By Perry Diaz


‘Pork’ by any other name is still ‘pork’


Recently, members of the House of Representatives were thrown into disarray on the allocation of pork barrel.  A small but very vocal group of congressmen threatened to block the 2011 national budget if their pork barrel allocations weren’t increased.  What caused the revolt was the disclosure that Gloria was allocated P2.2 billion of pork barrel funds for her 2nd congressional district for the year 2011.  To placate them, each of the 278 congressmen were given an additional pork barrel of P50 million from the budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPHW) and another P25 million from the Road User’s Tax. 


It turned out that Gloria used her influence during the last year of her presidency to secure loans from “multilateral lending agencies” from Japan and South Korea specifically for her congressional district.  Evidently, she already had her mind set on running for Congress although she disclaimed any intention of doing so until just a few weeks of filing her certificate of candidacy. 


With P2.2 billion pork barrel funds to be spent in Gloria’s district in any which way she wants, a lot of legislators are concerned on how the money would be spent – or misspent.  Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano raised a good point when he said during a radioshow: “What I wanted was a review of midnight foreign borrowings for Arroyo’s home province, before we start losing the papers.”  Knowing the extent of corruption in public work projects during Gloria’s presidency, including the controversial Diosdado Macapagal Highway, the P2.2-billion pork barrel could become the golden goose of politically connected contractors.   


And the strangest thing happened when no other than Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda came to the defense of Gloria.  He said that the lump sum “pork barrel” allocation was “not pork.” “The P2.2 billion is foreign-assisted. Local portion is P542 million and foreign is P1.68 billion,” he said during a Malacañang press briefing. He said that the money would be used for flood- and lahar-control works around Mt. Pinatubo and for a road between Pampanga and Nueva Ecija. 


But the nagging question is:  If the P2.2 billion lump sum allocation is not “pork barrel,” why is it then that it’s going to be controlled by Gloria and not by DPWH?  With Gloria controlling who gets the contracts and how much to disburse is wide open to manipulative actions that could lead -- as in the past -- to massive corruption.


P-Noy’s budget secretary, Butch Abad, pitched in and said, “If Congress will stop the project to be funded by the P2-billion foreign loans, the foreign financiers will definitely air their opposition.” So what?  The money hasn’t been released or used yet, what’s stopping the Aquino administration from canceling questionable loan transactions secured by the Arroyo administration to be used during the Aquino administration and paid for by the Filipino people?  It’s analogous to Gloria getting a loan to build a house in her property and then asking her neighbors to repay the loan.    


If the loan is to be paid back by the Philippine government, then the Philippine government should allocate the funds borrowed equitably across the board, not just one specific district.  That is the right – and straight -- thing to do.


And the ultimate question is:  Why is P-Noy allowing this to happen?  What happened to “daang matuwid” (straight path) and his vow to fight corruption? 


In a press release by “Pagbabago! People’s Movement for Change,” P-Noy was criticized for “allowing Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to hog P2.2 billion funds in infrastructure projects for her congressional district in Pampanga.” Pagbabago! spokesperson Fr. Joe Dizon said,  “Pres. Aquino in the past lambasted Mrs. Gloria Arroyo’s lathering of funds for Pampanga. But now, he is simply letting her off the hook. Aquino’s pronouncements are turning out to be empty rhetoric.”  Then he asked P-Noy how can he make Arroyo accountable for multibillion-peso plunder cases on various anomalous projects in the past when he doesn’t use the Budget Department and the pro-P-Noy majority in Congress on the simple question of realigning public funds?


Last November 9, 2010, the IBON Foundation issued a press release, to wit: “VAGUE, HUGE LUMP-SUM FUNDS IN 2011 BUDGET GO AGAINST GOV’T THRUST OF TRANSPARENCY.


“With the 2011 national government budget approved by the House of Representatives in its third reading, research group IBON expressed concern over the PhP245-billion in vague lump-sum funds, or some 15% of the total budget.  These funds, composed of big budget items for no properly identified purpose, run contrary to the Aquino administration’s declared thrust of transparency and accountability.” 


The lump sum funds identified by IBON are: (1) P66.91-billion unprogrammed funds and PhP1-billion contingent fund subject to essentially presidential discretion; (2) P29.29-billion fund for the greatly expanded Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino program (4Ps) and National Household Targeting System, even as the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) has yet to properly establish its capacity to implement the huge increase in the program and budget; (3) P15-billion fund divided equally among three ambiguous “public-private partnership support funds” under the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) and Department of Agriculture (DA); (4) P2.34-billion fund to the military for “support to national development” which is even a matter more appropriately left to civilian departments; (5) P1.46 billion in intelligence funds, which is PhP403 million more than in Arroyo’s 2010 budget; (6) P1.19 billion for “major information and communication technology projects”, which is reminiscent of the failed NBN-ZTE deal; and (7) The P24.82 billion for the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), which increased from PhP10.9 billion in 2010. 
According to IBON, “these huge lump sum items should be thoroughly justified with their purposes, programs and project specified. There should also be a significant, if not full, audit and itemization of funds use in time for the budget season next year. These, the group said, are some steps towards greater transparency. 

“Lastly, the powers of the Executive to withhold budget releases should also be clipped as these lump-sum funds often function as presidential pork barrel. Doing this undermines their patronage character and will make them less prone to abuse.”


At the end of the day, no matter how P-Noy justifies this “pork barrel” spending, in the minds of the people, it would still come down to political patronage.  Indeed, “pork” by any other name is still “pork.”