Some have more pork than others

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MARLEN V. RONQUILLO

After the Napoles scam, there was a decision to expunge the most egregious components of the congressional pork barrel system. This meant that members of the Senate and the House of Representatives (HoR) can no longer identify pet projects to be funded, then select the contractors/suppliers for each and every pet project identified.

Before the Napoles scam, they had that authority. For additional power over the pork, the usually pliant officials of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), got recommendations from the senators and the congressmen on who should get the juicy posts of DPWH district engineers and DPWH regional engineers. It was the DEs and the RDs that made sure that the pet projects of the politicians went to the “endorsed” contractors/suppliers.

The whole “public bidding” process was a farce. And there were very rare cases of DEs and RDs holding open and fair bids to determine the best tender offered for a public project up for bid.

More, in the old, brazenly corrupt days, a congressman could be the contractor himself. Literally, he could bake a cake and eat it, too. A good 20 percent of current members of the HoR started out as public works contractors. A good 10 percent entered the construction business, albeit silently and through dummies, after getting a seat in the House and getting a feel of the rewards of the public works construction business. The contractors-cum-congressmen in the HoR today remain legions and they still ply their nefarious trade.


Clarification. I am explaining here the so-called “ hard projects,” or the infra component of the pork barrel, not the so-called “soft component,” The “soft component,” which meant supply of reading materials to the supply of “fertilizer,” was scrapped after the unraveling of the Napoles scam.

After the Napoles scam and the public ire over the unprecedented act of congressional corruption, the lawmakers from both chambers had this consensus: Let us moderate our greed. So they tweaked the pork system, called the kalakaran in the vernacular, which was rearranged in this manner.

All legislators (senators, district representatives, party-list members) are asked to list down their pet projects during the budget deliberation process. Each project has to be validated by the LGUs concerned and each proposal has to be technically detailed.

Theoretically, there is a cap on the total amount of projects a senator could propose. In real application, a cap is imposed only on opposition senators. Members of the HoR abide by the cap. But for some, especially in the cases of well-connected members of the HoR, there is always a leeway to write down projects in excess of the cap.

Some can definitely propose more pork projects than others.

At the senate, members of the ruling political coalition and oppositionists usually get their project funding wishes with one caveat – the members of the opposition get very little.

This is not the case with the senators in the ruling coalition. They usually get funding for most of their project proposals.

The HoR is a different case. The members of the opposition, those who usually and steadfastly vote against the wishes of the HoR’s leadership, are thrown out in the cold. They get zero funding. Like the case of the 24 members of the opposition and the Makabayan bloc, who were etsa pwera (excluded) from the recent pork barrel allocation. The Makabayan bloc said it did not file for funding requests.

Speaker Alvarez summed up their case in a very apt phrase: That’s life.

Ok, let us go to the other important question. Can the senators/congressmen control the bidding process as was the “kalakaran” in the bad old days before the Napoles scam?

During the time of Mr. Singson at the DPWH, Mr. Singson’s directive was to ignore the politicians and do a fair bid. But the RDs and the DEs usually ignored Mr. Singson and capitulated to the “endorsements” of the politicians. According to DPWH sources during that time, politicians got their contractors 60 percent of the time and open-and-fair bid were conducted 40 percent of the time.

But it was definitely an improvement from the SOP (standard operating procedure) before the Napoles scam when every peso in their pork was at the whim of the lawmakers. The grease money that go to politicians for their projects was – and still is – called SOP.

Today is a carryover from the Singson years. The RDs and the DEs mostly accede to the “endorsements” of the senators and congressmen, but the more honest DPWH personnel stand their ground and carry out fair and open public bids.

The contractors are less afraid of politicians now and that is another area of improvement. Many have developed the spine to bid for projects listed as “priorities” by HoR members.

Still, the pork system is essentially corrupt, though the impunity of the days before Napoles is gone for good.

What is true is this. Some have more pork than others.

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