The pork barrel is the source of many of the worst evils in our society. Its bad effects overwhelmingly outweigh the good uses it may have. To abolish it is the right thing to do.
Let me cite some reasons why it should be abolished.
First, the pork barrel leads to much waste of public funds. According to Commission on Audit Chair Grace Pulido-Tan, of the P12.018-billion pork barrel of 371 lawmakers from 2007 to 2009, only 10-20 percent was actually spent on projects. This is separate from the P10-billion pork barrel scam, where at least 60 percent of the funds allegedly went to certain senators and congressmen and the rest to Janet Lim-Napoles and her gang through bogus NGOs. Nothing went to the intended projects or beneficiaries.
Second, the pork barrel is the biggest source of corruption in the country. Abolish it and perhaps 60 percent of corruption in the government will be removed.
Third, it has not resulted in poverty reduction, nor has it led to development despite the fact that it was once intended to be a Countrywide Development Fund. It involves insanely huge amounts of taxpayers’ money. And yet, last March the National Statistical Coordination Board reported that the poverty situation in the country has practically remained unchanged, with around 30 million Filipinos living in poverty, of whom around 10 million live in extreme poverty and are hungry every day. But SWS surveys show that the hungry poor in our country number not only 10 million but around 18 million. This, despite the GDP growth rates of 7.2 percent in 2007, 7.6 percent in 2010, and 6.8 percent in 2012.
Fourth, the pork barrel has not led to the passage of many good laws.
Fifth, the pork barrel system is beyond repair. When the abuse of the pork barrel was exposed in 1996, reforms were introduced. Its name was changed from Countrywide Development Fund to the present Priority Development Assistance Fund. The construction of basketball courts and waiting sheds was disallowed. The Department of Budget and Management listed on its website the list of projects of lawmakers for funding. But did these reforms stop the abuse of the pork barrel? Clearly not. It even got worse.
Sixth, we copied the system from the United States. But the Americans have already changed their own system and have discarded the use of pork barrel, precisely because they found it vulnerable to abuse.
Seventh, developed countries such as Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States do not have a pork barrel system for the members of their parliaments or legislature.
Eighth, as noted by Dean Tony La Viña of the Ateneo School of Government, providing pork to our lawmakers is unconstitutional. It violates the separation of powers between the executive and the legislative branches.
Ninth, it has created political monsters in our society. It has attracted many dark characters, criminals and unscrupulous businessmen, many of whom build political dynasties who keep private armies which, in turn, result in political killings in various areas nationwide.
What we need is to follow the system of Singapore, France, the United Kingdom and the United States. Take away the pork barrel from lawmakers and put the funds in the hands of the appropriate departments and line agencies. Appoint honest, competent and patriotic leaders and managers of these departments and agencies. Then strengthen the COA, and recruit more auditors and investigators, so they can closely monitor the projects of these departments and agencies. Improve and fully implement the full-disclosure policy at all levels. Also, encourage private-sector participation by forming multisectoral watchdogs in every department to complement the COA’s work in monitoring how public funds are being used.
It is so much easier to monitor, and discipline, officials from the departments and agencies than lawmakers.
But it will take guts to abolish the pork barrel. It will need a great leader, a genuine reformist, to do it.
There is a lesson we can learn from Abraham Lincoln. When Lincoln won the US presidency in 1860, 13 states in the South refused to acknowledge him as president, withdrew their allegiance from the US government, and declared civil war, because of his campaign promise and decision to abolish slavery.
At that point, Lincoln faced a crucial dilemma: Should he abolish slavery? Should he fight this fight, or not? A group of advisers told him, “Mr. President, if the 13 states want to put up a new America where slavery is allowed, let them be. There is no need to go to war.” But a second group of advisers told him, “Mr. President, we cannot allow the country to be divided.”
Lincoln reflected deeply on the matter. Later he concluded: “We who are free must use our freedom so those who are not free may gain their own freedom.” He then issued the order to fight the 13 rebel states, to free those who are not free.
It was a profoundly beautiful way to use one’s freedom. But what is the lesson for us here? Lincoln fought the biggest evil in his society during his time—slavery. Ninoy Aquino fought the biggest evil in our society during his time—the Marcos dictatorship.
Will P-Noy fight the biggest evil in our society today? Will we?
Alex Lacson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the founder of “Kabayanihan—Ang Kultura ng Pilipino,” which, he says, is based on “Kapatiran” (brotherhood) and “Bayanihan” (heroism).