PRESIDENT Noynoy Aquino’s allies in the House of Representatives are willing to sacrifice by slashing the amount of their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), popularly known as “pork barrel,” in the face of government’s huge budget deficit. Congressmen get P70 million each annually while senators receive P200 million.

PNoy’s allies are even willing to reduce their pork barrel allocation by more than 50 percent so the slashed funds can be used for other priority projects. But this proposal was immediately shot down by Lakas-Kampi-CMD stalwarts.

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Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, Lakas-Kampi’s bet for House Speaker, described the move as “flawed, cosmetic, counterproductive, anti-poor and would reduce countrywide development.” Even Quezon City Rep. Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte, Liberal Party nominee for House Speaker, opposed the proposal of his party mates.

Cebu City Rep. Rachel “Cutie” del Mar is against the move, saying it will be a big blow to her constituents if pork barrel allocations are slashed. Cutie plans to continue the projects that her father, former deputy speaker Raul Del Mar, started.

President Aquino himself said that he intends to keep the pork barrel allocation in the national budget but the focus would be on projects urgently needed by the lawmakers' constituents.

Having been congressman and senator and beneficiary of the pork barrel, Noynoy knows that lawmakers need the PDAF not only for their development projects but also for political survival.

Pork barrel is a derogatory term for appropriations for localized projects secured solely or primarily for a representative district. It is intended to benefit the constituents of a politician in return for political support, either in the form of campaign contributions or votes.

Pork barrel is not bad per se if it is really used for lawmakers’ priority projects. It eliminates red tape because local officials can go directly to their congressman, submit project proposals and ask for funding.

Usually, it is very difficult for a barangay captain or even a town mayor to seek funding from national line agencies, say public works and highways. But with the PDAF, once a congressman approves the proposal, he can ask the Department of Budget and Management for advice of allotment and money will be released.

In fairness to the lawmakers, they don’t get the PDAF in cold cash. It is channeled through the implementing agency.

Lawmakers use the pork barrel for hard or soft projects. Hard projects include infrastructure, like the construction of roads, bridges, school buildings, sports complexes, barangay halls, etc. Soft projects are financial aid given to non-government organizations, cooperatives and foundations.

Pork barrel is bad if it is abused by lawmakers and used for political purposes, something that is very normal for politicians. It is also a source of corruption when lawmakers demand commissions, kickbacks and the so-called SOP (standard operating procedure) from contractors.

But tell me what government agency is graft-free. And is there an official, whether elected or appointed, who does not ask for or accept commissions?

(bobby@sunstar.com.ph)