AN interesting verbal exchange erupted following the approval by the Senate and House of Representatives contingents of the 2018 national budget. The spark was the lobby by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and the House appropriations committee to delete funding for infrastructure projects in districts represented by 24 opposition and militant lawmakers.
The verbal exchange has exposed the use by pro-administration lawmakers of the national budget as a tool for political patronage. Alvarez used the “weder-weder” lang argument of former president Joseph Estrada in defending the move. But while the budgeting process has been used by past administrations as a political tool, the act was mostly hidden. The difference now is that Alvarez, et al, are gleefully waving it.
There’s arrogance there, one that is borne by the belief that even if it is displayed, the public wouldn’t frown on it. As one affected lawmaker rightly said, it is obvious that power has gone to the heads of some pro-administration lawmakers. For Alvarez, the intention was to weaken opposition to his schemes in the House. Its effect may be seen in the next budgeting cycle. Will the opposition be silenced?
But there is one other point exposed in the verbal exchange, the presence of the discredited pork barrel in the 2018 budget. One Makabayan lawmaker, Antonio Tinio of the party-list Act Teachers, referred to it as “hidden pork”: earmarked for the congressional districts but accessible only to the concerned lawmakers.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who has made it his advocacy to battle “pork,” has seen through the scheme in the House with withdrawal of funding for the projects in the districts of the 24 “undesirable” lawmakers. If lawmakers were deprived of funding, a “chosen few” from both the Senate and the House are, in contrast, “getting billions of pesos in areas of their choice and districts.”
Lacson correctly used the phrase made famous as the title of a Ricardo Manapat book on crony capitalism during the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos: “some are smarter than others.” In the Philippines, the cycle is never-ending.