The Philippine Star
Pork barrel politics
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