We must tackle the root causes of pork barrel


Somebody posted on my Facebook account the stylized ban-pork-barrel design that contained a link to a very informative infographic we reproduce on this page. This is in a website www.correctphilippines.org, which stands for “Correct the 1987 Constitution of the Philippines”.

While the site didn’t have information on who’s behind it, I wouldn’t care as I’m convinced we’re in such deep mess that we have to start from the beginning, that is, by changing the basic framework for our Republic. I seriously believe changing the Constitution is our last chance to move our country forward.

The site contains a lot of information and articles that support the view that we really need to change our Constitution, to a parliamentary system. There is even a prescient article by the great Senator Claro M. Recto, which states that the presidential system will lead to a dictatorship.

I hope people drop their biases against changing the charter. There is just too much evidence that we have to do so, based on our country’s experience since the rushed 1987 Constitution and those of our neighbors whose charters prescribe different forms of government.

The ban-the-pork-barrel icon of www.correctphilippines.org

The ban-the-pork-barrel icon of www.correctphilippines.org

The correctphilippines.org’s infographic lists three “root causes of the pork barrel”, although I disagree with the order of its listing. These are, in reverse order from the way the infographic presents them:

One root cause is the presidential system of government, whose main feature is the separation of the legislative and executive branches of government, making it prone to gridlock. To avoid political paralysis, the President has no choice but to “buy” Congress’ cooperation—through the pork barrel allocations, which is legalized bribery.

I add here the following unique circumstances that have prodded our presidents since the fall of Marcos to use the pork barrel system.

President Cory Aquino reintroduced it, after martial law made it unnecessary, when she assumed power extra-constitutionally. Her regime was so unstable that there were seven coup attempts to topple her. She bought political leaders’ loyalty and gave them a stake in representative government through her pork barrel system, euphemistically called the Countrywide Development Fund or CDF.

Her successor Fidel Ramos won the presidency by a slim margin, making it necessary for him to consolidate his rule through his own version of the pork barrel system. Furthermore, Ramos was determined to undertake fundamental economic reforms, such as the liberalization of the telecoms industry which riled the oligarchs. Ramos had to have the political leaders solidly behind him for his reform programs. There was of course hardly a doubt for his successor Joseph Estrada in continuing Ramos’ pork barrel, especially when he faced his ouster just on his second year.

Estrada’s successor Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo also assumed power extra-constitutionally, and therefore, like Cory, had to use the pork barrel system to stabilize her regime. The threats to her rule after her controversial election in 2004 prodded her to continue the pork barrel system. The alternative scenario would have been another mob movement that would have toppled her, which would have created such political instability and violence that we would have been the basket case of Southeast Asia, especially since the Global Financial Crisis—said to be worse than the Great Depression before the war—broke out in 2008.

I cannot fathom though why President Benigno Aquino 3rd had to triple the annual pork barrel allocations from P7.8 billion during Arroyo’s term to his P24.8 billion, when he enjoyed very high popularity ratings even into his third year. The only explanation is that he thought he could make Congress remove Chief Justice Renato Corona in 2012 only through huge pork barrel allocations to Congress.

And by 2013, his incompetence—his Student Council government, as Senator Joker Arroyo dubbed it—was becoming so stark that he could rely on Congress’ support only by maintaining the same level of pork barrel that he used to buy them off for the impeachment.

The second root cause of the pork barrel is what the correct philippines.org calls “imperial Manila-centric unitary.” This means “only imperial Manila prospers, while the rest of the country remains poor.” This creates a need to redistribute funds collected from all over the Philippines for local projects around the country. “Politicians,” the infographic explains, “ask for special funding from national coffers for basketball courts, bridges, roads, and other local projects to get their constituencies’ loyalty and support.”

While correctphilippines.org didn’t explain why we have this Manila-centric system, it is obvious that the biggest factor why it has been such is the fact that both businesses and government are concentrated in Manila, which hasn’t been dispersed because of our weak transport and power infrastructure.

I would add though a major political factor for the Manila-centric system: our unique—I would even say stupid—Senatorial system. I haven’t found a single country in the world that has our system in which senators are elected on a national scale. In the US, voters in each state elect two senators, while in most other countries, senators are elected per region.

And where would senators emerge? In metropolitan Manila, of course, which is the center of media as well as of economic and political elites. Even our elites, who made their fortunes in plantations in the Visayas and Central Luzon such as the Lopezes and the Cojuangcos had to go to Manila to become national-level oligarchs.

