• What’s Congress without pork?

    3

    Tita ValderamaTo abolish Congress is certainly an undemocratic move. Senators and congressmen are expectedly among the most vocal oppositors to any proposal that will deprive them of what many of them have seemingly regarded either as a family business or a primary source of political power.

    It is unlikely happen in the near future in spite of scandals largely rooted in the pork barrel largesse. Never mind if the scandals become more shocking year after year.

    Never mind if most lawmakers have become more preoccupied with many other things except producing sensible pieces of legislation that will truly benefit the majority, and not for certain interest groups.

    Enriching oneself in public office at the expense of taxpayers and in the guise of helping the poor is undoubtedly undemocratic.

    Setting aside lawmaking in favor of encroaching on the executive function of implementing infrastructure and other projects is not part of an ideal set up of a democratic government.

    Regardless of the extremely negative public perception we have of Congress—the Senate and the House of Representatives—dismantling the legislature is not a democratic option.

    Even if many of them are engaged in undemocratic activities one way or the other, it remains undemocratic to dismantle the legislative structure in which they belong but, at the same time, take advantage of for selfish interests.

    The democratic option is to remove those who abuse their power through the election process. Or to take them to court and follow the due process, which often requires tedious and time-consuming litigation.

    It is not politically correct to abolish Congress even if the manner in which they got elected was highly questionable and undemocratic.

    Never mind if they paid their way to the Senate or the House of Representatives.

    Never mind if a significant number of the legislators don’t fit into the mold of the job of making laws for lack of academic and experiential background to equip them with the tasks on hand.

    They are just lucky to have been born to a political family. They are just gifted with a skill and talent to make voters believe in their paid political ads that they have sincere intentions to help the poor and disadvantage.

    Never mind if they tend to forget most if not all of their campaign promises once they win. Never mind if they simply don’t mind voters anymore once they dip their fingers into the pork barrel funds.

    Congress is a basic pillar in a democratic government. No way to abolish it just like what then President Ferdinand Marcos did when he declared martial law in 1972, then created a controlled interim Batasan Pambansa in 1974.

    But come to think of it. Is there a remarkable difference between the Marcos Batasan Pambansa and the Congresses we had since 1987? Aren’t they all under the control of the president? The major ills brought about by political patronage, dynastic and elitist way of governance are still very much around.

    Only the faces have changed, but most of the surnames are still the same.

    The entry of the so-called cause-oriented, marginalized, and underpriviledged groups through the party-list system has yet to make a difference from the old traditional ways. Sadly, many of them have embraced traditional politics that they used to abhor.

    I wonder if the pork barrel funds can make a desirable difference.

    Would they still be interested in running for senator or congressman if the annual government budget does not have any provision for legislators’ pork barrel funds in whatever name?

    Expectedly, they will fight tooth and nail to keep the “pork” by asserting that it is an exercise of their Constitutionally-guaranteed power over the purse. We will hear promises of reforms only to be disgusted later on about more abuses.

    Take note that the pork barrel funds in the budget are not limited to the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) at P25 billion a year.

    There may be bigger amounts tucked in the budget of the various agencies. Those are called “congressional initiatives” or “insertions” for projects and other activities identified by members of Congress. The amounts vary, depending in how creative, persistent, pestering, or influential the legislator is.

    PDAF is just an “equalizer.” It makes sure that each congressman has an allocation of at least P70 million a year, and a senator, P200 million. But having the allocation does not automatically assure that the money will be released for the intended purposes. It depends on how closely connected or how submissive the Congress member is to Malacanang. And that has been happening since the olden days, not just today.

    Perhaps, we are getting exposed to more shocking revelations about abuses in the past in the course of reforming the system. It’s a consuelo de bobo that i’d like to think given President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s avowed desire to leave behind a legacy of dramatic reforms in the fierce battle against corruption in government.

    I just wish that the President’s own people, especially those in a small circle of his trusted men and women, subscribe to anti-corruption program. I wish that “Tuwid na Daan” is not regarded merely as a political slogan, but carried on seriously as a guide post for real positive change in governance.

    In his fourth state of the nation address (SONA) before the joint session of Congress last July 22, the President called on legislators to take a serious look at the Civil Service Code and Presidential Decree No. 1 that adopted an Integrated Reorganization Plan of 1972.

