Amidst the growing public uproar on how billions of pesos of pork barrel funds was funneled to fake non-government organizations (NGOs), PNoy declared last week that he was abolishing the corruption-tainted budget allocation of each lawmaker officially known as the Priority Development Assistance Fund or PDAF.
Does this spell the end of ‘pork’ as we know it? Well, not really. It will be reincarnated under a different name just as the old Countrywide Development Fund (CDF) became today’s PDAF. Only this time, PNoy promises, there will be “a new mechanism . . . that is transparent, methodical and rational, and not susceptible to abuse or corruption.”
According to PNoy, all future pork barrel allocations will now be subject to line-item budgeting (or itemizing every project in the budget) and can only be used for a limited menu of qualified projects that will each have to undergo competitive bidding. Disbursements of funds to NGOs and certain government-owned and controlled corporations (GOCCs) will be disallowed. And pork barrel funds must go to the district or sector of the lawmaker sponsoring the project.
But pork by any other name is still pork.
Knowing our politicians’ penchant for finding loopholes in the system, these so-called “mechanisms” may reduce but not totally eliminate corruption. By merely overhauling rather than doing away with the pork barrel system completely, it will be the Palace who will (and should) bear the blame if this ‘new-and-improved’ PDAF proves to be as graft-ridden as the old one.
Moreover, the reforms that PNoy wants to introduce only serves to give his administration more control over the allocation and disbursement of pork barrel funds. It has, in effect, shifted the real power of the purse from Congress to Malacañang by “centralizing” under the executive department what and how much will be given to lawmakers as their PDAF. Senators and congressmen will now be beholden to the Palace. That is if they even want to see their pet projects get off the ground.
Which is why many people are wondering whether this recent move by the Palace is just a subterfuge to keep its political allies (and opponents) in line.
PNoy’s stance on retaining lawmakers’ pork barrel funds, probably under a more catchy acronym, is not surprising given his previous public pronouncements that such funds had its “good uses” because “the national government cannot know all of our needs and attend to these all the time.”
But isn’t this an admission that that the Aquino administration, more than halfway through its term, still hasn’t come to grips with the most pressing problems faced by ordinary Filipinos? Isn’t this proof that PNoy’s cabinet members have been sleeping on the job that they need lawmakers to pinpoint development projects for our barangay, towns and cities?
What’s also not surprising is PNoy’s scapegoat for the PDAF mess—former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo—whom he says was “ready to trade favors just to remain in power.”
PNoy seems to conveniently forget, however, that many anomalies during the Arroyo administration involved the use (and abuse) of the presidential ‘pork’ rather than the PDAF.
And compared the executive department’s ‘pork barrel’— which some estimate at P1.1-trillion or almost half of the proposed national budget for 2014—the P25-billion PDAF is a mere drop in the bucket.
This executive ‘slush fund’ consists of the confidential, intelligence and other discretionary funds allotted to the Office of the President, which do not undergo the usual audit procedures. There’s also the President’s Social Fund that is sourced from the earnings of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor).
Added to the mix are the lump-sum allocations for Special Purpose Funds amounting to some P310.1-billion in the 2014 budget, which although meant for the specific purposes, are subject to presidential discretion. These include the Pension and Gratuity Fund, Miscellaneous Personnel Benefits Fund, E-Government Fund, Contingency Fund, Miscellaneous Personnel Benefits Fund, among others.
Another funding source for the presidential kitty is the standby appropriation known as “unprogrammed funds,” which are allocations with no specific purpose. The provision on unprogrammed funds is often used a short-cut strategy by the executive department to spend additional funds over and above the appropriations approved by Congress without having to going through the usual appropriations procedure.
Aside from these allocations, the President can also indirectly augment or increase his ‘slush fund’ by realigning savings from the budget of any office or agency under the executive department, which critics say is worth anywhere between P56-billion to P113-billion.
Perhaps this is the reason that PNoy, while expressing outrage at scandalous abuse of lawmakers’ pork barrel funds, has been conspicuously silent about the presidential ‘pork’.
If PNoy really wants a “transparent, methodical and rational” use of the taxpayers’ money, he should impose the same criteria and conditions for all future ‘pork’ allocations, including his own.