

Palace using pork barrel to bribe solons


Do you know that the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) pays a contractor to tear up perfectly usable roads then pays the contractor again to pour new concrete into the hole? That’s where your taxes go. Yet roads badly in need of repair are neglected due to “lack of funds.”

The wrangling over the cash “Christmas gifts” of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile to select senators has revealed the billions of pesos that unnecessarily go to senators and congressmen even as the government cannot provide housing to the hundreds of thousands of homeless families. “Lack of funds” is the usual excuse. But there is no lack of funds when it comes to making members of Congress happy.

The biggest scandal, anomaly and corruption in the Philippines is the pork barrel, disguised as the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). This is our money used for the pet projects of legislators. The usual projects are public works such as roads and bridges, schoolhouses, desks, textbooks, health centers, etc. Every year, each senator gets P200 million and each congressman gets P70 million in pork.

Members of Congress claim that the pork does not pass through their hands but is released to the appropriate government agencies. That’s what they say, but it is the legislators who identify the projects and choose the contractors. In return, the favored contractors kick back part of the funds for the projects to the “honorable” legislators. That is why most public works projects are substandard. The contractor has to make do with what is left to him after paying the kickback. And that is why legislators would give up their spouses rather than the pork barrel.

Yet legislators have no business duplicating the work of the DPWH and Department of Health (DOH). According to the Constitution, the responsibility of legislators is to legislate, not to be a fake DPWH or DOH. Legislators should pay more attention to enacting laws, not to public works projects.

Many Filipinos know that the pork barrel is the source of evil and have called for its abolition. But even after decades the pork barrel is still fattening many politicians.

Malacañang can easily abolish the pork barrel simply by not including it in its budgetary proposals. Congress cannot put it there by itself. It can only subtract, never add, to the budget. If P-Noy really wants to eradicate corruption, as he claims, all he has to do is not have any budget for the pork barrel. But Malacañang does not want to do that because it uses the pork to bribe members of Congress. Cooperative legislators are given their pork, uncooperative ones are not. Think of it: the President of the nation bribes members of Congress with the people’s money.

That is why I am heartened by the advocacy of several senatorial candidates, namely Mitos Magsaysay, Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel, Teddy Casiño, and independent candidate JC de los Reyes of Kapatiran Party. They all want the pork barrel abolished. Politicians say they need the pork barrel to survive. Not true. Senators Panfilo Lacson and Joker Arroyo do not use their pork barrel allocations and they are among the most respected senators.

Casiño agrees. He said a legislator who is performing well would not need any pork barrel.

“It’s about time congressmen and senators focused on their jobs as policymakers rather than as project implementors,” Magsaysay said. “The job of the legislative branch is to make laws, amend laws, repeal laws. Some people run as congressmen or senators because of the PDAF. So they have a wrong set of priorities as to what are their roles. They think that if you’re a congressman or senator, your primary role is to undertake projects.”

Is that the reason another senatorial candidate, Bam (Bum?) Aquino, a cousin of P-Noy (another political dynasty rising) wants the pork barrel retained?

From out of nowhere Bam (Bum?) wants to be a senator right away just because he has a physical resemblance to Ninoy Aquino, whom he consciously tries to imitate and capitalize on. Other senatorial aspirants start more modestly. They start as mayors, governors, or congressmen. Even Ninoy himself started as councilor of his hometown of Concepcion, Tarlac, before running for mayor, and then on to the national arena. Bam (Bum?) has not even run as barangay captain. Now he wants us to elect him senator? What nerve, what conceit!

* * *

Another senatorial candidate, Rep. JV Ejercito of the United Nationalist Alliance, is worried about the power crisis in Mindanao. Three-hour brownouts bedevil Zamboanga City every day because of a decision of the state-run National Power Corp. to reduce power supply in the city by 10 megawatts (MW). Other areas in Mindanao may soon suffer the same fate as power supply in the region was cut by 189 MW as of last Jan. 10, according to the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines.

“The power supply shortfall threatens to set back the development targets in the south, which may soon reach crisis proportions,” said Ejercito, who called for the immediate rehabilitation of the Agus-Pulangi power plant that supplies more than half of Mindanao’s power supply. The two hydroelectric plants are currently generating only 635 MW of their 982-MW capacity because of the heavy siltation of the rivers from which they draw water. The siltation is caused by the denudation of the mountains. When it rains, water carries sediments to the rivers, which eventually become shallower.

“Power outages will lower the productivity of local businesses and harm Mindanao’s economy,” Ejercito said.

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Tags: column , neal h. cruz , politics , pork barrel , senate cash gifts

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