Public outrage needed to force gov’t to scrap porkBy Jerome Aning
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—Former National Treasurer Leonor Magtolis-Briones on Tuesday said the executive and legislative branches were to blame for the scandals over the misuse of their pork barrel funds, adding that it would take public anger and disgust to convince the government to drop the system.
Briones, who heads Social Watch Philippines, a nongovernment organization (NGO) that monitors government spending, said the pork barrel, or the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), worth P25.240 billion, has been incorporated again in the “special purpose funds” of the proposed budget for next year.
“While public protests about pork usually escalate during the budget season, the calls for abolition of the fund are getting louder. At present, public disgust is at its highest and is exacerbated by the Napoles and other related pork scandals,” she said in a statement.
Briones was referring to the investigations centered on Janet Lim-Napoles, whose company JLN Corp. had been accused by several whistle-blowers of diverting P10 billion in pork funds to phony projects by dummy NGOs in the past years.
“I believe that considering the fact that pork is mutually ‘beneficial’ to the executive and the legislature, they will not abolish it of their own volition. It will take the combined outrage and anger of media, civil society, the various religious faiths, educational institutions, and the ordinary citizens to push these two branches of government into doing the right thing,” she added.
Briones said that as an 8-year-old child, she used to read cartoon editorials in the Philippines Free Press excoriating members of Congress on the pork barrel.
More shameless now
“Now, 65 years later, abuses have become more shameless and open, even as the public repeats its annual denunciations of pork during the budget season,” she said.
Briones said that both the executive and the legislative branches had “sung paeans and hosannas to the noble intentions of the pork barrel,” which pertains to the use of national funds to benefit the constituency of a representative or a senator for patronage purposes.
The Philippines adopted the practice from the spoils system in the United States, which has long abandoned it.
The former treasurer said that while calls for the abolition of the pork barrel were focused on congressmen and senators, it must not be forgotten that the pork barrel had been beneficial both to the executive and the legislature.
“For the executive it is both carrot and stick which is utilized to reward cooperative legislators and punish those who are critical of the administration of the day. We all know how effectively this was used by the previous administration,” Briones said.
She recalled how the Department of Budget and Management would reply “it is political” when queried as to why some congressmen were not receiving their pork allocations.
No good or bad pork
For the legislator, Briones said the benefits were obvious—patronage for favored districts, local government units and agencies.
“Many believe that Napoles is not alone. There are many of them out there, quietly operating for decades. A legislator can even do a Napoles by himself or herself,” she said.
Briones also dismissed arguments about “good pork and bad pork,” saying the practice had distorted the constitutional definition of the roles of the legislator and the executive.
She said congressmen should not be bothered about getting rid of their PDAFs because they would continue to get budgets for their and their staff’s salaries, perks for committee chairmanships and other benefits.
Assorted hangers on
“Their offices will not collapse [but] they will not be beholden to the executive if pork is abolished. They can examine the executive’s budget proposal without being seduced by pork. They will not be besieged by contractors, suppliers and other assorted hangers on,” she said.
The Napoles investigation and other similar inquiries have “clearly shown” that scams could not have happened without the participation of the executive branch, as shown in the fertilizer scam, and the current scandal in the Department of Agriculture regarding the use of the government’s share of the profits from the Malampaya gas field to fund towns ravaged by typhoons.