Under the old pork barrel system, the legislator was the king. He or she dictated every spending term in her or his pork barrel allocation. If the money allotted was for “hard projects,” or the infra part of the allocation, the senators and congressmen had sole discretion on two things: what project would be funded and the contractor that would undertake the project.
Under the old system, the district engineers and the regional directors of the DPWH just went through the motion of biding out a project to show a paper trail that the favored contractor of a legislator indeed won a particular bidding legally. The bidding was pure, unadulterated “moro-moro.”
On the “soft allocations,” the senators and congressmen also dictated where the money would be spent. The menu was longer than a wine list. Scholarships, medical assistance to constituents, assistance to communities stricken by natural calamities, support to small farmers and rural cooperatives (which on paper was done by the Napoles NGOs) and several other undertakings that fell under the category of “soft projects” allowed under the ever-flexible spending rules.
But that was not all. The worst of the pork practices was inserting specific allocations during the bicameral conference committee that a select group of senators and congressmen did to harmonize the two versions of the national budget. The House version and the Senate version were reconciled in that phony ritual which was more about making “singit” or insertions to benefit members of the bicam committee—away from the prying eyes of the less-connected senators and congressmen – than to improve on the budgetary process.
“Impunity” was the proper term to describe the old system’s disregard for the rules and the mockery of every law of decency and civility. If you know the level of recklessness displayed by sailors on shore leave after a year on sea, then you have an idea on how lawmakers handled their pork allocations under the old system.
The COA special audit report – and the outrage that followed – rocked the pork barrel system. The Napoles scam pushed the Supreme Court into declaring the pork barrel unconstitutional, despite three previous judicial rulings that it was A – OK. And that the pork was truly the prerogative of one of the three co-equal branches of government.
The pork barrel system remains deeply entrenched in the 2015 national budget of P2.6 trillion – though technically you can’t find any item that screams “pork, pork.” The CDF is gone for good. Here is the new incarnation.
Before the budget process for the 2015 budget started, senators and congressmen were required to “endorse” infra projects through lists that they had to submit to the agencies bidding out infra projects, primarily the DPWH. Some senators, especially those with higher political ambition, opted out and did not submit lists of projects for funding. The congressmen who did not submit lists are those at the forefront of the anti-pork fight. They don’t want to be accused of hypocrisy.
But majority of the legislators submitted projects for funding. How can they miss the chance to make something, even in this emotionally-charged environment? The submission of “lists” came with the tacit understanding that most, if not all of their funding requests, shall be granted by the executive offices.
How much leeway and concession were given to by the DPWH and other frontline agencies to the “endorsements” of the senators and congressmen who sent in lists? Was it a wholesale approval of the projects endorsed? Or, was it a partial approval? Was it a zero approval especially to the congressmen and senators critical of the President? The details of these, we do now know about. But one thing is sure. Here, the LP legislators and the lawmakers loyal to the administration have the edge.
Even after the grant of a funding commitment, the congressmen and senators are still not sure on whether they can make “commissions” out of the projects they have endorsed. In an open bidding, nothing is sure. Their favored contractors may win in the public bidding. Or may not. So the lawmakers will have to practically bend on their knees during the bidding season and ask for favor from the departments that do the bidding. Please, please, extend some help so our contractors win. Just a little tweaking, please.
That is what the headline of this piece means – that the senators and congressmen have to literally beg on their knees so that their contractors would get the awards for the projects they have endorsed. Unlike in the old system where their word was carried to the letter, now they are at the mercy of the department that conducts the public bidding. Pagbibigyan ba sila o hindi?
On the “ soft” allocations, these are now the rules.
The senators and congressmen had been required, prior to the budget season, to send in to the CHED listings for possible scholarship grants. The CHED, in turn, has told the congressmen and senators that priority will be given to the scholars funded under the old system who are still in school, mostly in the SUCs, but have met grade and residency requirements.
The gain from this arrangement? The scholars and their next of kin are perfectly aware who endorsed the scholarship grants. Here, votes are the reward.
The senators and congressmen are allowed to get medical assistance for their sick and ailing constituents and supporters but this is a limited thing. They can recommend names for employment in the emergency work programs of government which can last two or three weeks. They can ask TESDA to accommodate out-of-school youths for technical skills training. Tender mercies, really.
But why are the lawmakers not rebelling against this capture by the executive department of all powers over the dispensation of favors?
Their hands are tied. Public opinion is against them. And the Napoles scam trial is ongoing. They are just waiting for the proper time to strike and bring back the wild days of the reckless pork barrel system.