As I See It

Abolish the pork barrel; negotiate on Sabah


The newest scandal in the Senate, the funneling of P195 million in pork barrel funds by three incumbent senators (Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, Bong Revilla) and a former party-list congressman (Buhay Rep. Rene Velarde) to a dubious nongovernment organization is one more proof that the pork barrel system should be abolished. The pork barrel, alias Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), is not only a waste of taxpayers’ money, it is a big root of corruption. It is no secret that a big portion of PDAF funds go to kickbacks. It is not only the legislators and contractors who are corrupted but also lowly employees who handle the documents.

Abolish the pork barrel system and a big source of corruption will disappear. President Aquino sells himself as a reformist and a white knight against corruption. Yet here is the dragon of corruption blocking the way to the straight and narrow path, and St. George, in the person of P-Noy, is hesitating to slay the beast.

What is the pork barrel? It is the fund given to legislators (P200 million for each senator and P70 million for each House representative) purportedly for their pet projects. Not all the money goes to the project, however. Around 30 to 50 percent goes to kickbacks.

The legislators claim the money does not pass through them and that the contracts are awarded through public bidding. Who are they kidding? Even if there is a public bidding, the contract goes, by agreement, to the legislator’s favorite contractor. The grateful contractor kicks back part of the contract money to the legislator. So much taxpayers’ money is wasted this way.

If P-Noy is sincere about his anticorruption campaign, it would be so easy for him to abolish the pork barrel and cut corruption.

Congress cannot pass a budget for the pork barrel if the budget department does not include it in its budget proposal. Congress cannot add or insert a budget that is not in the original budget proposal. The only thing it can do is to increase or cut budgets, or transfer funds from one department or project to another.

Therefore there will be no pork for Congress to enact if P-Noy orders the budget department not to include any pork in its budget proposal. But year after year, president after president without fail sends to Congress budget proposals for the PDAF  although they are not that stupid not to know that it is a big source of corruption besides wasting scarce government money.

Why do presidents do such a stupid and immoral thing? Because they use the PDAF as a bribe to legislators. Cooperative senators and congressmen get their pork while uncooperative ones don’t. It is a sort of carrot-and-stick ploy to keep the legislators in line.

To avoid wasting scarce funds, money for public projects should be concentrated in the concerned departments—public works, education, health, agriculture, etc.

Legislators say their projects will never be implemented that way. Why not? There are municipal, city, provincial and regional development councils that discuss projects so there would be no duplication, and priority projects are identified. Legislators are members of these councils. They can push for their projects during their meetings.

But legislators do not want that. They want to implement their own projects and choose their own contractors—for the kickbacks.

But read the Constitution from cover to cover; you will not find any provision that empowers either house of Congress to be another

DPWH, or DepEd, or DOH, or DA, etc. The Constitution provides that the responsibility of legislators is to enact laws. The job of legislators is to legislate, not to implement projects. The latter is the job of the executive department.

The President can correct this anomaly and stop corruption by simply not including the PDAF in his budget proposal. If he is a genuine reformist who wants to curb corruption, why doesn’t he do that?

* * *

It is very clear even to the layman that Sabah belongs to the Sultanate of Sulu. It was given to the Sultan of Sulu by the Sultan of Brunei in gratitude for the former’s help in quelling a rebellion in Brunei. During the British occupation, the British North Borneo Co. leased it from the sultanate for a fixed yearly amount. When the British colonizers left the region, it handed Sabah to Malaysia. When the Federation of Malaysia was formed, Sabah was included in the federation.

But until today, Malaysia continues to pay rent to the Sultanate of Sulu every year. It is very clear that Malaysia is only a leaseholder and that the Sulu Sultanate is the owner of Sabah. (When the owner wants to get back his property, the renter should leave.)

This is an undeniable historical fact. That is why Malaysia does not agree to take the Philippine claim to Sabah to the International Court of Justice or to the United Nations. It knows it would lose the case. So it is acting like a true squatter: It refuses to leave even when the owner wants to reclaim his property.

But that is not to say that the Sultan of

Sulu did right in sending 300 armed men to occupy Lahad Datu in Sabah, Malaysia. That is brinkmanship. That won’t settle the issue of sovereignty over the disputed territory. On the contrary, it could trigger an armed conflict with Malaysia. It is a good thing that Malaysia is exercising restraint.

The position of P-Noy that Sultan Jamalul Kiram III’s followers should go home so talks can begin is correct. The move is not just diplomatic; it is common sense. Sultan Kiram should be responsible enough to know that his force cannot win an armed conflict with Malaysia. It would be foolhardy for him to expect the Philippine government to go to war with Malaysia on his behalf.

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Tags: Borneo , Foreign affairs , Global Nation , Government , Graft and Corruption , History , international relations , Malaysia , Philippines , politics , pork barrel , Sabah , Senate , Sultanate of Sulu , territorial dispute , Violence

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