Numerous articles have been written about pork barrel, previously known as Countrywide Development Fund (CDF) and now called Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), since time immemorial. Whatever name it is called, it consistently raised eyebrows, lifted lips into a smirk or wriggled noses.
Merriam-Webster defines pork barrel as government projects or appropriations yielding rich patronage benefits. The term originated in the United States, before the refrigerator was invented and farmers used to store and preserve pork in barrels filled with brine. After the advent of the refrigerator, pork barrel started to evolve into its present meaning when political bills pushed by a representative “brought home the bacon” to his constituency.
Predisposed to copy anything American, political largesse allocated to Philippine legislators have also been generically referred to as pork barrel.
In 2008, then Speaker Prospero Nograles and then Appropriations Committee Chairman Edcel Lagman wrote a paper titled “Understanding the Pork Barrel”. It aimed to defend the allocation of PDAF to Congressmen (and in effect, to Senators, too). According to the article, “Many more fail to see that the relatively small projects implemented under the PDAF complement and link the national development goals to the countryside and grassroots as well as to depressed areas which are overlooked by central agencies which are preoccupied with mega-projects.”
Personally, I am not against pork barrel. The PDAF system has proven to be effective in an almost fair and objective distribution of government funds. It only becomes unfair because no matter the size and population of a given legislative district, it receives the same amount.
According to the National Budget Circular No. 547 (January 18, 2013) of the Department of Budget and Management, “the total annual allocation for programs/projects shall not exceed the following amounts:
2.7.1 Each Congressional District and Party-List Representative: Total of Seventy Million Pesos (P70,OOO,OOO): Forty Million Pesos (P40,OOO,OOO) for infrastructure’ (hard) “projects listed under Item B of Annex A; and Thirty Million Pesos (P30,OOO,OOO) for soft programs and projects listed under Item A of Annex A.
2.7.2 Each Senator: Total of Two Hundred Million Pesos (P200,OOO,OOO): One Hundred Million Pesos (P100,OOO,OOO) for infrastructure (hard) projects listed under Item B of Annex A;
Page 2 of8and One Hundred Million Pesos (Pl00,000,000) for soft programs and projects listed under Item A of Annex A.”
Under Annex A, soft projects refer to scholarships, medical assistance, livelihood, social services, etc. while hard projects are the construction of roads and bridges, public buildings, flood control, and other similar infrastructures.
When my husband was Congressman of the 3rd District of Cagayan from 2001 to 2010, his PDAF funded the construction of around 174 gymnasiums including the 15-million peso gymnasium at Cagayan National High School which contains 5 full-sized basketball courts, hundreds of classrooms, numerous kilometers of roads, and several bridges, aside from providing educational and medical assistance, among various soft projects. As a primarily rice and corn producing province, Cagayan is most affected with climate change or untimely rain fall. The gymnasiums, particularly those located in the barangays, have been providing much-needed shelter for agricultural crops and not just for sporting, cultural and social events.
I am against pork barrel when it becomes a source of corruption.
Case in point is the current issue hogging the headlines involving Janet Lim-Napoles of JLN Group of Companies who is allegedly responsible for defrauding the government of no less than Php 10 billion worth of PDAF. In an interview, one of Napoles former employees and whistleblower Arthur Luy claims Napoles said as long as there is government, there is money.
This is not much different from the news which angered the nation only a few months ago when the Commission on Audit in its 2011 audit report on ZNAC Rubber Estates Corp (ZREC), an attached agency of Department of Agriculture, revealed that Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, JInggoy Estrada, and Bong Revilla, and Buhay Rep Rene Velarde released a total of P206 million from their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to the Department of Agriculture (DA). The DA then turned over P201 million to ZREC, which in turn transferred P194.97 million to Pangkabuhayan Foundation Inc (PFI), a bogus non-government organization.
These are only 2 examples of pork barrel misuse, disuse and abuse but the amount involved is so mind-boggling I cannot blame those calling for the PDAF abolition. What about those that missed COA scrutiny?
It was around 2000 when pork barrel in the Philippines changed its name from CDF to PDAF, with the hope that whatever negative connotations attached to the CDF will disappear. I believe the DBM, as well as COA, have not been remiss in putting checks and controls to prevent corruption. It is now up to the other concerned government agencies to get to the truth of the matter and implement the law (and the consequential penalties).
Personally, I am still not against the pork barrel. There is nothing wrong with bringing home the bacon to districts, local government units and constituencies as long as it reaches them and not someone else’s pocket. Otherwise, pork is dangerous to the health.