Go through the list of the present senators, is there somebody there you could say is based outside Manila? They may be called, the “gentleman from Cagayan” or the “gentleman from Bicol,” but that’s really stretching it.

If senators were voted per region, the national capital region would be an intense arena for nearly half of the present senators to compete, as they can’t even claim to come from other regions: the two Cayetanos (Taguig), Binay (Makati), the two Estrada sons and Grace Poe (San Juan), Honasan (Camp Aguinaldo really, hardly Sorsogon), Legarda (Malabon), Sotto (Quezon City), Trillianes (Caloocan), Villar (Paranaque). The reality is that metropolitan Manila is very much over-represented in our political system. Thus, it is not surprising we have a Manila-centric political system.

What does this mean? Unlike in the US and elsewhere, our Senate is not a political body that counters the centralization by the Manila-centric presidential system. There isn’t even a body that represents each region. What we have instead are representatives of relatively small political districts.

This even become absurd in the case Batanes, which has a population of 16,000 yet still has one vote in Congress and an annual pork barrel of P70 million, the amount that a poor district like Eastern Samar with a population of 430,000 gets. So what can a representative like Ben Evardone, a former colleague in the profession do? He’d be stupid if he doesn’t lobby for his pork-barrel, and promise Aquino anything in exchange.

The third root cause of the pork barrel correctphilippines.org has pointed out is the country’s “anti-foreign investor restrictions”, which reduces the capital and businesses that would have been available for the country. This in turn creates a situation in which Filipinos—whose numbers keep on increasing because contraceptive means are beyond them –- can’t find jobs, and therefore are trapped in poverty.

There are still arguments against opening up our country completely to foreign capital, and many of these seem logical enough. But let’s face it, we can no longer ignore what happened and is happening in our part of the world in the last two decades. There is just too much correlation between the economic growth of Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia and the high levels of their foreign investments that dwarf ours. The recent massive inflow of foreign investments into Vietnam and Cambodia will be repeating economic history in our part of the world.

And with massive poverty, what is the poor to do but knock on a congressman’s door and ask for help for some urgent hospitalization, their children’s tuition, and for the repair of a farm-to-market road? And the congressman won’t and can’t rely on his salary of P45,000 (net) per month for these dole outs. He’d either use his pork barrel funds, or even skim off it. If he doesn’t, he’ll bite the dust to his rival who’ll be promising the moon to the voters.

As Cavite Rep. Lani Mercado Revilla bluntly put it: “I have to tell (our) 7,000 scholars that without the PDAF, I can’t help them. We use our PDAF for medical and even burial assistance.”

www.rigobertotiglao.com and www.trigger.ph


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  1. Two Cayetanos in the senate what an insult and humiliation to the Filipino people and to the Philippines as a nation.

  2. U.S. politics & policy has turned the world into one vast capitalistic market dominated by the wealthy that obstructs reform and progress. In the Philippine public opinion is now suggesting that a parliamentary system is the only cure for Philippine government corruption. Most stable countries in the world (Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand) have parliamentary governments and the most unstable (Africa, South America, Middle East) have presidential systems. Singapore, the most successful country in the Far East is parliamentary; the Philippines, the least successful, is Presidential. It is quicker to to pass legislation within a parliamentary system, parliamentary systems are associated with lower corruption & parties have a much tighter idelogy than in presidential systems. A presidential system tends to authoritarianism or at least the kind of gridlock we are now seeing between all three branches of government in the U.S. Perhaps it’s time the U.S. looked at our Presidential system of government as the central problem just as the Philippines is also doing.

  3. I believe that corruption boils down to the so called ‘wise’ (ganid, swapang, abusado, etc.) people who get elected. Parliamentary form of government will be good for our country, only if the PM has unquestionable integrity.

  4. Its high time that senator must be represented from every region to help the unrepresented given the voice their major and important problems address. 6 in Luzon,6 in Visayas, and 6 in Mindanao. These will help all regions participate in building there constituent.

  5. Agreed. Senators MUST be elected by region. That is, if the presidential system will survive this Student Council’s term.

    And no members of the same family (up to the 4th degree of consanguinity) MUST be allowed to serve simultaneously. Heck, they can run against each other for all I care as long as only ONE who gets the most votes over the other/s is allowed to sit.

    But for a lean and responsive system that is attuned to our times, the parliamentary system will help simplify our otherwise bloated and gridlocked-prone political system where political patronage rules the game.

