Sounding Board

The future of the barrels of pork

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In 1934, when the 1935 Constitution was being formulated, there was a proposal to prohibit “pork barrel” funds altogether. The sponsor of the proposal traced the name “pork barrel” to a degrading ritual in slavery days. At a fixed day and hour, a barrel stuffed with pork would be rolled out and a multitude of black slaves would cast their famished bodies into the porcine feast to assuage their hunger. The 1934 proposal was defeated and the pork barrel institution lived on.

In 1994, Congress deodorized the “pork barrel” and renamed it Countrywide Development Fund (CDF). It is now referred to as PDAF or the Priority Development Assistance Fund. The fund, as we all know it, means oodles and oodles of money placed more or less at the disposition of members of Congress and of the executive.

In 1996, the Inquirer ran an award-winning exposé of the pork barrel scam happening then. I don’t recall that we rallied against the scam. And even if we did, we also all know that members of Congress and of the executive department, like all of us, can sometimes resist everything except temptation. So we still are at it.

Can the Supreme Court do anything about it?  In 1994, the Supreme Court was asked to put an end to the practice when the CDF in the General Appropriations Act (GAA) for that year was challenged on the ground that it was an encroachment by the legislature on the powers of the executive. The argument used against the fund was that, although appropriating money is the function of Congress, spending it is the prerogative of the executive department. The Court ruled in favor of the fund. It said that what the law allowed congressmen to do was simply to recommend projects. If the recommended projects qualified for funding under the CDF, it was the president who would implement them.

The Supreme Court crowned its decision with choice selections from the wisdom of the ages. I reproduce two paragraphs below because they are what have inspired Congress to build upon the CDF and to strengthen the participation of Congress in the distribution of national largesse. The Court said:

“The Constitution is a framework of a workable government and its interpretation must take into account the complexities, realities and politics attendant to the operation of the political branches of government. Prior to the GAA of 1991, there was an uneven allocation of appropriations for the constituents of the members of Congress, with the members close to the Congressional leadership or who hold cards for ‘horse-trading,’ getting more than their less favored colleagues. The members of Congress also had to reckon with an unsympathetic President, who could exercise his veto power to cancel from the appropriation bill a pet project of a Representative or Senator.

“The Countrywide Development Fund attempts to make equal the unequal. It is also a recognition that individual members of Congress, far more than the President and their congressional colleagues are likely to be knowledgeable about the needs of their respective constituents and the priority to be given each project.”

I guess what the Court was saying was that “pork barrel,” human nature being what it is, is a necessary evil. Moreover, Congress, with the cooperation of the President, can always construct the “barrel design” in such a way that it can pass constitutional muster. And if you believe that the only thing members of Congress do under the design is recommend, indeed there is nothing constitutionally objectionable about that.

The “complexities, realities and politics of government” have once again overtaken Congress and the executive, and the President is being asked to deal with the Napoles scandal. It is perhaps the biggest challenge to the much-vaunted daang  matuwid.

Actually, the CDF can be made to work within the “complexities, realities and politics of government.” I must say that I was impressed by what a congressman friend of mine did with his share of the CDF. Working hand in glove with local government officials, he made use of what was made available to him for improving the life of many people in his district. Projects he started survived beyond his tenure in the House of Representatives. No wonder that when he ran for his third term no one dared challenge him.

I am sure that there are others who have done well with their fund. On the other hand, I am also sure that there will always be those who have nothing to show for their share or who may not even know what ever happened to their share.  But it was we who elected them to where they are.

Last Friday the President announced that there will be no more pork barrel fund. Instead, there will be a new scheme which basically will block the hands of the members of Congress from touching the fund once approved. It will be closely guarded by the President and his men and women. Call it any way you like—St. Peter’s coffers, perhaps—but the renamed pork will still be there mostly as identified by members of the House who, according to the 1994 decision of the Court, “are likely to be knowledgeable about the needs of their respective constituents.”

Are we just playing games to befuddle the public? The President is asking the public to have faith in him and his allies. After all, he is the boss. Will you give him that?

