• Reorienting the legislature


    Tita ValderamaThe raging debate over an estimated P10-billion pork barrel scam has brought to the fore the need to reorient the legislature.

    Often, lawmakers are referred to as solons, but those who have read about Solon think and believe it is an insult to the Athenian statesman.

    Solon, born in 638 BC and died in 558 BC, was regarded as a wise and skilful lawmaker, and considered one of the Seven Wise Men of Greece.

    He was credited for his efforts to legislate against political, economic, and moral decline in the ancient Athens. His reforms were said to have failed in the short term, yet he is often credited with having laid the foundations for Athenian democracy.

    The descriptions about Solon in history books and research materials do not fit the qualities we know and hear about the present crop of legislators. Does any one of them stand out to deserve being called a solon? It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack.

    Anyway, discussions about the multi-billion peso PDAF scandal involving Janette Lim-Napoles through a network of allegedly bogus non-government organizations, call for a reorientation of job descriptions in government.

    Legislators – senators, congressmen, provincial board members, city and municipal councillor – should make laws. The law-making process does not directly or implicitly include identification of project contractors and beneficiaries.

    The job of implementing projects with funding provided by legislators belongs to the executive branch of government.

    Ideally, executive officials and legislators should be independent of each other. But in reality, they become cohorts. Blame it on the persistence of patronage system in our political structure.

    For years, efforts to reform the pork barrel system have yet to show satisfying results. Year after year, we hear of more shocking scandals involving the pork barrel, officially known as Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

    As a reporter, I covered Congress for 15 years, spanning five terms at the House of Representatives, from 1992 to 2007. PDAF was first known as Countrywide Development Fund (CDF ). It was transformed into PDAF under then Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno when projects and activities that can be funded were limited.

    Projects for the construction or concreting of basketball courts, waiting sheds, purchase of books, flip charts, and the like were excluded from a menu of activities for PDAF funding.

    Because of the pork barrel— P200 million a year for each of the 24 senators, and P70 million for each of the 289 members of the House of Representative in the current Congress—many legislators seem to forget about their primary task of lawmaking as they tend to focus more on projects to which they can attach billboards with their oversized photos and names. Those are their “investments” for the next election.

    At P200 million for each of the 24 senators, that eats up P4.8 billion in the annual government budget. For the 289 members of the House, a P70 million share each means P20.23 billion. Multiply that by three to represent the three-year term of the current Congress, and you get a whopping sum of P75.09 billion.

    The P75.09 billion pork allocation may be a miniscule amount in the P2.268 trillion government budget that President Benigno Aquino 3rd is asking Congress to appropriate for 2014, but P75 billion is P75 billion by any consideration.

    Senators are allowed to spend P100 million of their individual share for infrastructure or hard projects, and the other P100 million for soft projects like scholarships, livelihood projects, medical assistance in state-run hospitals, budgetary support to local government units.

    For congressmen, it’s P40 million for hard and P30 million for soft projects each year.

    That’s a lot of money. Unfortunately, these monies do not all go to actual projects.

    For the hard component (read, infrastructure projects like concreting of road, asphalting of road, construction or repair of bridges, among others), the project proponent (read, lawmaker) part of the project cost ends up either directly in his pocket, or through a protégé’s construction company.

    For the soft component, that’s where the money machines work through NGOs.

    All these talks about reforming the pork barrel system are for naught for as long as the legislators’ focus are more on investigations that end up to nothing.

    How many laws have actually been produced out of so many investigations purportedly in aid of legislation? And how much public money had been spent for these much-publicized investigations?

    Too much money squandered.

    Comments are welcome at tvalderama@yahoo.com


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