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Name of the pork

/ 12:32 PM November 06, 2013

The discourses on the pork barrel issue get more confusing. Part of the confusion stems from the use of names and what those names actually mean. For instance, the terms “pork barrel,” the PDAF or Priority Development Assistance Fund; Or DAP, Disbursement Acceleration Program. How do you tell one from the other?

Apparently, with great difficulty unless you are a lawyer specializing in this field or a congressman. And then, one finds that even they quarrel contentiously about these meanings. These are meanings that in the run of time may be arbitrated with finality by no less than the Supreme Court.

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Pork barrel is certainly the more generic term. It refers to funds the President has discretion to forward to congressmen for projects which they themselves choose or endorse. Its formal name is Priority Development Assistance Fund, which currently is in suspension as a result of massive anomalies uncovered in the wake of the ongoing Napoles scandal. Will it ultimately be abolished? It is up to Congress and the President. Is there a legitimate reason for it not to be?

Traditionally, pork barrel was a system for national funding to be decentralized. Congressmen represent geographic areas spread mostly away from the national capital. Thus, in theory at least, it would have been a way for congressmen to identify strategic projects in areas they represent for government funding. In this way, no area would be entirely marginalized. Used well, this method would seem to rationalize funding so that they get to deserving projects that would not ordinarily qualify to get into regular deliberations in the floors of Congress. This would be relatively small- to medium-scale projects such as infrastructure for countryside schools or computers for small colleges, farm projects, etc.

FEATURED STORIES

And yet, as the Napoles scandal is showing, the PDAF was apparently used towards corrupt ends. In theory at least, this means that unscrupulous congressmen endorsed their funds to fictitious projects with the main intention of lining their own pockets as well as of those who “fixed” the fund transfer. The most cynical of theories goes that pork barrel was a method for congressmen to recoup the funds they used to buy votes in the election campaigns which put them in power.

The less cynical view is that the pork barrel system is a method for elective officials to maintain the loyalties of their constituencies. Congressmen use the pork barrel to forward projects of city, municipal and barangay officials in their congressional areas. Assured of project-funding, these officials would have the greatest propensity to campaign for the congressman when the next congressional elections come around. Which is not at all illegal for as long as everyone down the line maintains honesty. But even so, one might see here how the pork barrel also feeds political network-structures. This explains in real terms why a party in power, such as the Liberal Party (LP), would not find it in its interest to abolish the pork barrel at this time if it can help it; or unless, it can set something up in its place.

But it would be unfair to single out the LP. There is a reading that points to the fact how Congress generally enacts government funding. In actual practice, Congress approves the funds which go to the executive branch of government including the Office of the President and the funds under its discretion, meaning the pork barrel. And so, indirectly, the pork barrel are funds which the Congress approves for its own congressmen, albeit indirectly.

Seen this way, it is easy to see why the pork barrel system has come to be the very fabric of power in the country now. Without it, the presidency itself would have little other than moral hold over congressmen and officials below his or her office. To abolish this system now would certainly be more disruptive than we can ever imagine. But the ultimate consequence of this proposal for abolition would be worth bringing into the argument.

In the last barangay elections, Carlo Alejandro Fernandez (this writer’s young nephew) ran for councilor on a campaign built around the assertion he would not be buying votes. He won the last seat by only a lead of 31 votes. But nevertheless, he made it without spending the hundreds of thousands needed to win even the lowest legislative positions in government today.

What are the chances we can put more people into government who do not “buy” their positions? What are the chances the pork barrel system can be done away with?

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TAGS: column, DAP, opinion, PDAF, Pork barrel
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