    “Suportado ko ang pagbuo ng mekanismong magbabalik sa dangal ng serbisyo-publiko; na tanging mga tapat, mahuhusay, at may prinsipyong mga lingkod-bayan lamang ang maaaring makapasok at manatili sa gobyerno,” Aquino said.

    Translation: “I support the development of mechanisms that will restore the integrity of public service; that will ensure that only honest, capable, and principled civil servants will be allowed to enter and remain in government service.”

    Tough challenge to legislators whose reputation are perhaps at its bottom at this time as a consequence of the much-publicized and criticized P10-billion PDAF scam involving a certain Janet Lim-Napoles and her cohorts.

    How can Congress — whose honesty, capability, and principles are in question or in serious doubt —credibly craft a law that can satisfy the President’s marching order to develop “mechanisms that will restore the integrity of public service; that will ensure that only honest, capable, and principled civil servants will be allowed to enter and remain in government service?”

    Of course, the multi-billion peso irregularities cannot be blamed on the legislators alone. A few of them may not even be privy to the nitty-gritty of the irregularities. Those who have assigned trusted staff members or relatives to mind their pork barrel allocations could be unaware of these. But that’s not an acceptable excuse to exculpate them from liability because it is their obligation to check on what their staff or relatives are using the funds in their name.

    The least they can do is to investigate how their allocations were used, and to report anomalies to appropriate authorities for the imposition of sanctions on those who erred.

    There must be a mafia in both the executive and legislative branches behind this pork barrel scams. One branch cannot do it without conspiring with the other.

    When I was assigned as a reporter to cover Congress under the Ramos to Arroyo administrations, and even when I was covering the Malacang beat before 1992, I was often pointed to Undersecretary Mario Relampagos on questions involving the pork barrel issue. I think he was still a director the first time I heard of his name as the person in charge of the pork barrel funds at the Department of Budget and Management (DBM). I have yet to check if he is still keeping watch of the pork barrel disbursements.

    A credible investigation of the irregularities in the pork barrel funds will need Relampagos as a key resource person on how funds are released to dubious beneficiaries and non-existent projects.

    Congressional staff members handling the pork barrel funds of legislators can also provide crucial testimonies.

    Most importantly, the investigators or fact-finders ought to be convincingly neutral from non-interested parties who cannot be enticed with material inducements to go soft on some and hard on the others.

    As Commission on Audit (COA) Chairperson Grace Pulido-Tan described the extent of the PDAF anomalies, it was “kahindik-hindik.” But i disagree to her English translation of the word as “disgusting.” It is more than disgusting. It is “horrifying.”

    To paraphrase President Aquino’s strong words to the corrupt men at the zbuteao of Customs (BOC) in his SONA, I say, “saan kaya (sila) kumukuha ng kapal ng mukha?” (Where do they get the gall?)

    News reports showing 28 homes in expensive locations, 30 cars, and outrageously lavish lifestyle of Napoles’ daughters, one of whom almost got the chance to sit as a party-list member of the House of Representatives, have started to fuel public outrage over the PDAF abuses. Calls for its abolition from the annual govenment budget are getting louder.

    Some groups are planning to mount a protest march to Rizal Park (Luneta) with a call for the abolition of PDAF as a fitting activity to mark the National Heroes’ Day on August 26. They dubbed it as a “national day of rage against corruption.”

    My topic last week was about re-orienting the legislature to focus on crafting laws, instead of getting preoccupied with pork-related projects, a task that rightfully belongs to the executive branch.

    If Congress refuses to heed the growing outrage against the pork, it is nkt far-fetched that we will be faced with calls for the abolition of Congress altogether.

    In the social media networks Facebook and Twitter, not just a few netizens have said through their “status” that they want to be counted physically in the protest march, and not just keep their support via the Internet.

    Let’s see where the issues go from there.

    Comments are welcome at tvalderama@yahoo.com

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    3 Comments

    1. Edgar Quitiquit on

      For sure congressmen n senators will be healthier if they do not stuff PORK n their BELLIES!!

    2. To make it short, Congress without pork will have better and more qualified legislators who will do the job of what they are supposed to do – Legislate for the good of the common man and more material benefits to ordinary folks.