• Ban the pork? Dream on!

    Efren Danao

    Efren Danao

    Ban the pork? Dream on!

    I hate to be a wet blanket but the seasonal diatribes against the pork barrel will not make any headway. The hold of Malacanang on the House and the political survival of congressmen will be jeopardized if the pork barrel is abolished, that’s why. A “shame campaign” won’t work either. Was it Sir Winston Churchill who once said that a thick hide is an asset among politicians?

    Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago has filed a resolution seeking a three-year phase-out of the Priority Development Assistant Fund (PDAF), a euphemism for “pork.” Under Senator Miriam’s measure, the P200 million PDAF of each senator per year will be reduced to P100 million in 2014, to P50M in 2015 and zero, zilch, none in 2016. For congressmen, their annual pork allocation of P70M each will be pared down to P35M in 2014, P15M in 2015, and nil in 2016.

    A gradual phase-out of “pork” is less harsh than an outright ban. However, even this is unachievable. I didn’t get a copy of her resolution, but if it is an ordinary resolution, then it’s not binding on the House even if it is adopted by the Senate. Similarly, a House-adopted resolution isn’t binding on the Senate. If it is a joint resolution, then it has the force and effect of a law once adopted by both chambers. I have no doubt at all that the House will give such a resolution a short shrift.

    Former Senator Joker Arroyo never touched his “pork,” and he did so without any fanfare. Many don’t know it, but he had also done the same thing when he was congressman for nine years (1992-2001) representing Makati. When I was covering the House, I asked Joker why he was keeping his hands off his “pork.” He replied that Makati was already a very progressive city.

    “The people of Makati will laugh at me,” he said. “The councilors of Makati are receiving a bigger pork allocation than congressmen.”

    When he became senator in 2001, he could have given his PDAF to less developed towns or cities but he refused. He merely shrugged his shoulders when, again, I asked him why he didn’t.

    Former Sen. Ping Lacson used his PDAF for a while but gave it up completely when he caught his chief of staff negotiating for a project overprice. Well, Ping and Joker won reelection in 2007 without any “pork.” I guess this could only mean that “pork” is not at all a factor in senatorial elections. (Psst, I got it from a very reliable source that some senators divided the “pork” of Ping among themselves. I think he must have gotten wind of it for he later made sure that his P200M “pork” was deducted from the Senate budget.)

    If Senator Miriam and others are really ready to eradicate the use of “pork,” then they should follow the example of Joker and Ping – give it up completely even if others won’t or couldn’t. They should willingly abstain from or reduce their “pork” even if her resolution is declared dead-on arrival.” This should be fun to watch. I’ve seen some congressmen call for the abolition of the “pork,” only to feast on it later because it has remained in the budget.

    Some non-government organizations (NGOs) used as conduits for PDAF-funded projects may be bogus, but I don’t believe this should result in making NGOs a fiscal pariah. Hard projects undertaken solely by the Department of Public Works and Highways doesn’t result in less corruption or assure savings for the government . Take for instance the construction of classrooms by an NGO, the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FFCCI). A classroom built by FFCCI costs P325,000 while that built by the DPWH costs P650,000. Yeah, the classroom built by FFCCI is a bit smaller but it can accommodate 50 students. What’s more, each classroom has a toilet and electrical wirings, amenities not found in the more costly DPWH classrooms.

    Senate President Franklin Drilon has been funneling his PDAF for the construction of classrooms to the FFCCI since 2002. If he’s after a fast buck, then he wouldn’t have entered into an agreement with an NGO that charges half those of the DPWH. Some 1,500 classrooms have already been built under the Drilon-FFCCI partnership. At a savings of P325,000 per classroom had DPWH done the construction, the total savings from the “pork” of Drilon coursed through the NGO is a staggering P487.5 million.

    I’m sure there are other NGOs like the FFCCI. They should not be completely shut-off from implementing pork-funded projects. And there are other lawmakers like Drilon who have using their “pork” judiciously.

    I prefer that the system be reform for greater transparency and accountability since it’s here to stay, whether we like it or not.



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