Get Real

The defense of pork barrel in 2008

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Shortly after he became Speaker of the House of Representatives in February 2008—his predecessor Joe de Venecia having been removed on orders of then President Gloria Arroyo over the NBN-ZTE scandal—Prospero Nograles, together with Edcel Lagman (who was chair of the House Committee on Appropriations), released a coauthored paper titled “Understanding the Pork Barrel.”  It should have been called “In Defense of the Pork Barrel,” because that is exactly what they did.

I bring this up now for three reasons: the first, to point out how, ironically, President Aquino’s statements in defense of the pork barrel—that the legislators know best about what their constituents need; that enough safeguards are in place to prevent corruption—strongly echo what Nograles and Lagman asserted more than five years ago although, of course, their 12-page document goes into greater detail than P-Noy’s statements do. There is also the irony of supposedly bitter political enemies (Nograles and Lagman) in seemingly perfect harmony on the issue of pork barrel, both being allies of President Arroyo at the time.

The second reason is to point out that this praise of the supposedly corruption-free Philippine pork barrel system was being sung in the middle of what we now know—thanks to the recently released Commission on Audit special audit report—as a period (2007-2009) during which all kinds of anomalous/irregular transactions and abuses were taking place.

And the third reason, which will be focused on, is that in large part, the arguments in favor of the pork barrel advanced in the Nograles-Lagman paper are either baseless or unfounded ab initio. Let’s take a look at some of them, with my observations in italics.

The paper starts out by saying that critics of the pork barrel “fail to realize that since the advent of the CDF (Countrywide Development Fund, the name of the pork barrel—scm) in 1990, and the institution of the PDAF in 2000 up to the present, there has been no post-audit report by the Commission on Audit (COA) directly associating any Member of Congress to a serious abuse, misuse and/or infraction in the utilization and implementation of the much-maligned congressional funds.”

That is inaccurate. COA audits did show irregularities in pork barrel projects, but these were hard to detect because not only were they embedded in the audit reports of the various government agencies (e.g., DSWD, DPWH), there were also no attempts made to connect projects to the legislator-proponents. It was only in 2010 that a government-wide performance audit was ordered and that brought all these projects under scrutiny—although we must understand that no “fraud audit” has as yet been undertaken.

This newspaper published an exposé of the CDF anomalies in 1996. And, as we recently learned, the main source of that exposé was a sitting congressman then—Romeo Candazo of Marikina—who explained in detail how the process worked, and who were part of the deal:  solons, government agencies, resident COA auditors, among others.

The exposé, and subsequent stories, resulted in public outrage, the promise of “reform” and as we know, the changing of the name of the pork barrel from CDF to PDAF. Does that sound familiar?

The Nograles-Lagman paper also makes much of the Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of the CDF, and quotes chapter and verse from it, including a passage which it emphasized in bold letters: “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.”

What the authors failed to include is that part of the Supreme Court decision which states unequivocally, and I emphasize: “In short, the proposals and identifications made by the members of Congress are merely recommendatory.” That being the case, how does the P70 million that is currently allotted to each congressperson and P200 million to each senator reconcile with the recommendatory nature of their project proposals/identifications? For that matter, it is difficult to justify how some congressmen are given no funds at all—which obviously must mean that none of the projects they recommended have any priority or relevance to the development of their areas. Which is nonsensical.

Now for the so-called “safeguards” enumerated by Nograles-Lagman: “Now, the utilization of the CDF or PDAF is strictly circumscribed by a shortlist or menu of qualified projects, requirement of utility and relevance, stringent procurement and public bidding procedures, accountable implementing agencies and mandatory post-audit review by the Commission on Audit, among other safeguards.” And more: “for further transparency and accountability” there was to be a congressional website containing  “all the projects and programs identified by House Members” and including “the progress status and accomplishment of the progress.”

Does that sound familiar? That was in 2008.  And the efficacy of those safeguards has been belied by the recent COA findings. Which is what has prompted P-Noy to now opt for what the authors called, at the end of their paper, “the sinful ‘pork barrel’ of the American mold,” which is essentially a line-item, rather than a lump-sum system.

I wonder what Nograles-Lagman will say about what is essentially a move from the fire into the frying pan? Abolish the pork barrel.

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  • boldyak

    determination of what projects are required in an area is not the work of lawmakers….profesionalize the executive branches susch as dpwh and the likes, makethem accountable and most importantly, profesionalize COA…that is the solution…

  • boldyak

    just stop pork barrel…and no justifications….correct what is to be corrected in the system…

  • Taiko_Kauna

    I can’t understand why a government who keeps brandishing its anti-corruption slogan keep justifying a system that will continue to provide opportunities for the corrupt to flourish.

