MANY lawmakers are worried about the Aquino Administration’s plan to slash the Priority Development Assistance Fund or what is commonly and derisively known as “pork barrel.” This plan has reportedly divided even members of the president’s own party, such as Quezon City Rep. Feliciano Belmonte, prospective speaker of the house, who is said to have assured lawmakers that the pork will stay in contrast to Rep. Lorenzo Tañada III, also of Quezon City, who proposed to cut the funding into half.
Pork barrel funds or politics refer to the practice of allocating public funds to finance local projects, usually infrastructure projects, in a lawmaker’s district or, in the case of senators, in localities selected by them. Each congressman is allocated pork barrel funding of up to P70 million, while each senator up to P200 million.
The most common argument lawmakers present in support of the pork is that it is a way of equalizing the distribution of government services to the people. As their representatives, lawmakers know more what services are needed by their constituents and the pork barrel is a way of extending the arm of the government in areas not being serviced by it.
However, since lawmakers are given the discretion in identifying what projects to undertake and which localities to benefit, the pork barrel is seen as a source of corruption for lawmakers by receiving kickbacks from the projects and a form of patronage politics, in which the projects are undertaken to reciprocate the support given by a certain locality during the past election or as a means to generate votes for the lawmaker in future elections.
What is also objectionable is that the pork barrel is funded by the taxpayers in general and yet it only benefits certain localities selected by the lawmaker. It may be argued that since every district has a representative, ultimately all localities may benefit in one way or the other from these allocations. But nothing is farther from the truth. In reality, not all localities get the benefit and the most that get it are the supporters of the benefactor lawmaker. Also, not all lawmakers get equal allocation, not to mention speedy release, of these funds; it all depends on how close the lawmaker is with the powers that be.
The Aquino Administration’s approach of slashing the pork barrel is more moderate than eliminating it altogether. But if it were up to me, scrapping it is more preferable and just leave the determination and delivery of beneficial projects to our local executives in coordination with the national government. After all, this is an executive function which a legislator is not supposed to engage in the first place.
By scrapping the pork barrel, our lawmakers will be forced to concentrate more in their primary and traditional role of legislating. To be sure, the many contenders for congressional and senatorial post, not to mention the party-list, will be dramatically cut down since this will deter the many aspirants who have no legislative agenda at all, let alone the ability to craft laws and debate about them. They are only enticed by the promise of fat pork allocation.