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  • http://www.yahoo.com JOSE RIZAL

    For goodness sake, PORK is not a necessary evil…
    The nation can live without it.
    It’s a shame for anyone to reason out that way…

  • FannyMacquiao

    Based on what we’re hearing form Malacanang it looks like the pork barrel is hear to stay. It might have a different title or no title but the pork barrel PDAF or money for government elected officials is still there. In fact the biggest pork barrel out there for PNoy is and will still be received by PNoy.

  • sacrebleau

    This article all the more supports the fact that PDAF is not the enemy, the enemy is indeed corruption. All the safeguards are in place, but the people tasked to raise the red flags when there are threats in the system are in collusion with the corrupt.

    We should dismantle that collusion and prosecute the thieves and their accomplices. Para wag na pamarisan.

    • resortman

      Money was not the enemy..it was and is the love for it..

    • thadeothadeo

      You must love pork so much. Would you like a roasted senator or congressman? Be my guest.

  • http://www.yahoo.com JOSE RIZAL

    Cong. Toby Tiangco’s statement during that Corona’s impeachment trial that Abad of DBM text him an instruction to effect that the Office of the President and that PORK has been abused. Whether it’s Tiangco or anyone else, that scenario proves that the PORK system is rotten.

  • http://www.yahoo.com JOSE RIZAL

    1) On SC’s Statement: “…CDF attempts to make equal the unequal”

    2) On Mr. Bernas’ rationalization of the statement by the SC: “I guess the Court was saying was that pork barrel, human nature being what it is, is a necessary evil.”

    The 3 branches of government, though they operate in different functions, is not “unequal”. Never will it be and had been that the PORK fund would make them “equal what is thought to be unequal” because of the truth that the 3 branches are “ab initio” EQUAL. No amount of rationalization could justify the economic perils of the existing PORK system. The wisdom of the institution of the 3 branches of the government, with co-equal powers, though different in functionalities is what keeping the democracy at a balance. No amount of PORK rationale, even that of the old SC, to make it appear as equal (what has been ab initio equal), could give way to the melting of this 3 institutions into one, or, there will be no real democracy.

    Sure, they will be funded, as to their independent operational expenses, but not with the PORK…

    I’m not expecting that Mr. Bernas would make it as an abatement of the country’s “learning curve” towards political maturity, the awakening of the people on the PORK issue. For so many articles, he has proven himself devoid of any rational judgment but only of blind loyalty to certain people and to his works that he has forgotten to consider what is the TRUTH…

  • farmerpo

    Morality is an adjunct to man from the outside. Man is naturally immoral and given the chance to steal or kill without being caught, man will do it every time. Since we are now professing good governance, let us not give the government officials the temptation to be immoral. They will do it with the least excuse. Junk the pork and let the officials, especially the elected one, do what they were elected for. Man’s nature should not be an excuse as what the SC seems to imply, as in pork a necessary evil. Ako’y tao lamang, is that good enough an excuse? we can be better than that.

    • resortman

      To be human is not an excuse..it is a privilege!!

  • JLFS

    Congress knows more than anyone the needs of their constituents,but not in making laws.

  • where_I_stand

    In other words, pork barrel is Constitutional, according to the Supreme Court of the Philippines.

  • chikko

    The supreme court should step up to the plate on PDAF issue and should uphold/proclaim PDAF as “illegal” as this is a conflict of interest between the congress and the executive branch. The reason/s 1. Congress, as their job states, MAKES laws; 2. the executive branch, who is the President, EXECUTES laws. ( and, of course, 3. the supreme court, who INTERPRET the laws). Now, in the performance of their individual, respective duties, where does the congress get their job as to “execute” the laws?…if the supreme fails the distinction of their primary duties (both legislative and executive) then supreme court should be abolished for failing to interpret the laws. Does that make sense, Fr. Bernas? :-)

  • Joshua Cuyos

    Whatever. Hindi naman uto-uto ang mga senatong at tongressmen na ‘to. Siyempre gagawin nila ang lahat para lang ma-maintain ang prok barrel na ‘to.

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