My sources in the House tell me that there is a sense of demoralization in Congress right now due to the impending abolition of the congressional pork (a.k.a. Priority Development Assistance Fund). Congressmen are afraid that without their traditional source of political largesse, they will be disempowered and will not be able to pay their debts, both political and financial, to their constituents and supporters. In other words, without the pork, they might lose in the next elections.
It is not only the ordinary members of the House who are worried. House leaders are also apprehensive that without their traditional carrot and stick, Malacañang and the House leadership will not be able to muster the necessary quorum and number of votes needed to approve its pet bills or defeat measures it does not want.
Such fears are not unfounded. The pork barrel system is so ingrained in the dynamics of Congress that its abolition, if accomplished, will be sure to shake the institution to its roots.
If members of Congress and the President want to be healthier in terms of governance and public accountability, they should let go of their pork. Consider the following:
With the pork barrel abolished, Congressmen can tell their constituents “Sorry, I have no discretionary funds so I cannot accommodate your request for medical assistance. What I can do is refer you to the regional hospital where Congress (through my efforts) has allocated one million in funds for indigent patients. Peror hindi ko po hawak yun. Bahala na ho ang ospital kung kayo ay qualified o hindi.”
The same will be true for waiting sheds, scholarships and basketball uniforms. All Mr. Congressman and Mr. Senator will do is refer their constituents to the agencies that are mandated to address such requests and for said agencies to act based on a strict, transparent criteria.
This being the case, constituents might start looking at their legislators differently – not as benefactors but as policy makers. They will be able to distinguish the roles of congressmen and senators from executive officials like governors or mayors, and line agencies like the DOH, DA and DSWD, in the delivery of services.
More importantly, with the House leadership and Malacañang left without a means to blackmail and bamboozle members of Congress, we will see measures being discussed and voted upon on the basis of its own merits and not on whether their pork barrel will be released, delayed or disapproved. Likewise, congressmen and senators will actually be judged based on how they perform their duties as legislators, not as pork barrel dispensers.
I know this seems wishful thinking. But this is what the people’s clamor for the abolition can actually lead to – a significant change in the way institutions of political patronage like Congress and the Executive work. That is the hope. We shouldn’t settle for anything less.#