  6. If we want to get rid Pork Barrel System, we should shift into Parliamentary system.

    If we don`t agree on shifting into parliamentary system, we should accept the Pork Barrel system abolishment is impossible under Presidential System. We may ask President Aquino, Benigno “Noynoy“ and other prominent Political Scientist and Political Analyst that why Abolishment Pork Barrel is impossible.

    Parliamentary system is better check and balance and more transparent than Presidential system although the former is not perfect. There is no perfect system but there is better system which we may adopt.

  7. Four of the least corrupt countries in the world namely Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK have parliamentary systems of government. On the other hand, the Philippines, with a presidential system is one of the most corrupt in the world.

    It’s time indeed to amend our Constitution and switch to a parliament system with safeguards like ban on political dynasties, ban on pork barrel funds for politicians, passing of Freedom of Information into law, shortening of election campaign to just one month, restricting campaign expenses, and declaring election winners within 24 hours, among other things.

  8. We should all rally to amend our constitution specially the economic provisions and the form of government from presidential to parliamentary form of government. Let us all join this rally on sept. 21, 2013 at EDSA.

  9. I am just an ordinary citizen that also longing for a drastic change in our form of government.i have observed that the main cause of all this problem of corruptions really started from we Filipinos that voted these corrupt officials that we have.from barangay level to topmost elected position . If we can educate voters to stop demanding any favors from any candidate in exchange for their votes then maybe corruption can be lessen.i know there is a law against vote buying but it is too complicated and it does not work. Dirty politicians always find a way to go around it. Secondly will it be possible to all candidates running for any any position to have a covenant not to approach any of these block voting religious sects . We know there are many of them using their followers to vote whoever they choose to vote for them whether they are deserving or not. I’m sure these block voters are intelligent enough to choose whoever they pick to fill the position that a candidate seek. In the end the winner is not indebted to any of these block voting organization and can perform is duties cleanly and and without any bias.he will be free from any demand from these groups and can perform his duties with full honesty and integrity and without fear of not being voted again in future elections even if he or she will not heed to the demands of these groups that may affect his will to serve the people who trusted him faithfully. GOD BLESS US ALL.

  10. jaime del rosario on

    I support charter change for the following reasons. There is no reason why we should elect senators nationwide. Overprotective constitution deprive our workers the opportunity to find employment which FDI can provide. Only big business who control all major manufacturing concerns benefit from too nationalistic constitution. Poor regions are always forgotten when it comes to allocation of limited resources. I like a parliamentary system where heads of executive department can be immediately confronted whenever there is problem in their agencies because they sit in the parliament.

  11. Calls for a shift to a parliamentary form of government is a useless distraction from the main issues which are CORRUPTION and WASTEFUL GOVERNMENT SPENDING — both of which can happen and is happening regardless of the form of government.

    • Nieves Godinez on

      Good try, Paul Farol. It is now time for the idea to shine. Once again, I would like to congratulate Mr. Tiglao for his astute analysis of our current corruption-ridden system and the need to shift to a more efficient form of government system.

      Yes, parliamentary system is not perfect, countries with parliamentary form of government are still battling with corruption. The difference with us, is that, over there, they talk about real policies, they are able to tap the pool of knowledge in the academe and in the public service sector to come up with the best ideas on how to fight corruption. Contrast it to how corruption is discussed under this bankrupt system of government, fatherhood and motherhood statements prevail, popularity-based politics is one down side of the presidential system and thus, the need for loads of money to win an electoral post.

      I can go on and on why parliamentary is a better system, it certainly is not perfect, but it has a built-in mechanism to correct itself. There is no cult of personality in such a system, political parties battle for electoral support from the public based on the policies the parties offer to the public.

  12. Silverio Tolentino on

    You hit the nail right on the head! Let us change to parliamentary form of government. Look at our neighbors, mostly if not all, are of parliamentary form.

    This will decentralized fiscal and administrative functions of the government to various autonomous regions of the country. Also, those corrupt politicians would be easier to dispose of, through no confidence vote among the parliamentary members, who have been voted by their respective constituents.

  13. As it stands, the Philippines is on a dead end road of it keeps the “PORK BARRELL” system in place. It is just human nature to want riches, and the pork system is an easy way to go.
    I had a friend, and attorney in Cagayan De Oro, that had tried but failed, to run for a seat in Congress when it cost so much funds to support a campaign, I was shocked by his reply.
    He stated, that just one term in congress, with the Pork barrel, one could retire in style.
    He stated, look around in Cagayan De Oro at the public works projects, a big sign with the congressman’s picture saying look at the work he was doing in the region, when in fact the work was substandard, but was billed at an inflated rate, the rest of the funds went into the congressman’s pocket