PUBLIC opinion against the pork barrel (generic term for the humongous amounts of taxpayers’ money made available to legislators and other government officials from unconscionable budget items) is at an all-time high after the depredations on the national moral fiber (presuming it still exists) that inevitably came with the dubious practice, an undemocratic acquisition of monetary power beyond checks and balances intended to control it.
We are now furious and rabidly trying to find the culprits in this unholy mess. Crying for blood is the last resort when the first should have been not to allow the acquisition of public funds for pork barrel purposes. While we sail on the seas of what we consider righteous anger, it is a bit of a delayed reaction and not quite so definitively righteous either. WE have known for some decades now that the pork barrel was present and on the ascendant in executive-legislative interaction. Quid pro quo was a way of life, of legislating, dealing with constituents, making a mark as a public official. We have allowed it to be established, it is not new but belongs to the past and the present.
For the record, three senators refused to use their pork barrel allotments in past legislatures. They knew something we suspected but neither the media nor civic organizations nor plain citizens took more than a cursory note or gave enough of a public adverse reaction to make it the issue it has become for the plunder that has resulted. One senator vainly tried to alert media and some NGO’s about how money was spent like water in the Senate – pork barrel allotments of breathtaking sums, unreasonable monetary gifts to each senator, lavish office and travel allowances. But it was taken as a political ploy in service to an individual.
To the credit of a few civic organizations and individuals, the issue was taken all the way to the Supreme Court who twice ruled the pork barrel to be legal
Even as the rumors now proven to be only too true that pork barrel funds were used by legislators as a source of illicit income by way of kickbacks, most of us practically cooperated by lining up for project funding, soliciting funds for our causes from this same pork barrel. We ignored the fact that in this way, legislators were not merely providing financing to please their constituents by being a funding source using taxpayers’ money for whatever they demanded i.e. scholarships, medical services, burial expenses, basketball tournaments aside from trivial infrastructure projects i.e. waiting sheds but money for themselves. In this way legislators were actually selecting the projects and their implementers, immorally taking unto themselves executive powers beyond their mandate. They were calling the shots and fixing the kickbacks that were built into the system. Rather, that they built into the system. Naturally, greed has no restraint when the opportunity to practice and profit by it is presented. The pork barrel was now institutionalized.
We all stood by in apathy as pork barrel fund sums escalated from Congress to Congress reaching P200M and counting per legislator. They were awash in cash and legislated on that basis. It was money politics – unequal, unfair, undemocratic. The basis was laid for executive-legislative interaction. Legislation proposed by the executive could be delivered virtually only on a cash basis.
The whole morally and democratically anomalous governance was the ultimate result. It could not have gone the other way. All reasonably informed and even casually observant among us knew and saw what was happening. Yet in effect we allowed it by keeping silent or making the occasional intermittent mild objection.
In truth, public opinion against the pork barrel was not there when it needed to be – at the introduction of the nefarious practice, the escalation of the funds allotted, the too intrusive legislative takeover of executive tasks which facilitated the kickbacks and indeed brought us to the precipice of fiscal irresponsibility and moral crisis.
We have seen the National Treasury raided to the extreme in a feeding frenzy, like wild animals at the kill, that spread everywhere from government officials to the smart opportunists among the public who pandered to their greed. The excesses were inevitable to the point of absurdity.
The pork barrel became the primary motivation for a run for public office. It became an incentive to join a favored class of rulers who used public office in order to profit and not much else. We saw elected public officials become rich on taxpayers’ money. The pork barrel was one of the easiest, quickest ways to wealth in this country whichever side of it one was involved in. Ironically, it brought on creativity, ingenuity, and indefatigability in the service of dishonesty. AS with those with a compulsion to get rich against every rule, there is no limit to how much they want. It just demands more and more rationalized as campaign funds for the next election, buying off voters and/or opponents, providing for their families to the nth generation, enjoying life at the top as oligarchs forevermore.
The lesson we have to learn is vigilance at all actions of a public nature, all financial transactions by public officials from public spending for infrastructure to management of funds for disaster relief, everything must be scrutinized and political and moral judgments made publicly and militantly. The lesson is that Democracy is a matter of checks and balances where the players are not just the Executive, Legislative and Judicial Departments but voters, constituents, citizens and their organizations, the general public that has and must ever protect its stake in this society day to day.
As for the pork barrel institution, it must be dismantled, banned and condemned.