It’s a good question to ask as Aquino takes to the podium to make his report to us, his Boss. What to do with the pork barrel?
Edwin Lacierda says the Palace doesn’t want “to wade into the discussion (of whether the pork barrel should be abolished or not) since that’s primarily the call of the legislators.”
Frank Drilon, the next Senate president, agrees. It’s not the executive’s, or specifically the President’s call, to make, it is Congress’. “This is a decision of both houses (of Congress). If one house does not agree, then you cannot abolish (the pork barrel), which is part of the General Appropriations Act.” In any case, he adds, Congress doesn’t even have to move to abolish the pork barrel. “We can simply delete the Priority Development Assistance Fund (the official name of the pork barrel) from the General Appropriations Act, and it’s gone.”
Expressed in this way, it all sounds sober and doable. But it is in fact the most ludicrous thing in the world. What it amounts to is asking Dracula to decide on whether the blood bank should be scrapped or not.
Can you seriously imagine the senators and congressmen wringing their hands and wracking their brains when faced with the question of whether they should part with their P200-million and P70-million PDAF a year, respectively?
In fact, it doesn’t get much better if you rest the decision in the hands of the executive. Unless you are a Ferdinand Marcos and have only a rubber-stamp Batasan to do your bidding, your best bet to control Congress as president is by way of the pork barrel. The power to reduce amounts, put obstacles to, or entirely withhold pork barrel from senators and congressmen who are not sympathetic to your agenda is awesome. It guarantees that the experience of St. Paul on the way to Damascus of suddenly seeing the light and turning a new leaf will be replicated routinely in Congress.
The benefits to be gained from the pork barrel—chief of them that it equalizes the powers of the executive and legislative, particularly in the use of public funds, thereby strengthening the concept of checks and balances—are largely theoretical. Whatever those gains are, they are dwarfed by the far more humongous scourges the pork barrel unleashes. The pork barrel is quite possibly the single biggest contributor to warping our political culture.
One, it poses the biggest obstacle to having a real political party system in this country. To belabor a point, we do not have real political parties in this country, what we have are loose coalitions built around the president or “presidentiables.” As soon as a new president emerges, politicians leave the parties they were affiliated with to join the one the president belongs to. That’s the reason we’ve had as many “dominant” parties as elections. That’s the reason most of the major political figures today have run the gamut of the so-called political parties. That’s the reason our politicians do not represent party beliefs, only personal careers.
The pork barrel worsens things immeasurably. The origin of the pork barrel is of American slaves pushing and shoving one another in their mad scramble for the barrel of salted pork their masters put out before them during special occasions. That is a quite accurate image of what our elected officials do after elections. We’ve always gotten around the rule that says, “To the victors go the spoils,” the “vanquished,” or those fielded by the other parties, simply joining the winning coalition. Look how many people have become Liberals overnight.
It’s especially so in local elections. As one mayor told me, “What can I do? I don’t join the winners, I don’t get my pork. I don’t get my pork, my constituents suffer.” He did not bother to add, “My constituents suffer, they won’t vote for me next time.”
That brings us to, two, the pork barrel is the heart of patronage politics. The pork barrel is the soul of dynastic politics.
Where the pork barrel is not plowed into ghostly projects manifested in the material world by people like Janet Lim-Napoles, it is put in projects whose main, if not sole, purpose is to assure that the incumbent will be elected again. And over time, his kith and kin. You can debate to your heart’s content whether diverting money paid for by all taxpayers to a local area is good or bad, skewed or balancing, but what you cannot debate is how the money is used in the local areas. It is bad, it is skewed. As studies on the pattern of spending of pork shows, it hews to areas that are vote-rich, which are the highly urbanized centers, and to projects that ensure future votes will go to the incumbent. Or his children.
It’s no exaggeration to say that the pork provides elected officials with campaign funds they can use to effectively campaign throughout their terms. You’ve got to be horrendously abusive or greedy or dumb not to be able to win at least a second term. And we wonder why incumbents normally lead in surveys. And we wonder why families tend to expand and dominate their particular turfs.
And three, there’s of course the not very small matter of corruption. But most disputations of the pork barrel have already dwelled on it.
The pork barrel did not create our hollow, brittle, or virtually nonexistent party system. It did not create patronage or dynastic politics. And it did not create corruption. But it has vitally, centrally, decisively contributed to them, and continues to vitally, centrally, decisively contribute to them. What to do with the pork barrel?
Still, get rid of it.