The Philippine Star

Pork bar­rel pol­i­tics

- IRIS GONZALES Journalism · Congress of the United States · Nigeria · Saudi Arabia · United States of America · United States Congress · Philippines · Corazon Aquino · U.S. Supreme Court · Twitter · Countryside

Ev­ery­thing seems to have started with the pork — big, fat, greasy.

It is per­haps the rea­son why we no longer have states­men now. For some peo­ple, the so-called pork bar­rel funds have be­come an in­cen­tive to run for Congress. It’s big busi­ness and the noble act of leg­is­lat­ing for the greater good was no longer the end goal of be­ing in Congress.

Any­one can be a law­maker in our repub­lic as I said in the first of my se­ries on states­men. It’s the curse of our democ­racy and per­haps one of our great­est fol­lies.

It is shock­ing to see just about any­one in the present crop of law­mak­ers – some were ei­ther plucked out of obliv­ion, saved from ir­rel­e­vance or res­ur­rected from re­tire­ment.

In jour­nal­ism, veteran jour­nal­ists usu­ally dis­miss the rook­ies as too young to be in the in­dus­try.

“Parang pin­abili lang ng suka sa tin­da­han.” That’s some­thing you of­ten hear from the oldies when a new and young jour­nal­ist comes along.

It’s some­thing like that in Congress. Any­one can just be a law­maker, a role once re­served only for the coun­try’s best and the bright­est. As I said this has a lot to do with the pork bar­rel. For some po­lit­i­cal clans, law­mak­ing has be­come a fam­ily busi­ness, no thanks to the hefty pork bar­rel given to each con­gress­man.

Thus, al­low me to end this se­ries on states­men by look­ing back on how one day, all of a sud­den, the yel­low pres­i­dent de­cided to dis­trib­ute such manna from heaven to the coun­try’s con­gress­men, un­wit­tingly blind­ing them with money and lur­ing them into pa­tron­age pol­i­tics.

Maybe she had the best of in­ten­sions but the re­sult was a Congress that would be rid­dled with crooks, co­me­di­ans and clowns, as what we have now.

The ori­gin of the pork bar­rel

His­tor­i­cal ac­counts tell us that the term orig­i­nated be­fore the Civil War as a prac­tice of giv­ing slaves a bar­rel of salt pork.

Philip­pine STAR colum­nist Jose Si­son, in a Feb. 8, 2019 col­umn said con­sti­tu­tion­al­ist Joaquin G. Ber­nas S.J. traced its ori­gin to the “de­grad­ing rit­ual of rolling out a bar­rel stuffed with pork to a mul­ti­tude of black slaves who would cast their fam­ished bod­ies into the porcine feast to as­suage their hunger with morsels com­ing from the gen­eros­ity of their well fed mas­ter.”

In the 1870s, the term found it­self com­monly used in US Congress to re­fer to spend­ing to ben­e­fit the con­stituents of a politi­cian.

In the Philip­pines, the prac­tice has been around since the Amer­i­can colo­nial pe­riod, con­tained in the Pub­lic Works Act of 1922 but the more pro­nounced prac­tice hap­pened only dur­ing the pres­i­dency of Co­ra­zon Aquino when she im­ple­mented the P2.3 bil­lion Coun­try­side Devel­op­ment Fund (CDF) in the 90s. It was to rally sup­port for her ad­min­is­tra­tion. How­ever, by the mid-1990s, es­ti­mates showed that 70 per­cent of these CDF projects went to the pock­ets of leg­is­la­tors -- “for the boys.”

The CDF con­tin­ued to grow and by the time it changed its name to the Pri­or­ity Devel­op­ment and As­sis­tance Fund (PDAF), the size had also grown to dizzy­ing amounts.

Janet Napoles NGO scam

Of course it be­came sub­ject to abuses and one of the ma­jor ex­am­ples was the Napoles NGO scam in­volv­ing some P10 bil­lion in funds si­phoned over a span of an en­tire decade.

Whistle­blow­ers at­tested that the Janet Lim Napoles Corp. was used as a con­duit for bil­lions in funds sup­pos­edly for projects that turned out to be ghost projects.

There were many other scams and con­tro­ver­sies sur­round­ing the use of the pork bar­rel -- or its equiv­a­lent.

In 2013, the Supreme Court de­clared the pork bar­rel as un­con­sti­tu­tional.

And yet “bud­get in­ser­tions” con­tinue to this day de­spite the Supreme Court’s de­ci­sion.

In­deed, it is clear that the in­tro­duc­tion of pork bar­rel in Philip­pine leg­is­la­ture blurred the lines. Gone are the days when leg­is­lat­ing was noble and was in­tended to bring the coun­try for­ward.

Pork bar­rel pol­i­tics at­tracted just about any­one ex­cept states­men or they who cared more for the best in­ter­est of the coun­try. The in­ten­tion to join Congress be­came mud­dled with self in­ter­est and per­sonal agenda.

And this, I be­lieve is why we no longer have states­men nowa­days. Ev­ery­one wants their pork, even scrap­ing the bar­rel to the last mil­lion if they have to. This is the sad real­ity of our time. But all is not lost. Our young law­mak­ers and the fu­ture gen­er­a­tions of law­mak­ers to come, can do our coun­try a favour by brav­ing the tide and chang­ing the ways in Congress.

They should think of the next gen­er­a­tions - as states­men do -- and not the next elec­tions.

Iris Gonzales’ email ad­dress is eye­sgon­za­les@gmail. com. Fol­low her on Twit­ter @eye­sgon­za­les. Col­umn ar­chives at eye­sgon­za­les.com

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