The Pork Ball From Different Angles

I have been fortunate enough to have been invited to the Rotary Club of Manila by its President Rudy Bediones at the Manila Polo Club, August 29, 2013. The Rotary Club of Manila (RCM) has a long tradition of inviting excellent speakers, many of which come from their esteemed membership. The motive for me was both personal as I wanted to see some of my late father’s old friends as well as the fact that I was drawn by curiosity in hopes I could learn more about the “Pork Barrel” from an alternative angle.

The meeting was called to order around 12:30 PM followed by the usual Rotary rituals. The guest speaker was Rep. Roilo Golez of Parañaque who gave a presentation entitled “Pork Barrel: A Requiem for the Good, the Bad and the Ugly”. With such a title, one would expect a fair and balanced view of the Pork issue but whatever seems fair always comes from a matter of perspective.

Rep. Golez proceeded to induce references on the Pork Barrel, starting with its history and usage in other countries such as USA, Germany, Australia etc. citing some of the worst cases abroad. The point being, that the pork barrel is used elsewhere and that some of the worst cases are perhaps not representative of the general scenario. The argument was then segued to how he used his Pork Barrel (Priority Development Assistance Fund) with a list of achievements such as the most number of covered courts, school buildings, infrastructure etc. With such as enormous list, perhaps the Pork is a good thing? To note, not a single centavo was given to any NGOs!
He really had me going until the point where I felt that I was being led. The argument is not that the money could do no good, but whether or not the money should be allocated and dispensed in that manner. Ironically, he made some validations in his speech that strengthens the argument for abolition.

  1. The pork can be easily abused: This is not the case just in the Philippines but also in other more developed countries which you would assume have better safeguards and access to information.
  2. The pork barrel is systemic ingratiation: The pork barrel systematizes the monetization of political capital flows from the President, all the way to the local constituents through the hands of the legislators. With much political capital borrowed from local constituents when running for national office, much is owed back and paid back in the form of the pork barrel funds. This perpetuates the cycle of ingratiation and systemic corruption. Secondly, with this type of monetary ingratiation, the principle of checks and balances between the two branches of government is destroyed.
  3. It is discretionary in nature and therefore arbitrary: Rep. Golez cited an example where a congressman as a legacy chose to allocate all of his pork barrel to fund 40,000 scholars in his district. While scholarships are never a bad thing, it also begs me to think whether or not this was the only need of the district over things such as: food security, health, infrastructure and disaster control. It just proves that the usage of funds is arbitrary and according to the whims or preferences of the Representative.

Some of the highlights of the luncheon came during the Q&A portion where Roberto Pagdanganan of Bulacan a former Representative himself cited the legislative praxis of former statesmen such as Sumulong and Diokno. Emphasizing that the job of the congressmen is to make laws and policies that would help their constituents rather than choosing and implementing projects themselves. He also mentioned that the ingratiation between the executive and the legislative branch also ruins checks and balance. “How can we effectively check and balance them, if we are ingratiated to them?” (nonverbatim)

Former Representative Payumo of Bataan also cited an example where constituents would often approach their representatives for support such as medicines in a far-flung place. The congressman would usually give out of his pork barrel funds with uncertainty that the support would go where it should. The point being that the congressman’s office usually would not have the administrative means to check and make sure that projects are implemented properly or if implemented at all. It is the structural limitation of their offices.

The primary function of legislation is thus legislative in nature and should have nothing to do with the administration, management and funding of projects. It is best that the representatives’ competence is reserved for “The House” where it belongs otherwise it is performing a disservice to its constituency and the nation.
The irony here is that where administrative capacity is lacking to select and implement projects among legislators, there are many legitimate, sustainable and competent NGOs that could implement many of these projects with utmost transparency. It is unfair that these NGOs are demonized due to a scandal involving government and the rotten eggs. Shame on them who are guilty of colluding but spare the innocent who continue to do their jobs better than you can, with or without your pork barrel support.

To end, I’d like to thank the Rotary Club of Manila who gave me the opportunity to write this article with an even greater view for the Pork Barrel issue due to the Speaker’s presentation and the rebuttals of his colleagues. It is a privilege to see the pork barrel from different angles, which makes an even more compelling argument for its abolition. While everyone seems to have their eyes on Napoles, let us keep our eyes on the ball instead for its abolition.

My special thanks goes to Rudy Bediones who has allowed me to see my dad’s “old” club in a “new” light. I am assured that RCM is relevant still. Hoping for more enlightening discussions such as this.