Pork in a barrel
Lechon is delicious. Crispy pata is to die for (sadly, it will hasten that death, but that’s a happy price to pay). But pork in a barrel is extremely unhealthy.
Unfortunately, it’s a (Philippine) political way of life. The Supreme Court has knocked down its indiscriminate use and flagrant abuse. But it has left a loophole: prior specification of the need. As long as you specify what the pork will be used for in the forthcoming budget, it’s legit.
So congressmen scrambled to do just that — specify projects for their districts. Which is fine if it’s for the betterment of their people AND it fits into national priority.
Indiscriminately giving every congressman P60 million does not fit into anything except enhance the chance of their reelection, giving an unfair, undemocratic advantage over any challenger.
So I don’t mind some districts getting billions IF it fits into the national government’s Philippine Development Plan (PDP). I do mind if it’s intended for reelection, and that’s easy to determine. If it’s not in the PDP, then it must be in aid of reelection and should be denied by the Senate (the one who can do it).
It’s a fair argument that the group that develops the budget can’t think of everything, so a congressman or senator recommending projects is fine. We all have that right. BUT it must fit into national goals. Last-minute inserts, as have happened now, aren’t acceptable.
The House of Representatives had five months, since July when it was submitted, to carefully review the budget, so it had no excuse to be adding money needs at the last minute, and far less excuse for submitting it so late to the Senate. The House needs to explain why it took five months to review the budget and send it to the Senate for an impossible three weeks to review this voluminous document. The Senate should just reject those insertions.
This has resulted in a reenacted budget for the early months of this year. The last time that happened was nine years ago when Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was President; she’s now the Speaker. The delay will cost us P46 billion in the first three months of the year, according to the Department of Finance. It will delay construction of the infrastructure we so urgently need, and could derail economic growth in the first quarter of 2019.
A reenacted budget means no new infrastructure project can start “because the capital outlays component of the previous year’s budget cannot be deemed reenacted.” In a statement, Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno noted that “only the personal services and the maintenance and other operating expenditures are deemed reenacted.” The members of the bicameral committee need to insist on justification that the pet projects of the House are indeed for the welfare of their constituents, and that they do fit into the national priority. Senators should equally justify any insertions they may have made. What I’d really like to see is more time spent on how to raise more revenue so growth can be accelerated and allow us to “Build, build, build” faster. But I doubt I’m going to see that.
The worst of it is that delay in the budget means the reform of the tax regime won’t happen for at least a year or probably more. Reducing the age in defining criminality is apparently more important. That’s a great setback to creating jobs faster, a discouragement to new investments given the uncertainty of what tax a company will pay and incentives it will get. This has resulted in a consequent slowdown of the economy, harming us all. The House has served us poorly.
The Supreme Court was very clear in its pronouncement that pork, including whatever subterfuge it may be disguised in, is not allowed. We voted President Duterte in because we wanted change from the old political ways of doing things, but it seems some of those who represent us didn’t listen.
For a country that loves pork, it’s going to be hard to get rid of it. But isn’t it time we stand up and demand a healthier (political) life without pork? Or vote for someone else in May.
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