In the hollowed-out, logged-over areas of Eastern Samar —the rural equivalent of Dickensian sorrow – the rays of hope that have broken through in these otherwise condemned communities have been made possible by one savior—congressional funding.
Also known as the pork barrel and an acronym: PDAF. Or, if you believe groupthink, the most evil part of Philippine politics. In Eastern Samar, PDAF means relief from life’s many inequities.
Cemented roads provide the mobility and hasten trade. Irrigation canals water the farms. A flurry of classroom construction has saved kids from studying under tree shades. Infrastructure build-up that is constant and consistent has never lost its momentum because of congressional funding.
But these physical things do not make up the most liberating aspect of the congressional funds aka pork barrel story, according to the lone district congressman, former journalist Ben Evardone. The congressman has a list of names that wrote their up-from-the-bootstrap story, all successful professionals that are now part of the economic mainstream. How did they do it? They got through college on pork-funded scholarship programs.
Without the scholarship program, said the congressman, many of the engineers, nurses and teachers that are now in the thick of the job mainstream and fulfilling their civic duties, would have been part of society’s dregs. Stealing or killing for a living. They would, by now, be part of the organized Waray-Waray groups that sow terror in the cities and the urban areas.
The best-case scenario for those without education? Copra gathering, he said. That would be the highest dream of their uneducated lives.
Indeed, those who grew up in the barrios are generally not caught up with the current groupthink of the moment— demonizing the pork barrel. And making it the Exhibit A of political evil. In my barrio, just two hours from Manila and not as hollowed-out as Eastern Samar, most of the improvements in the community, from the classroom construction to the cemented roads, have come via the pork barrel route. We have also our quota of successful young people sent to college by congressional funds.
Ok, you might want an answer to this question. If the pork barrel is generally about good, how come it has assumed the face of evil? The identification with evil, after all, could not come from thin air and without basis, and based on a general void.
The first answer is this. The pork barrel is an institution. It will not do good if the men and women asked to make full use of it go astray and use the funds for their own vested and personal interests. Like using it to buy “fertilizer and pesticides” from dubious traders. The P10 billion fund scam represented—truly—the evil side of pork barrel.
If the money is used according to the menu of uses defined by law, and the implementation is done under the rules of the GPA, or the Government Procurement Act, the pork barrel will serve as an abettor of growth and development.
When men and women fail, the institution suffers a black eye. When men and women make the most out of their pork allocations, when they do exact most bang for the buck, there is a sense of country served. It is as simple as that.
That the scrap-the-pork call is now a cause celebre can also be easily explained.
You see there is a thriving NGO-Crusading Complex in town. By nature, it is often agitated, raving mad and all-pumped up against the usual suspects: politicians, pork barrel, government spending. The institutions of a liberal democracy that are extra-vulnerable to criticism. There is always phoniness about their ways and the over-the-top language is reminiscent of the kind of usage ridiculed by Orwell in his essay “Politics and the English Language.”
The NGO-Crusading Complex is always on the lookout for issues to take up because rage and crusades are the sources of the Complex’s livelihood. Local and international contributors, some pure and some tainted, would not come if the Complex were not in the limelight fighting their often dubious wars. A long hiatus from fighting causes would dry up the funding sources.
If an opportunity to make money the illicit way were presented to the Complex, would it turn it down in the name of righteousness? The Peace Bonds saga is about the combustible intersection of greed and hypocrisy.
The pork barrel issue is currently an issue that energizes the cash registers of the NGO-Crusading Complex. And the media, which does not bother to look into the good side of the pork, has provided the forum for the Complex’s venting of rage.
Expect it to burn with undiminished fury, until the media moves on to its next scandal.
Cong Ben Evardone should stand up and defend the pork, despite the unpopularity of the issue and the whiplash that he will get from his former colleagues in media after the delivery of his pork barrel defense.
He should try to draw the line between the pork as a beneficial public institution and the scheming men and women who abuse—then soil—the institution. He should defend what appears to be indefensible via paraphrasing the late senate icon Ted Kennedy: “Often we sailed against the wind but held the rudder true.”