I think the pork barrel should be abolished. Some people think some people have benefited from pork barrel money and that abolishing it will be like throwing the baby out along with the bath water. Perhaps. But that is really the sort of Robin Hood mentality that has no place in a modern 21st Century society. The existence of the pork barrel is premised on the notion that the Executive branch of government is focused on the “national” level and does not think local enough. And, to follow the logic further, delegating the need for local considerations to legislators will solve that problem.
The trouble with that medieval logic lies in this simple question:
On what basis is the presumption that legislators are better channels for local concerns than officials of local government units (LGUs) (such as mayors and Barangay officials) made?
Lots of people, according to legend, benefited from Robin Hood’s altruistic banditry. But to institutionalise Robin Hoodery as a routine business-as-usual means to keep “local needs” addressed is a moronic proposition. That’s the same kind of thinking that turned jeepneys from the quaint samples of “Filipino ingenuity” back in 1946 to the enormous intractable socio-economic problem that they are today. Sure, lots of people “benefit” from jeepneys. But the jeepneys’ lack of coherence as a modern system of moving people en masse stares us in the face today like an Alcoholics Anonymous facilitator.
The parallels between the pork barrel and the jeepney are very evident. Pork barrel disbursment of “development funds”, like the jeepney, does not lend itself to a transparent system that could be governed with some semblance of coherence. And this is why the whole regime comes across — rightly so — as an institutionalised national scam. We didn’t need Janet Lim Napoles (if the allegations are true) to put the “scam” in the “PDAF scam”. The Priority Development Assistance Fund has always been a scam. Filipinos were just too dumb to realise it over the last three decades. Indeed, the pork barrel, like the jeepney infestation, are products of short-sighted populist politics. Both are products of wrong arguments that have been allowed to win for too long by a people not exactly renowned for arguing intelligently.
Pork barrel apologists harp on what they describe as the “important point and outcome” of the pork barrel gravy train; “All that matters is for the beneficiaries to get what they need. In full,” to quote the pompous assertion of a certain bozo. Sounds nice on paper, doesn’t it? That’s like saying that what’s ultimately important is that jeepney passengers get to where they want to go — even if it means allowing their means to do so to foul up traffic all over the metropolis and turn our roads into Highways to Hell in the process. If we are to use the same logic with the pork barrel, that’s like trying to implement measures to ensure that everything stolen by Robin Hood from the King is spent on putting breadcrumbs on peasants’ tables. Good luck with that “fix”. It’s no wonder Robin Hood’s men are so merry. They’re all laughing all the way to the bank.
If we want “micro level assistance” (now supposedly currently enabled by the almighty pork barrel funding) to continue, then a more systematic way of achieving that should be put in place (or done properly where it already exists) where it REALLY belongs — in the Executive Branch. We all talk about “freedom of information” like we are some kind of expert about what the term means. Yet many of our high-horsed social media barons fail to understand what it takes to mine useful information from transaction-intensive operations. You need control measures in place to capture the data in a form readily convertible to said “information”. When money is palmed over to oinking politicians at the whim of presidents starved for their “cooperation”, there will be no such information.
The short answer to idiotic calls to retain the pork barrel is that a mechanism to get resources allocated to address “micro needs” already exists in the Executive Branch.
It does not take political “experts” to see that the whole point in being a duly-elected legislator is to ensure that constituencies are well-represented when crafting laws. They should leave the execution of those laws (and the use of public funds to do so) to the Executive Branch. That is why said branch is named as such.
Trying to “fix pork without hurting those who really need it” is like trying to modernise public transport without abolishing the jeepney. Change always hurts. Only people who lack imagination and routinely face the future with a pathetic lack of courage aspire for painless change. And we wonder why China kicks Filipino ass.
It’s simple, really — but not for the small-minded amongst us.
[Photo coutesy The Guardian.]