  • Tausog51

    Congratulation Mrs. Monsod for such informative article. It is the pork barrel that makes our lives miserable. For instance, in Iloilo which is the center of Region 6, there is no government center where all government agencies should have been housed for efficienct services. Instead , such agencies that provide services to so many average Filipinos, like the PRC, NSO, SSS, PHILHEALTH, DENR, DA, DOLE, HLURB, and other similar government agencies are spread in different places paying rents to crampy commercial buildings but grossly inadequate to provide the most satisfactory government services. No congressman in Iloilo will ever propose for the creation of a government center becasue they will reason out : LACK OF FUNDS, but look at their pork barrel : THEY AWASH WITH CASH. For the people of Iloilo, hear the SILENCE of the five Congresmen: CONGRESSMAN GARIN, CONGRESSMAN TRENAS, CONGRESSMAN DEFENSOR, CONGRESSMAN GORICETA, CONGRESSMAN BIRON, and CONRESSMAN TUPAS.

    • eufems

      Partida, balita ko may bagong City Hall and Iloilo City :)

  • JosengSisiw1

    Congress will not work without pork so the taxpayers should demand to abolish the congress.

  • isidro c. valencia

    The safeguards in 2008 were only written on piece of paper. That means, it was only a plan to be realized, it has never implemented. The question is: Who were the people in power during those times? It is also a question of integrity of leadership.

    As compare to P-Noy’s times, both Ombudsman and COA are working in tandem to pin down the culprits. It is no longer a simple plan, but it is working plan.

    Legislators in Senandomeng (Palabigasang Pambansa) and Milky House (Gatasang Pambansa) both previous and present, have zero credibility and lack integrity to handle or manage pork barrel or PDAF.

    What is the alternative? My suggestion: The governors or local government knows every inch of problems in their localities. They can submit their PDAF budget to Executive, then Congress and House will deliberate. In other words, it is the Executive which will defend the budget submitted to them by the Governors. Legislators will not participate in bidding, identifying their contractors. Their job is to legislate, period. Of course, governors are also politicians, the same DNA with legislators. Iisang lahi. Then, dito papasok yong control mechanism..

    Candazo exposed the evil of CDF now PDAF but he utilized it in good ways. Had our Men in barong, Hoodlums in Barong used PDAF wisely and for the benefit of our people, then we have no 1M People March, instead we will have more school rooms, teachers, buildings and CCT.

    In other words, the evil is the user (yong mga hangal na Congressmen and Senador, not PDAF.. PDAF is hulog ng langit. PDAF is good. It is healthy to our nation. What is unhealthy are the users in the strictest and broadest sense.

    Our body needs defense mechanism against sickness, the same manner with PDAF, it needs to be shielded from corruption, misuse, abuse and over use.

    With the present Administration, I don’t see evil, I don’t hear evil, and smell no evil (except RAT in NBI). There are some who may disagree with me (comprising only the minority) while P-Noy trust rating is 70%.

    Oops, hinde ako taga Malacañan.

    • ppr2

      tama ka with all your points.

      the problem with us as a people is that, in my observation, majority of us are corruptible. sorry to say, but it is true. karamihan sa mga taong nag-iingay dyan ngayon, pag ilagay mo na sa pwesto with control over milliions of pesos, will find it very hard to resist temptation. i have seen it first hand. only a handful have the will to resist. ang masaklap, only a few of these handful are willing to run for office.

      so paano yan? kaya whatever system that will be put in place must take into consideration the corruptability of the people that will potentially be put in power. it is what it is. until majority of us mature as a society, this fact (of being corruptible) must be part of the equation.

      • isidro c. valencia

        Sir,
        The good thing and a good start, in my personal belief (of course there are people who will disagree with me), we have an incorruptible president. His honesty has more weight or values in an equation.

        You are also correct, the temptation is also greater than the vulnerable character or susceptibility to corruption of our people (immaturity and mind sickness).

        If P-Noy can only multiply his character or honesty to people around him, then fractured system is not a material thing. We have fractured culture, fractured character and fractured system of government.

  • Joselito Gallardo

    Wiinie,

    Randy David’s August 31st column said, “… At the end of her unrehearsed appearance at the Inquirer editorial offices a few weeks ago, she took me and fellow columnist Winnie Monsod aside, insisting she was not the mastermind and intimating that the real brains had already hurriedly fled the country. When we asked who this person was, Napoles whispered something to Winnie, but not to me.”

    Sino ba yung big fish — maski initials (or initials ng asawa) na lang! Or, maybe we can start a guessing game by finding out which prominent person left the country recently?

    Best Regards,

    Donnie Gallardo

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