"If the secretary sticks to his declaration, I am prepared to help arrange a public debate between him and Senator Lacson."
The pork barrel has been a part of the life of the Republic of the Philippines since the start of its life 72 years ago. This is not a cause for surprise, considering that this country’s legislative structure was patterned after that of its last colonial master, the US. The pork barrel was already very much a feature of the American legislative system when the US established a colonial government in this country in 1901. However, although they indulge in budget-making practices that are pork barrelish in nature, rarely does one read or hear the phrase pork barrel in media stories about the activities of members of the US Congress.
That is not the case in this country. The moment the Executive Department submits to the Congress its National Budget proposal for the succeeding fiscal year—the submission is usually done after Easter—the phrase “pork barrel” goes to the front and center of national discussion about the Executive Department’s spending activities and plans.
Every year the same ritual is performed in this country. The members of the Opposition and the critics of the “pork barrel” goes to the front and center of national discussion about the Executive Department’s spending activities and plans.
Every year the same ritual is performed in this country. The members of the Opposition and the critics of the pork barrel system insist stoutly that the GAA (General Appropriations Act) submitted by the Executive Department, represented by DBM (Department of Budget and Management), insists, no less stoutly, that the proposed GAA is absolutely pork-free. In 2018 the national discussion about the pork barrel is revolving around four individuals: the Secretary of Budget and Management, Senator Panfilo Lacson, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Majority Leader of the House.
At the time of the proposed GAA’s submission to Congress, Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno declared the Duterte administration’s 2019 expenditure blueprint to be absolutely pork-free, while saying that every Representative was allowed to indicate project preferences with a total value of P70 million. Senator Lacson, who has not availed of his P200 million annual pork allocation during several Senate terms, disputed Secretary Diokno’s claim from the start, asserting that pork barrel had become a part of the culture of the House of Representatives.
Senator Lacson has been proven right —and Mr. Diokno has been proven wrong—by this week’s admissions by Speaker Gloria Arroyo and Majority Leader Rolando Andaya Jr. that additions totaling P2.4 billion and P1.9 billion respectively, had been made to the 2019 allocations for her Pampanga district and his Camarines Sur district. In defending her, the Speaker’s supporters brought forth a new justification for pork-barrel-type budgetary allocations: that the involved funds will benefit the constituents of the pork-hungry legislator.
I was one of the many who did not believe Benjamin Diokno when he declared the proposed 2019 GAA to be absolutely pork-free. I thought that the Secretary of Budget and Management was joking. Until the members of Congress—the Representatives and the Senators—come to accept that their one and only Constitutional function is to make laws, not to designate projects for GAA funding, I will continue to believe that the leadership of DBM are participants in the annual ritual known as Congressional pork allocation. Why include the DBM folk as participants? Because it is clear that they don’t do a good job of vetting the SAROs (Special Appropriation Release Orders) that they issue.
So, how now, Secretary Diokno? What do Speaker Arroyo’s and Majority Floor Leader Andaya’s admissions of having received enormous additional GAA allocations—and the P60 million worth of pork said to have been ordered by the Speaker for every Representative—make of your solemn declaration that the 2019 National Budget will be absolutely pork-free? Will you insist on its veracity, or will you quietly withdraw it? If you will stick to your declaration, I am prepared to help arrange a public debate between you and Senator Lacson.
I don’t know if you will prevail in such a debate or Senator Lacson will. What I do know is that, until this country’s Congressional culture shall have undergone a radical change, it is foolhardy for anyone to proclaim the total absence of pork in the GAA.