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PNoy’s Pork Barrel Republic

It’s certainly no surprise that President Aquino and the Congress he controls won’t be listening to calls to investigate the alleged corruption of pork barrel funds.

What for? The damage had already been inflicted on Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and his protégé Gregorio Honasan as well as presidential or vice presidential timbers Ramon Revilla, Ferdinand Marcos, and Jinggoy Estrada with the purported exposés painting them as pork-barrel thieves. The message has been delivered by this regime: cooperate with us, or with media as a tool, we will bury you.

There is a deeper reason though why Mr. Aquino won’t fix what he thinks isn’t broke. Pork barrel funds make up his gigantic carrot for getting Congress to kowtow to his every wish, from the removal of Chief Justice Renato Corona to the enactment of the Reproductive Health bill.

Never have pork barrel funds been as huge as it is under Aquino, so much so that calling ours a “Pork Barrel Republic “ isn’t an exaggeration. In President Arroyo’s last three years in office, pork barrel funds averaged P7.8 billion annually. Under Aquino’s first three years, these have tripled to P24.8 billion.

Source: Department of Budget and Management (“National Expenditure Program” for indicated years)

Source: Department of Budget and Management (“National Expenditure Program” for indicated years)

Pork barrel funds and the consequent “pork barrel politics” aren’t unique in the Philippines. Based on the practice in the US and elsewhere in advanced democracies, “pork barrel” has been defined as the “spending intended to benefit constituents of a politician for their political support”. In the Philippine case, these are appropriations quite ironically—or is it sarcastically—called the “Priority Development Assistance Fund” which legislators direct the use of, with the Budget secretary though approving or withholding the actual releases.

The hypocrisy of this regime self-righteously claiming tuwid na daan politics is demonstrated by the drastic increase in the pork-barrel funds allocated to Congress, while government finances for crucial infrastructure such as flood-control systems and mass transport and for health have decreased.

Quite illustrative are the pork barrel funds of Batanes Rep. Henedina Abad, wife of Budget Secretary Florencio Abad.

Pork barrel funds under her predecessor and political rival, Dr. Carlo Oliver D. Diasnes, amounted to only P13 million in 2009 and P17 million in 2010. After the Abads assumed power in 2010 (he as the powerful Budget secretary and purportedly Aquino’s ideologue and she as Batanes’ lone House representative), her pork barrel funds released by her husband, more than doubled in 2011 to P46.4 million.

How much pork barrel was released to her district in 2012? A staggering P92.5 million. Mammoth, considering Batanes’ population of 16,000 souls, making it the least populated province in the country, smaller than many barangays in Metro Manila.

Abad’s P92.5 million pork barrel in 2012 is in fact the sixth largest among 289 members of the House of Representatives, even bigger than Speaker Feliciano’s P65 million for his Quezon City district having a population a hundred times more than Batanes. A noisy advocate of good governance in the academe, Congresswoman Abad was the dean of the Ateneo School of Government. A new course would probably be offered there after her stint in congress: Pork Barrel 101.

However, even with those huge funds for pork barrel politics, Abad won by the skin of her teeth—137 votes—in the May elections, indicating something deeply wrong in her representation of the island province.

Pork barrel funds averaged P22.5 million for each district representative in Arroyo’s last budget in 2010. Under Aquino, these nearly tripled to P62.6 million in 2011 and P72.1 million in 2012. Do you still wonder how Aquino can ask the House to do his every bidding?

Do you wonder why the politically moralistic Akbayan, which on the side is Aquino’s rent-a-demonstration gang, has been silent over the pork barrel controversy? It’s been one of the biggest recipients of the funds under Aquino.

From only P30 million in 2009, Akbayan’s pork barrel more than doubled, to P70 million in 2011, and P132 million in 2012. Even the communist front Bayan Muna’s pork barrel has similarly expanded from P29.7 million to P125 million last year.

It’s not only the Akbayan and Bayan Muna party list representatives who were beneficiaries of Aquino’s pork barrel republic. In 2010, pork barrel funds for each party-list representative averaged only P24.4 million. This more than tripled to P83.1 million in 2012. No wonder even these so-called principled, crusading congressmen have been like kittens licking at Aquino’s shoes.

pork barrel

Pork barrel explains why incumbent senators almost always (except for a rare exceptions) win, since they in effect have yearly huge allocations to spend to build up political support for reelection.

Excluding Senators Joker Arroyo and Panfilo Lacson who refuse to dip their hands in the pork barrel funds, the 21 senators in 2012 got an average allocation of P197 million each. This is nearly three times the P69.3 million average pork barrel under the last Arroyo budget in 2010.

The senators with the largest allocations in 2012 were Pia Cayetano (P277 million), her brother Alan Peter (P256 million), Antonio Trillanes (P253 million), Teofisto Guingona 3rd (P229 million), and Francis Pangilinan (P227 million). Haven’t they been the noisiest in supporting each and every one of Aquino’s moves in the Senate?

What do legislators and congressmen do with their pork barrel funds? While I hope some political science academic would really count each and every pork barrel use and classify them, my cursory reading of DBM documents shows the following usual allocations:

• Construction of “multi-purpose buildings” in barangays. These are actually covered basketball courts, which are used by the residents for their social events. It would cost from P1 million to P2.5 million. The allegations are that legislators get some commission from the contractor building these. What a cheap way to steal people’s money.

• Small-scale construction or repair of barangay and farm-to-market roads and bridges. Again there are the allegations that legislators have favored contractors for these.

• Payment of hospitalization costs of indigent patients and scholarships. One legislator even used his pork barrel for scholarships at the Ateneo de Manila. Trillanes has given nearly P3 million to the UP Political Science Department, the purpose of which is not indicated in the DBM’s documents.

• Construction or repair of school buildings and public markets, the latter infrastructure project appearing to be Senator Francis Escudero’s favorite.

Other than commissions from the contracts, the purpose of these expenditures is obviously to build-up political support, either with the recipients being determined by a legislators’ local leaders or with the goodwill built up by the infrastructure. Ubiquitous outside Manila are signs saying: “This project funded through the PDAF of so and so.”

It is not always projects for the poor though. Senator Edgardo Angara for instance gave P5 million to the Lopez-controlled Knowledge Channel, certainly an educational channel but one which also disseminates mostly the Aquino-Lopez political narratives. Can’t the Lopezes with their billions fund their own brain-washing channel? Does an elite clan still need a senator’s pork barrel? Only in the Philippines.