A lot of political analysts these days are saying pork is unique to the Philippines. This is not true. All legislative bodies have theirs. Pork in other territories is known as earmarks, entitlements, political promise making, contracts, economic arrangements, etc.
It is also not true that it started during Aquino I. It has been with us since the start of our Republic but the manner of dispensing the discretionary allocation has evolved. Aquino I had a clear GAA provision under Congress on how it will be used. The art of budget writing has always been focused on the Special Provisions because that defines the manner by which the allocation will be used or implemented. If you compare the Special Provisions year-to-year from Aquino I to Aquino II, then you will see reforms already instituted. Problems lie with the ever-increasing amount and what is not declared in clear and certain terms (Road Users Board, among others). It boils down to transparency and accountability and the high expectations dangerously made by the political campaigners then of Aquino II who continued to be in the competitive mode while doing governance work today.
There are three legislative bodies I am very familiar with cause I worked in the US Congress (’91); was a parliament exchange grantee in Canada (’92) and was a MASHAV scholar in the Knesset of Israel (’95).
In the US, there are two names associated with pork politics that can really hold debate via filibuster: the late Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and the late Senator Robert Byrd (D-Western Virginia). In October of 2006, Stevens stood on the floor of the Senate and said, “If the Senate decides to discriminate against our state . . . I will resign from this body.”
He was objecting to a proposal to redirect $453 million in highway funds earmarked for two Alaska bridges to Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. One of the bridges, at a projected cost of $223 million, would connect a small town to an island and thus was dubbed by critics as the “Bridge to Nowhere.” Byrd on the other hand, ensured that political earmarks flowed to the East Coast and Democrats too. The practice has grown like a “mushroom in the damp shade in recent years. In 1991, the 13 major appropriations bills in Congress contained 546 pork barrel projects costing $3.1 billion. By 2005, the total of number of pork projects was 13,997 and the cost had increased to $27.3 billion. The level dropped last year—fiscal sanity of sorts—to 10,160 projects for a total of $19.6 billion.”
In Canada, it is derisively called as the pork barrel polka where “distributing billions of dollars in subsidies, grants and loans to all sectors of the economy, from farms to food to high tech industries and local communities through scores of programs and agencies,” many created by the incumbent government.
From “about $940,000 worth of grants to snowmobile clubs, all of which are in Quebec” to “$1 million to a gluten-free Alberta bakery” to “over $14,000 for a new HVAC system at a library in Castlegar, B.C”. to “$25,000 for a farming journal published 10 times a year, based in Nova Scotia.” Here MPs and cabinet ministers attend the photo-ops, buy votes, or reward the ones they’ve already been given. Sounds familiar?
In Israel’s Knesset, the debate has always been on the annual Economic Arrangement Bill (EAB), which has gained the reputation as a “hiding place for pork-barrel politics and rewards for back-room deals.” The EAB is termed as a “Knesset Bypass Bill, which was first introduced in 1985 alongside the budget to help further the economic policies and balance the budget presented by the government. The budget and the Economic Arrangements Bill are usually voted on back-to-back, in order to maintain coalition discipline throughout the legislative process. If the coalition fails to pass the budget, the law demands that the Knesset dissolve and elections be held. Sounds like carrot and stick, right?
Pork is intrinsic in legislative bodies as a form of incentive for political party faithful. It is distributive politics. It can also be one of the so many vote-getting strategies as well as have electoral effects on party behavior and development. There is the Harold Lasswell body of work and Terry Newell’s book on Statesmanship, Character and Leadership in America where he refers to a “Contract Society” when talking about pork.
Harold Lasswell’s work is best remembered for the combination of politics, communications and propaganda. He defined politics as “who gets what, when and how.” His best comment on communications is best summed up with 5 Ws, “Who (says) What (to) Whom (in) What Channel (with) What Effect.”
During World War II, Lasswell held the position of Chief of the Experimental Division for the Study of War Time Communications at the Library of Congress. He analyzed Nazi propaganda films to identify mechanisms of persuasion used to secure the acquiescence and support of the German populace for Hitler and his wartime atrocities. For Lasswell, propaganda is “the expression of opinions or actions carried out deliberately by individuals or groups with a view to influence the opinions or actions other individuals or groups for predetermined ends through psychological manipulations.”
I am always reminded of Lasswell’s work when I wore the hat of a lecturer some years back and as a political consultant today: politics, communication and propaganda. It has been said that politics is not for the faint hearted but surely, it can also be for honesty and integrity, right? So please, let us not lump everyone in the wagon and throw the wagon in Pasig River.
“Who gets what, when and how” has always been about allocation. Depending on knowledge, skill and ability to determine to whom should one throw his support would be the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Some people call it patronage; I call it allocation, more value neutral. U.S. Senator Learned Marcy uttered this famous line in 1832, “to the victor belong the spoils.” As has always been said, in war or other contest, the winner gets the booty.
In the contract society of Newell, ‘citizens’ have become government’s ‘customers,’ and they “judge government by how satisfied they are with what they get. In the contract society, the governors use opinion polls to guide them, intent on delivering what the governed demand (or at least appearing to do so)—leading not so much by the ‘consent of the governed’ as by their orders. In the contract society, elected officials had better keep promises or they can expect to be turned out of office—even if those promises seem no longer so promising for the public good. In the contract society, fund raising is a full-time endeavor and those who supply the cash expect the implied contract to be fulfilled.”
Newell posits that “there is nothing wrong, of course, with elected officials representing their constituents. That is what the Constitution charges them to do. But contracting with customers is much different than representing citizens.” Good thing the Napoles scandal happened today with technology ushering in the sentiments of the citizens. And that is why FOI is so urgently needed so citizens would know the real truth and not as how DBM or COA wants us to see the “truth.”
The challenge before us today is to define what it means to be ‘citizen’ rather than ‘customer,’ which also means we will have to ask what is in the public interest and not just for our personal interest. Then and only then can we say that politics is indeed “who gets what, when and how.”