What to do with pork barrel

August 5, 2013 10:47 pm

The Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), known to all as pork barrel, was created with the most noble of intentions. Since senators and members of the House of Representatives always have to meet with their constituents who bring with them all sorts of problems that they expect the lawmakers to solve, the need for funds to dispense to them became an unofficial part of the solons’ work.

Constituencies often have no clear idea as to the nature of the work of lawmakers. They believe that as elected officials, their senators and congressmen are capable of finding them jobs, taking care of their children’s educational or hospital expenses, and building basketball courts and parks in their communities.

Since the lawmakers could not provide their personal funds for the countless requests, the pork barrel system was institutionalized to provide a means of funding the requests of their constituents.

Unfortunately, as the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

The PDAF was prone to abuse. Specifically, it became a source of graft and corruption, since a large part of the funds went into public works projects, which were either overpriced or substandard. The more corrupt congressmen and senators would get a percentage of the money released for the public works projects that they funded.

More recently, a scam was revealed that reportedly saw hundreds of millions, if not billions, in PDAF go to ghost projects as requested by shell non-government organizations.

This scam showed the worst possible misuse of pork barrel funds. Unlike before where projects were somehow implemented, the modus of the new generation of scammers had the entire PDAF go straight to their pockets. It is not clear if the lawmakers who released their pork barrel funds got rebates or commissions. What is becoming increasingly clear is that a vast net was cast over senators and congressmen, and the amount of PDAF dissipated to nothingness was mind-boggling.

The lawmakers made good targets because each senator is entitled to P200 million a year while each representative has a budget of P70 million.

Now, those who were victimized (or were partners to the crime) are falling all over themselves denying that they were part of the scam.

But of course they are all innocent. After all, do we not have the most honorable senators and congressmen in the planet?

Pardon the sarcasm, but every lawmaker who allowed his or her pork barrel funds to end up in the hands of scam artists must share in the guilt. They have given opponents of pork barrel a mighty weapon to justify its scrapping.

Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago may have come up with the best formula for what to do with the PDAF: phase it out so that there will be no more pork barrel by 2016.

By that time, the candidates for both houses of Congress will run knowing full well that they will not have any pork to dispense.

Addicted to pork
To be honest, however, the chances of Congress agreeing to remove the PDAF are either slim or none. The overwhelming majority of our lawmakers are positively addicted to their pork barrel funds.

This being the case, perhaps the best thing that can be done—at least the most realistic thing—is to overhaul the system. Perhaps the constituents should have a greater say on how the funds may be spent. Or citizens’ groups may be tapped to recommend how the funds are spent in specific communities.

To be sure, there are senators and congressmen who are able to spend their pork funds wisely. They do not waste the people’s money on useless projects. It is such lawmakers who understand the spirit with which the law creating the PDAF was crafted.

The funds have always been intended as a great equalizer, as there are districts throughout the archipelago that never feel the presence of the national government in their daily lives. The pork barrel allocations tell the residents that where the national government has not been able to reach them, their congressmen and senators are able to make up for the slack. When necessary.

In fact, there have been a few lawmakers who never used their PDAF at all, notably Ping Lacson and Joker Arroyo.

Perhaps it is too much to ask, but is it possible to allot pork barrel only to those lawmakers whose need for it is valid?


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