Pork barrel is glorified "tong"

Congressional pork barrel is glorified “tong”, the pejorative Filipino term for dirty and corrupt money -- money that is better allotted for the delivery of basic services to the hungry, ignorant and sick Filipinos but is instead robbed by elitist crocodiles in the Philippine Congress.

The three branches of the Philippine Government substantially have the same pork barrel rackets, denominated in different high-sounding and technocratic but nonetheless dishonest and fraudulent concepts.

Read a related editorial of the independent Philippine Daily Inquirer hereinbelow for reference.

Path of least resistance

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 20:45:00 07/17/2010

PRESIDENT AQUINO has made the already very difficult task of stopping graft and corruption in government even tougher with his decision to allow lawmakers to keep their pork barrel. All the safeguards the administration has announced are unlikely to stop senators and congressmen from greasing their grasping hands with substantial cuts from the pork. The least he could have done was to cut the pork to a smaller size, but Mr. Aquino has rejected the idea.

Quezon Representative Lorenzo Tañada III, a key figure in the administration’s Liberal Party, proposed that this year’s allocation for the congressional pork barrel, estimated at about P22.3 billion, be reduced by at least one-third to help shrink the largest ever budget deficit which is projected to reach P340 billion. “We have to sacrifice. We have to lead by example,” he said.

Apparently few, if any, among his colleagues were in the mood for making sacrifices, least of all the congressmen vying for the speakership. Albay Representative Edcel Lagman, who has been tapped by the Lakas-Kampi-CMD coalition to bid for the speakership, dismissed Tañada’s proposal as “flawed, cosmetic, counterproductive and anti-poor,” adding that it would “reduce countrywide development.” Quezon City Representative Feliciano Belmonte, the LP candidate for speaker, said his party was “definitely not for reducing” the pork barrel “at this stage of the game.” He said the LP would instead push for “more transparency and openness” in the use of such funds.

And what is the “stage of the game” right now? Obviously, the administration party, which now counts 75 members, needs all the support it can get, first, to capture control of the House of Representatives, and then, to ensure the passage of the legislative agenda of the new administration. In other words, it is politics as usual.

At a different level, most lawmakers at this stage are certainly looking for ways to recover the millions they spent to win their seats in one of the most expensive elections the country has ever witnessed. And the pork barrel is one very handy and easy way to get back what they invested plus interest. With the going rate for SOP (kickback, in plain language) now at 30 percent, a congressman can expect a windfall from his P70-million annual pork barrel allocation, which doesn’t include yet the insertions in the budget.

How can an administration dedicated to stamping out graft and corruption justify keeping such a notorious source of dirty money as the pork barrel? True, the administration has to yield to pragmatism if it wants the cooperation of Congress, but how can it reconcile its defense of the pork barrel with its pledge of clean government? The pork barrel is right up there with kotong(extortion by policemen) among the most visible sources of corruption. The President vowed that there would be no more kotong under his administration. Why can’t he make the same pledge with regard to the pork barrel?

Instead of abolishing it outright, Mr. Aquino said he would keep the pork barrel system as a “concept.” This would require developing a “perfect system” of identifying the needs of each district and addressing them “at the most judicious time.” But until the new system is developed, he said, the pork barrel would be reformed according to a new “menu” that will limit its use to a few items that are “visible” and can be shown to be “judicious use of funds.”

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said the projects to be funded by the pork barrel, including their specifications and even the materials used, will be publicly disclosed so that the people would know where the lawmakers are “putting the money and if the projects are worth the declared expenses.” “If there is irresponsibility, the contractors will not be paid in full,” he said.

Will these measures be enough to stop wasteful expenditure of government funds and shut off the tap of corruption flowing from the pork barrel? Maybe not. To cite just one problem, who will audit the projects, or more precisely, who will audit the auditors who have become part of the chain of corruption?

In choosing the path of least resistance with regard to the pork barrel, the administration could lose its way in its war against corruption.

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