LA TRINIDAD, Benguet—The Million People March last week portrayed the pork barrel as the country’s greatest evil since martial law.
But in the Cordillera, the pork barrel has been useful in literally breeding more pork.
Benguet Rep. Ronald Cosalan, for example, allocated millions of pesos of his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) for swine-raising projects.
The pig is not just food stock for the upland communities. Hogs are ritual animals that are sacrificed to ancestors to draw favorable weather, bountiful harvests or a winning political streak.
The Department of Budget and Management (DBM), in its website, said Cosalan’s PDAF allocations included P8.4 million from 2010 to 2012 that was spent on livelihood projects dedicated to swine raising in various Benguet communities.
Cosalan, a two-term representative of Benguet’s lone congressional district, allocated these amounts of his PDAF for hog-raising and swine projects: P1 million in 2010, P3.9 million in 2011, P1.8 million in 2012, and P1.6 million for the first quarter of 2013.
Cosalan said the amounts were released to Benguet town governments.
Many of the swine raisers who received the allocations are from La Trinidad, the capital town of Benguet.
Based on DBM records, the Puguis Rising Association Inc. received P50,000 for vegetable and hog production in 2010. In 2011, the Ivadoi Sarong Tayaw Kami organization received P100,000 for swine and cattle raising.
Last year, the Beckel Senior Citizens Association, Wangal Senior Citizens Association, Alno Senior Citizens Association, Tawang Multipurpose Cooperative and Guadayan Rural Improvement Club, all in La Trinidad, each received P50,000, also for swine-raising projects.
In the first quarter of this year, the DBM recorded six PDAF releases from Cosalan.
The Friendly Women Association of Barangay Tawang and Can-eo Tribe in Barangay Pico in La Trinidad each received P50,000 for hog raising.
Two PDAF releases of P50,000 and P75,000 benefited the hog-raising projects of the La Trinidad United Multipurpose Association, while P100,000 was released for the swine-raising projects of the La Trinidad United Multipurpose Cooperative.
A La Trinidad official, who was tasked to monitor the town’s swine population, said the beneficiaries had yet to notify the government as to how the pork barrel assistance had been used.
The National Statistical Coordination Board says Benguet has 17,264 heads of swine. Abra province has the biggest hog population with 55,255 heads, followed by Kalinga’s 51,203 heads and Mt. Province’s 35,519 heads.
At first glance, the robust hog population suggests pork barrel has done well for the Cordillera pork trade.
The La Trinidad official, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to discuss the matter with the media, said most hog raisers in the town reserved the pigs for special occasions and ritual purposes. Only a small number are sold in the local market.
He said that during the May elections, there was an increase in sales for pigs, particularly the black ones, which were butchered during “canaos” or campaign gatherings called by candidates.
Ifugao Rep. Teodoro Baguilat Jr. said pigs bred in the upland communities displayed one fact about the pork barrel: When done right, the PDAF is a handy source of augmentation funds for poor villages.
He said the distribution of government resources relied heavily on the size of a community, so the Cordillera’s smaller population led to relatively smaller budgets in the last few years compared to other regions.
With only 1.5 million residents, the Cordillera was allocated P31.7 billion, the lowest in the proposed 2014 national budget, according to the DBM.
The PDAF has been “an equalizing fund” because it provides money to third-class and fourth-class Cordillera towns, which do not generate enough taxes to improve their local economies or build up their infrastructure, Baguilat said.
“Under the national planning matrix, the Cordillera always loses out. The Department of Education allocates resources according to their basic education information system. They give you classrooms and teaching items according to a national standard of 45 pupils to one teacher. But you can hardly find a classroom in the Cordillera with 45 pupils,” he said.
The region’s infrastructure budget of P1.4 billion next year will be the biggest in the country because the upland provinces require more roads, but most agencies still rely on population to allocate resources, he said.
“I understand the outrage over the abuse of the pork barrel because P10 billion was diverted supposedly to Janet Lim-Napoles through fake nongovernment organizations (NGOs),” he said.
Many of these NGOs may still have operated when the Aquino administration took over in 2010, he said.
He cited an NGO with which the Department of Agriculture’s National Livelihood Development Corp. (NLDC) had transacted to use P5 million of his PDAF in 2010.
The allocation was meant for livestock propagation in Ifugao, which included hogs. “But we received emaciated livestock. We received hogs that went through a diet,” Baguilat said.
He said he confronted the NGO but the agent could not explain why some of the livestock shipped to Ifugao were too young to breed. The agent could not explain what his NGO was all about, he added.
Baguilat said he refused to sign the document indicating he had accepted the shipment, a fact that would turn up once the Commission on Audit releases the evaluation of PDAF covering the Aquino administration’s first three years.
“I was a new congressman, and the PDAF menu allowed us to transact with the NLDC to finance projects, but in hindsight, it was a good thing I did not sign [the release documents],” he said.
“In the Cordillera, [PDAF had] really been [about financing] scholarships, medical assistance and farm-to-market roads, but in Manila and other cities, the practice was really KBL (a euphemism for kasal, binyag, libing or weddings, baptisms and funerals),” he said.
At least in the highlands, the pork barrel breeds real pork that has helped the Cordilleras reach out to the heavens, he said.