By FR. ROLANDO DELA ROSA
Several years ago, Senator Panfilo Lacson unequivocally moved for the abolition of the “pork barrel” which, according to him, “habitually goes to the pockets of corruption.” During one of his privileged speeches in the Senate, he reminded his fellow statesmen that they were elected by the Filipino people to legislate for the common good, and not to amass wealth under the “pork barrel” system.
He said: “We were voted into office not to accept fat checks to enhance our bank accounts. I am not saying that every senator or congressman is corrupt. I am saying that we have all become suspect. But we seem not to mind anymore!”
To set an example, he proposed that the “pork barrel” allocated for him be subtracted from the annual appropriations budget. If the legislators heeded his words, the PDAF scandals that remain unresolved to this day would not have happened, and the current debates and mutual recriminations among legislators regarding “pork barrel” insertions in the national budget would have been avoided.
In the same privilege speech, Lacson explained why most of the “pork barrel” funds do not go to the intended “countryside development projects.” In his rough estimate, 2 percent goes to the Commission on Audit; 10 percent is given to the district engineer and other officials of the Department of Public Works and Highways; 2 percent is passed on to the barangay chairman; at least 14 percent goes to the contractor; 5 to 10 percent is given to the mayor or governor if he so demands; 20 percent goes to the Senator or Representative who identifies the project.
These percentages vary depending on the greed of those involved in the transactions. In the end, a measly twenty percent of the total budget goes to the project itself. Worse, there are instances when the pork barrel is used to fund “ghost projects” and the money funneled to foundations that are also non-existent.
In one article titled “Ang Sarap Maging Senador,” the author wondered why senators would spend millions of pesos during election time when their salary amounts to only 117,000 pesos per month. Then he revealed why. On top of this measly salary, they get monstrous perks, bonuses, and allowances amounting to millions of pesos. Best of all, the senator receives at least 150 million pesos as “pork barrel” of which he gets a minimum of 10 percent or 15 million pesos from the contractors. With these payoffs, a senator is richer by around 100 million pesos at the end of his term.
Senator Lacson is right in deploring the pork barrel system which has become one big, stinking, convoluted mess. But it seems his words fall on deaf ears.
So, having survived repeated attempts for its abolition, and having been given more palatable names, the pork barrel will continue to tempt politicians to dip their hands into it. In the meantime, people will continue to stay on roof-tops during floods, travel in streets filled with potholes, walk along garbage-filled esteros, traverse rivers and muddy roads to attend school, and wait in endless queues just to get a ride to work and home.
And with this coming elections, we will continue to see many unfinished or badly finished projects with giant billboards bearing the faces of campaigning candidates, proudly declaring: “This project is made possible through my efforts.” As if.