For years before 2013, members of Congress allocated for themselves funds for their special projects, such as medical assistance to needy constituents, barangay halls, farm roads, health centers, even basketball courts.
The rationale was that the use of government funds need not be limited to big projects such as airports and seaports, municipal buildings, schools, and hospitals. The needs of small ordinary citizens, as relayed through their congressmen and mayors, may also get government funding. These small projects bring the people closer to the government; they also bring them closer to their officials, especially around election time.
In 2013, however, the Supreme Court ruled the concept of “pork barrel” – then carrying the name Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) – unconstitutional. The legislators’ role in government is to legislate; they should not be involved in implementation of approved projects.
Today, four years later, there is nothing marked PDAF in the National Budget. But around this time, when congressmen and senators study the proposed expenditures as listed by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), the planners of the executive department want Congress to approve their proposals with a minimum of change. Perhaps to make them more agreeable, legislators are invited to suggest some favorite project for inclusion in the budget somewhere – a schoolroom, perhaps, in the Department of Education budget or a small barrio bridge in the Department of Public Works and Highways budget.
Last Tuesday, Sen. Panfilo Lacson revived this old dispute over “pork barrel” when he told DBM Secretary Benjamin Diokno to use the “hidden” pork funds of legislators to fund the new free college education program of the government.
Lacson brushed off denials that there are no longer such funds. “Then why are legislators being asked to submit lists of their projects just before the period of amendments of the appropriation bill?,” he asked. Lacson said there are allocations totalling P29.3 billion intended for legislators’ projects in the proposed 2018 budget. This is more than enough to cover the P25 billion needed for free college education next year, he said.
Senator Lacson never accepted his own allotment – it was P200 million for senators and P70 million for congressman – in the old days of PDAF. Some of his colleagues in Congress today may not be ready to carry on without their pork in its new guise and may insist on the “SOP” devised by DBM. Then they must find, somewhere else in the bowels of the appropriation bill, the P25 billion needed for the new program of free college education.