‘As a matter of pork…’
It is that time of year again when the respective budgets of the agencies and branches of government for the coming year are subjected to debate and deliberation. It is that time again when lawmakers bicker among themselves to get the biggest slices of the national “pork” aka the countrywide development fund or CDF.
This time, however, the verbal tussle on social media between Negros Oriental (3rd District) Rep. Arnolfo Teves Jr. and Deputy Speaker LRay Villafuerte (Camarines Sur, 2nd District) has taken a physical turn, with the former challenging the latter to a fistfight. According to reports, Teves has complained that his district was allocated only a fraction (P2 billion) of what Villafuerte and Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano were receiving for their districts—P11.8 billion for Camarines Sur and P8 billion for Taguig City (the Cayetanos’ bailiwick).
It is a shame that as the Philippines maintains its top place among the countries in Southeast Asia with rising numbers of COVID-19 cases, its lawmakers are raring to slug it out for the sake of pork allocations.
Although it is not the first instance of bickering over the national pork fund, this year’s verbal tussle over it has exposed the moral bankruptcy of some lawmakers in the midst of the pandemic and its devastating impact, especially on impoverished Filipinos.
But there are more pork matters in the proposed national budget for 2021, such as P4.5 billion for the intelligence funds of the Office of the President, and a whopping P19.1 billion for the military brass managing the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict. The NTF-Elcac was created through Executive Order No. 70, which President Duterte signed on Dec. 4, 2018. It is supposed to adopt a “whole of nation” approach in ending the local communist insurgency.
Can it be that greed is present in the august halls of Congress, and perhaps in the national security offices, too?
Reviewing past budgets and the one being deliberated on, one can see skewed thinking among government officials. Achieving national “peace and order” through a militaristic approach in curbing the communist insurgency and even legitimate dissent gets a lion’s share in each year’s budget proposal. Yet allocations for lifeline services provided through health and education institutions are always the ones easily slashed. Initiatives that celebrate life through health and education services are sidelined, while those that kill people and give rise to multitudes of internally displaced persons are funded more adequately, even inordinately. Intelligence funds are used for unintelligent and inhuman ends, like the President’s “war on drugs,” for example.
Three days ago, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate decried the current power bickering in the House and raised the problem we are all facing now as the country with the biggest number of COVID-19 cases in the region. Based on this problem, he proposed that instead of putting more money into each favored representative’s pork allocation, such funds be better spent in responding to the health and economic crisis brought about by the pandemic.
Zarate challenged his fellow lawmakers to allocate their CDF to the COVID-19 response funds, in order to help the country deal with and recover from the health and economic crisis. He claimed that “pork-like allocations” were among the reasons social services—health, education and social pensions, among others—were being “perennially slashed.” He pointed out that realigning these pork-like allocations to the fight against COVID-19 could alleviate the plight of the poor and unemployed and allow their children to continue schooling despite the pandemic.
I wonder if the likes of the squabbling lawmakers can survive being members of the House without pork-related perks in their yearly allocations. They should take up Zarate’s challenge to show that they have not become avaricious politicians.
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