A number of people have been asking me, why is Bayan Muna (and other party list groups under the Makabayan Coalition) calling for the abolition of the pork barrel system when we ourselves previously accessed the Priority Development Assistance Fund (a.k.a. congressional pork)? A meme is even being circulated in social media showing the amount of PDAF we had allocated to fund various projects. They ask, isn’t this hypocrisy on our part?
A related question is how did we use our PDAF? Did we not steal it like the others? Did we not use it to illegaly fund rallies and demonstrations or buy arms for the New People’s Army?
These are old questions that have been repeatedly answered by me and other party list reprentatives from our bloc. But let me clarify the issues once more.
How we handled the PDAF
It is no secret that from 2001-2004 and again in 2010-2013, Bayan Muna used the PDAF to fund projects in various parts of the country. We did this in the belief that by properly spending said funds, we could provide much needed services to our constituents – the poor and marginalized – who most need them. From 2010-2013, my PDAF allocations reached P145.35 million. Thirty one percent went to social services, 21% to education, 29% to multipurpose buildings, 6% to water systems, 5% to livelihood support and 4% to roads (click here for details).
Using the PDAF properly was not an easy task. We learned early in our first term just how dirty the whole pork barrel system was. It was a constant struggle to ensure that public funds would not be hijacked by corrupt officials from the national agencies down to the baranggay. We had to be ever vigilant of kickbacks, rigged biddings, SOPs, overpricing, substandard materials and implementation, unnecessary expenses, ghost deliveries and a host of schemes that are common in government projects. We followed all procedures and COA rules to the letter. We tapped communities and people’s organizations to be our eyes and ears on the ground, reporting any perceived irregularity in project implementation. The party leadership was constantly looking over my shoulder, making sure that I was not being eaten by the system.
As a result of such efforts, to this day none of our projects have been tainted with graft or corruption. In fact, none of our representatives have enriched themselves or have been linked to any anomaly. We have managed to stay clear from the Napoles type characters and criminal syndicates that abound in almost all government agencies. It was not an easy feat and many lessons – from project identification to post-implementation follow-ups – had to be learned and relearned.
In relation to this, there is no iota of evidence to support the crazy accusation that we used the PDAF to fund rallies, demonstrations or to buy arms for rebels. Some point to classrooms and irrigation systems in alleged rebel-infested hinterlands funded by our PDAF allocations, as if it were a crime to give people in those places much deserved government services.
Resisting the carrot and stick
A challenge we faced was the President’s use of the pork barrel as a carrot and stick to get what she wanted from Congress. It is customary in Congress that major administration measures are put to a vote in plenary in time for the release of Special Allotment Release Orders (SARO) and Notice of Cash Allocations (NCA). In this way congressmen are reminded where their bread is buttered. The possibility of one’s SARO or NCA being delayed or disapproved is often the clincher for them to vote on a particular measure.
We in the Makabayan bloc simply refused to play this game. We did our legislative duties without regard to its impact on our PDAF. For five years, from 2005-2010, Pres. Arroyo did not release our PDAF allocations because we dared to impeach her and oppose her corrupt rule. But because we did not salivate for the pork barrel, we were never vulnerable to such pressure.
Still, pork barrel is bad
Sure as we are about the proper use of our PDAF, we know that in the hands of traditional politicians, it is a recipe for plunder. Worse are the equally vague, discretionary lump sum allocations under the Executive (a.k.a. presidential pork) which dwarfs the PDAF. Such funds are practically designed for plunder and the perpetuation of a culture of patronage that defines our political system.
Thus since 2001, our progressive party list representatives have always pushed for the abolition or reduction of the PDAF, or earmarking it to be used only for schools or hospitals. As for other pork barrel allocations, we have advocated for line item budgeting. Sad to say, all these fell on deaf ears. We were voices in the wilderness of Congress. Whatever public pressure there was before could not move Malacañang or Congress to do the right thing.
Thus it was with great enthusiasm that our representatives in the 16th Congress renewed the fight in the House for the abolition of the pork barrel system in the wake of the public outrage brought about by the exposé on the P10 billion pork barrel scam.
Why abolition? Why now?
The P10 billion Napoles scam plus the damning 2007-2009 COA report on the PDAF has made everyone realize the depth of the problem. It is now clear that the proper, well-intentioned use of the pork barrel by a few can never compensate for the plunder of the many.
More importantly, it has ignited widespread public outrage, the kind feared by those in power who benefit from the pork barrel system. Such outrage has reached a critical mass so that the abolition of the pork barrel has become a realistic, tactical demand.
At this point, the abolition of the pork barrel system, to include both congressional and presidential pork, is the only recourse. Proponents have to take the moral high ground by showing the example of not accessing the pork barrel anymore. I commend the seven members of the Makabayan bloc for filing a bill for the abolition of the pork barrel system and, more importantly, for deciding to indefinitely forego their PDAF allocations. For their constituents this is a bitter pill to swallow but a necessary sacrifice in the struggle for reform.#