October 30, 2010
“Pork’ in budget doubled,” headlines a newspaper. It says that on top of each of the 278 congressmen’s P70-million “pork barrel” from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), they will each be given an extra P75 million to be used for infrastructure projects in their districts. The extra pork barrel for each congressman consists of P50 million from the budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and another P25 million from the Road User’s Tax.
The decision to provide additional pork barrel to the congressmen was seemingly made to placate a number of them who threatened to block the passage of the national budget on grounds of “unequal budgetary allocations,” due mainly to former president and now Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s humongous DPWH “pork barrel.”
“Don’t ask, don’t tell”
However, Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño commented that the guaranteed P50-million pork barrel for each of the 278 congressmen was “meant to make the lawmakers shut up about the P500 billion in lump sum pork barrel of President Aquino.” He said that Malacañang refused to disclose the line item funding of Aquino’s P500 billion worth of projects. He was quoted in the news as saying: “We have been demanding lists of projects to be funded by these lump sums to no avail. Instead of a clear and concrete line item presentation of such projects, the Executive promised a guaranteed pork barrel of P50 million per congressman from the [Public Works] lump sums to make us shut up. With such gargantuan lump sum funds, there is no transparency and accountability in this budget.”
In addition to the president’s questionable P500-billion “pork barrel,” another allocation that is being scrutinized is the Confidential Funds of the Office of the President which was increased to P1 billion, P200 million more than Gloria’s last budget for confidential funds. Aquino also decided to keep his Intelligence Fund of P500 million, which he promised to eliminate earlier to help lower government spending.
Dole-out for the “poorest of the poor”
Another controversial lump sum allocation is the P21-billion budget for the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program. First started by Gloria during her presidency, CCT provides cash grants to the “poorest of the poor.” During the final year of Gloria’s regime, the CCT allocation was only P10 billion doled out to 700,000 poor families. Malacañang justified the sharp increase based on the estimated 2.3 million poor families.
While nobody questioned the purpose of CCT, the biggest concern was its potential for massive corruption. In objecting to the increased CCT allocation, Gloria was concerned about the government’s “lack of readiness.” Indeed, without an effective control mechanism, it would be so easy to lose track of the flow of money, a situation that Gloria would have been aware of.
President’s pork barrel
Another questionable “pork barrel” was the P15-billion allocation inserted in various departments as Public-Private Partnership Fund (PPP). Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares commented: “These huge amounts for such a vague general item as ‘public-private partnerships’ is dangerous because it is a lump sum amount and we do not know where this will go. As a general rule budgets should not have lump sum amounts as these are not only un-transparent but also sources of corruption.”
Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano piggybacked on Colmenares’ comment saying that the Department of Agriculture has a P5-billion lump sum allocation for a PPP project that is “very vague and susceptible to corruption.” “It appears that the allocations for the PPPs are intended ‘for the boys,’” Colmenares said. “As long as this provision is not deleted in the proposed budget, these PPPs are nothing but pork, pork, and more pork.”
The other two departments that are getting P5-billion PPP allocation each are Science and Technology (DOST) and Public Works and Highways (DPWH).
Pork Barrel for Big Landlords
Another controversial pork barrel — called “agrarian reform subsidy” — is the P4-billion allocation to the administration’s ally, Akbayan party-list. Akbayan would dole out the money to big farmer groups like Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac and the 11 huge estates in Negros Occidental owned by Aquino’s uncle, Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr.
But Akbayan insisted that the pork barrel was intended to “provide support to infrastructures, agricultural support and credit to agrarian reform communities (ARCs), and new farmer beneficiaries of the extended land reform program.” However, peasant leaders said that “only big landlords and foreign agribusiness groups engaged in production of export crops and who control and dictate the operations of ARCs will benefit.” They believed that the P4-billion fund for Akbayan was in exchange for Akbayan’s support of the P21-billion funding for CCT.
Mother of all pork
But the biggest recipient of pork barrel in Congress is no other than Gloria who for some mysterious reason is going to get a P2.2-billion lump sum pork barrel from the DPWH budget. This is in addition to her P70-million PDAF pork, the P50-million extra infrastructure pork, another P28 million on top of that, and the P25-million windfall from the Road User’s Tax.
The “mystery” was solved when Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello revealed that Gloria used her influence when she was president to make sure that her district would get a lot of projects funded by “multilateral lending agencies” from Japan and South Korea. “What we discovered is while she was president, she [Arroyo] had contracted with foreign aid agencies to be able to funnel over the next few years billions of pesos into the 2nd district of Pampanga. Sinabi ni [Public Works Secretary Rogelio] Singson kahapon, he’s helpless kasi his hands are tied, kasi these were committed by foreign aid agencies like the Japan International Cooperation Agency and the Korea Development and Cooperation Fund,” Bello said.
The P1.645-trillion national budget for 2011 — which Aquino calls “Reform Budget” — is 6.8% higher than the 2010 budget of P1.540 trillion. The deficit for 2011 is estimated to be P290 billion.
The question is: Could the budget have been trimmed down to eliminate some, if not all, of the deficit? In my opinion, yes, it could have been trimmed down or completely eliminated. The Aquino administration could have removed pork barrel allocations that weren’t needed at this time. The country needs to get back on its feet and recover from the havoc wreaked by the corrupt Arroyo government.
With pork barrel spending reaching record high numbers in 2011, our elected officials would be pigging out on barrels of pork for the entire year while the “poorest of the poor” are suffering from hunger and poverty.
That is not reform. That, sadly, is status quo of a corrupt government.