The raging controversy over the alleged abuses and misuse of pork barrel funds seems to have caught PNoy between the proverbial “devil and the deep blue sea.”
On one hand, there were his pronouncements that the era of unrestricted and highly discretionary pork barrel usage has come to an end. For starters, he has identified several items that will be stricken off the menu of projects that lawmakers can fund with their ‘pork’.
Among these items are the so-called “temporary infrastructure projects” like de-silting and the notorious dredging.
On the other hand, the exclusion of these projects in the menu has raised concerns that many flood-prone areas will continue to suffer from devastating floods during the typhoon and monsoon seasons. De-silting and dredging are part of flood mitigation and flood control programs, which at the local government level, are usually funded by the ‘pork’ of district congressmen.
The move to exclude these temporary infrastructure projects is good news for taxpayers. These projects join the list of public works that are most vulnerable to funds misuse. In fact, many of the flood mitigation and flood control projects in various parts of the country are embroiled in controversies fueled by suspicions that pork barrel funds earmarked for them may have been lost.
We recall that bitter conflict played out in public between a solon and local government officials of Bacolod City some five years ago. The solon accused local officials of having “lost” some P24 million that should have been used to dredge waterways in the city.
The solon also alleged that another P10-million from the pork barrel of a senator from Central Visayas intended for local dredging projects was also “lost” by local officials.
The conflict was so bitter that the Archbishop of Bacolod City had to step in and plead for sobriety and positive action.
Just last year, officials of Cotabato City were outraged when they uncovered an abandoned multimillion-peso dredging project of the national government in their locality.
The dredging project was supposed to benefit the communities around the heavily-silted Rio Grande de Mindanao which caused massive flooding in Cotabato City and nearby towns in 2008. Some P120 million was supposed to have been earmarked by the Palace for that project.
We do not know if the present administration has cleared up that mess.
PNoy himself has first-hand knowledge of how messy government-funded dredging can be. During the campaign for the 2013 midterm elections, for instance, PNoy singled out Laguna Governor ER Ejercito for attack. In one of his sorties in that province, PNoy questioned Ejercito’s insistence that a proposed Laguna Lake dredging project be pursued and implemented.
PNoy had described that project, per media reports, as “paglalaro ng putik” (playing with mud). This was in reference to what he called the “senseless” transfer of mud from one side of Laguna Lake to the other in a dredging project which cost Filipino taxpayers some P18.7 billion.
So, it’s clear. Dredging projects won’t get a taste of taxpayers’ money, either from pork barrels or line-item budgets, at least not in the near future.
What happens now to flood mitigation and flood control initiatives?
Let’s get private sector to do it—using its own money and without any funds from the government.
Will private sector want to do it? We believe so.
Recently, a locator firm in the Subic Freeport Zone announced that it is undertaking the dredging of a nearby river channel for free as part of its “corporate social responsibility.”
If private sector entities such as this firm would be willing to do the dredging for the sake of social responsibility, wouldn’t they also do it if there was a rewarding business opportunity present?
We believe so. After all, rivers are more than just a barrel-full of business opportunities.
Rivers connect bodies of water from mountains and upland areas to the sea and other outlets. We believe businessmen know that, as water flows from the highlands to outlets via rivers, they carry with them not just silt but also minerals.
That natural circumstance makes for a perfect quid pro quo —government gets our rivers dredged by private sector without spending taxpayer money; private sector recovers its cost from whatever valuable minerals it can find among the silt and the waste.
Government can define and impose quality standards as far as the dredging work is concerned. The private sector would only be too willing to comply given the unique access to the submerged treasure in our river systems.
As for local communities, they can be assured that the private sector will keep on dredging, keeping our river systems silt-free and deep enough to prevent destructive floods.
All these at no cost to taxpayers.