Their turn at the trough
Despite all the name-calling, the finger-pointing, the thunderous revelations, the “pigs” are all getting their turn at the trough.
After weeks of debates and discussions, during which time congressional representatives, senators and the budget secretary hurled accusations of “greed” and “deception” at each other, a compromise seems to have been arrived at, and everyone expects to step away with their filthy hands clutching their share of loot.
Reports have it that legislators will get to keep P75 billion in “pork” allotments in the final version of the proposed P3.8-trillion spending program. Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr., who left his post as majority leader to concentrate on his duties as chair of the appropriations committee, said that senators will get P70 billion in lump sum allocations, while the remainder will be “equitably divided” among 292 House members, who are already assured of P160 million in pork.
This comes after weeks of contentious arguments, hearings on the alleged malfeasance of Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, and the lone but thundering voice raised by Sen. Panfilo Lacson who railed against the “pork barrel” system.
Recall that five years ago, after “concerned citizens” brought a case to the Supreme Court over the alleged misuse of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), a euphemism for pork, the high tribunal ruled the system as unconstitutional. In its decision, the Supreme Court said the pork barrel “allowed legislators to wield, in varying gradations, non oversight, post-enacted authority in vital areas of budget executions (thus violating) the principle of separation of powers.”
At that time, notes columnist Jarius Bondoc who writes for another paper, “the share of each legislator amounted to P200 million each for 24 senators and P70 million each for 255 congressmen (or a total of) P22.65 billion.” The amount being contested today, at least until the midnight compromise, is 14 times larger, said Bondoc—proof that not only did our lawmakers choose to ignore the law, they even had the temerity to abuse it.
Deputy Speaker Prospero Pichay Jr. even claims there “is nothing wrong” with pork in the national budget as the funds will actually benefit his constituents. (Or so we hope.) He even looked far and wide to justify the practice, saying that, in the United States, House members seek higher allocations for their respective districts. The “hidden” pork allotments in the national budget, Pichay insisted, would go toward projects in their districts and benefit their constituents. “(The money) will not go to congressmen,” he promised.
And we the taxpayers are supposed to just take his word for it?
At least congressmen like Pichay and Andaya are candid (and brazen) enough to justify their greed for pork. Around the time the case against the PDAF was filed, several politicians and wannabe politicians rode on the revelations about pork-barrel-by-another-name by railing against the PDAF. Former Arroyo administration officials stirred public anger, including the now-embattled Diokno and former national treasurer and now Education Secretary Leonor Briones. Funny, but now Diokno is engaged in defending himself against allegations of his own “insertions” in the national budget to favor relatives, while Briones has kept mum on the issue.
Also silent on this new-old form of pork are constant publicity-seekers Dante Jimenez and Greco Belgica, who used their anticrime and corruption advocacies to file the Supreme Court case against the PDAF. Why is it that now that their pet issue is once more in the spotlight, the pair and their cohorts have chosen to zip their lips shut? Could their appointment by President Duterte to an anticorruption body be the reason? But shouldn’t that appointment spur them even more toward denouncing the evils of pork?
Lacson, in the course of his revelations, has called on the President to use his veto power to remove all pork barrel insertions in the 2019 budget. Citing the President’s vaunted “strong political will,” the senator urged him to remove from the appropriations measure “all the ‘pork’ inserted by lawmakers who are incorrigibly insatiable and simply ‘beyond redemption.’”
Lacson said it, we didn’t.
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