Abolition of congressional pork a sham
The House of Representatives eliminated on Saturday the controversial P25.4-billion Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) from the P2.268-trillion national budget for next year in a token and farcical response to widespread public clamor for the total abolition of the corruption-ridden pork barrel system.
But while the incision cut deeply into the bone of the congressional power of the purse, it fell far short of the public demand.
The scalpel of the Aquino administration-controlled House hardly touched the P450-billion presidential Special Purpose Fund (SPF), which opposition legislators criticized as Mr. Aquino’s own pork barrel during the plenary debate on the 2014 budget bill.
The debate ended with the passing on second reading of the General Appropriations Act of 2014 early Saturday morning.
In this budgetary cut, Congress came off as the loser and as the shock absorber of public outrage over the diversion of P10 billion of the PDAF, intended for public works projects, to a group of dummy nongovernment organizations (NGOs) controlled by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, in collusion with certain senators and congressmen.
How the House became the convenient lightning rod of this pork barrel fund farce is best illustrated by the redistribution of the political patronage largesse in the next.
This article will argue that in this budgetary redistribution, Congress, which initiates appropriation legislation, cut its own arms by allocating to the SPF amounts far larger than the scrapped congressional pork barrel.
From the redistribution, to be examined in the following text, it will be shown that the elimination of the PDAF in the 2014 budget is far from a reform measure as it is being made out to be.
Under the new budget, with the PDAF eliminated, the President comes off more powerful in the control of patronage funds in the budget.
To begin with, it was pointed out in the plenary debates that the P25.2-billion PDAF represents only about 5.5 percent of the President’s SPF. At almost P450 billion, the SPF is about a fifth of the entire national budget.
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. announced before the session adjourned on Saturday, “The House has moved to abolish the age-old PDAF not only as a response to the public outcry but as a first step toward arresting any possible abuse of the same, even as we continue to explore best possible alternative means to still afford our people with the social services and other needs they require.”
Under the redistribution, the President retains in the next budget his P1-trillion pork barrel, “without clear-cut guidelines and details on what and how it will be spent,” according to opposition members in the House.
“Unless the purpose is revealed, we don’t know where the money goes,” Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez said.
The minority group in the House said it could not vote for the General Appropriations Act, which is just a parody of the power of the purse of Congress. Romualdez called for the abolition of the entire SPF.
The P25.2-billion PDAF originally proposed as congressional pork barrel will now go to education, healthcare, employment, infrastructure and “assistance to persons in crisis.”
The biggest slice—that is, P9.954 billion—will go to the Department of Public Works and Highways for the implementation of infrastructure projects to be “recommended” by congressmen following a new menu. The new guidelines limit such projects to local roads and bridges, classrooms, multipurpose buildings and water supplies.
Representatives, except those from party-list groups, can propose projects only within their respective districts. Congressmen are asked to recommend up to five infrastructure projects, each with a budget.
Sole fund dispenser
The scrapping of the PDAF stripped senators and congressmen of the power to determine whom to assign their pork barrel allocations for implementation. They are now barred from endorsing their allocations to NGOs, which had earlier been banned by the President from acting as intermediaries in implementing government projects.
In actual practice, the President is empowered to “realign, disapprove or withhold huge amounts,” it was pointed by one legislator who said it would just be the President who would decide where “all the money would go.”
The elimination of the PDAF resulted in the near monopoly of the President of funds for political patronage following the refusal of Congress to touch his sacrosanct and enormous pork barrel. It has significantly tipped the balance of power from the legislative branch to the executive.
The abuse by legislators of their pork barrel allocations in the P10-billion Napoles scam has undermined the legislature’s legitimacy in handling public funds. It has also paved the way for the enhanced domination of Congress by the executive branch riding the crest of public outrage over the pork barrel system.
What is left of the discredited congressional pork barrel system is that it has been captured and replaced by a single and bigger pork barrel dispenser, also bankrolled by public funds.
This is not what the protest movement in the streets wanted when it called for the abolition of the pork barrel. We are still saddled by an onerous yoke.
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