Lords of the bills: Return of the pork
I like to think that I am not a candidate for hypertension, never mind my proclivity for pork dishes. When I come home after writing my master’s thesis, I look forward to dining in Barangay Tisa, Cebu City, where street vendors sell the best ginabot (fried pork innards) and siomai (pork dumplings) in town.
Alternatively, I could go to this joint in Barangay Labangon in the same city for the crispiest chicharon (pork rind) around, or slightly south, to Talisay City, for incomparably tasty lechon (roasted pork).
At a time when the Philippine government is cozying up with China, I can accept at least that among our northern neighbor’s unquestionable contributions to Philippine life is the integration of pork into our diet, which would have not been possible without our pre-Hispanic trade with the Chinese. (At least one professor versed in history told me our ancient fauna of choice for food, before pork, was fish).
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About P80 million has been allotted in the Philippines’ national budget for the coming fiscal year as the maximum value of projects that each member of the Lower House may propose for the benefit of their districts.
For House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, this is no way means that the pork barrel system has returned because there will be no lump sum allocations given to the congressmen.
To recall, before late 2013 when the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional the lawmakers’ handling of public money, they used to be assigned millions of pesos in people’s money to use at their discretion for all sorts of projects in their constituencies.
The leader of the congressmen maintains that the new system does not contradict jurisprudence since the justices only ruled against the legislators’ handling of money that ought to be in the keeping of the implementers of projects in the executive branch of the government.
Nevertheless, this state of affairs seems to contradict the spirit of the law and to raise several questions.
What does it really mean for Congress to exercise the so-called power of the purse?
Did not the congressmen already conduct budget hearings involving the concerned officials in the executive department whose province it is to find out what projects are necessary within their jurisdictions across the country?
Is it ethical for those who sit in effect as judges for the worthiness of government projects to also step into the role of project proponents?
Is that not tantamount to reconstituting Congress into a rubber stamp committee for public spending based on legislators’ whims?
What is so difficult about entrusting everything about projects – from feasibility studies all the way to budget proposals – solely on the executive agencies concerned?
The congressmen insist that they have a duty to propose projects for the residents of their districts because they have direct access to them. How scientific is their information gathering? Is it accurate and deep enough to establish the necessity, beneficiality and practicability of the projects such that they may even be institutionalized, perhaps by means of legislation?
Are not the experts in various fields of endeavor from human resources to education within the executive department that have field offices in administrative regions, municipalities and cities in a better position to render studied judgments about infrastructure and soft projects?
Does not apportioning amounts for lawmakers to tack projects unto make public coffers once again vulnerable to being used as a political leverage for decision-making with regard to policies?
Does this not violate the principle that a lawmaker must vote on bills and craft laws based on his conscientious examination rather than the prospect of being rewarded or deprived of the power over money?
Does this not miseducate the public into thinking that their representatives must be evaluated according to their capability to churn out projects, something the Charter does not require of them, instead of other indices of legislator performance, such as attendance and participation in committee and plenary sessions, wisdom and importance of sponsored bills and resolutions and aptitude for critical collaboration with the administration?
Is this not, in the end, the case of an oxymoronically palpable ghost of the pork barrel system persistently haunting the halls of our legislature?
As far as many of us can see, legislative lechon is quite bottomless, and the lawmakers’ exclusive party goes on.
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