Let’s fix the problem of pork without hurting those who really need it

We have become too fixated on the corruption relating to pork barrel and we have lose sight of the fact that there are people who really need help. There are plenty of them. And many of them have been helped.

Unfortunately, we have this black and white approach of “Let’s abolish pork. Period.” So everybody pays for the sins of the few.

But the only question worth asking is, did the intended beneficiaries get what they were supposed to get?

If the answer is yes, then don’t take their assistance away. If the answer is no, then look at why they did not get it and find a way to ensure that they get it.

The fault lies with the senator or congressman. The legislator requested the allocation, identified the beneficiaries, picked the implementing agency and recommended to it the NGO that will receive the funds.

Puno at dulo ang importante. All that matters is for the beneficiaries to get what they need. In full.

It is not the existence of pork that is wrong, what is wrong is the way that some have used it. The problem is the pigs not the pork barrel. What is there to complain about if assistance goes to those who really need it?

The million people march on the 26th asks (1) for the abolition of pork barrel; (2) for the investigation and prosecution of those involved in the scam.

I agree with the second reason. As to the first, let’s give it more serious thought -for the sake of those who have been helped and continue to be helped by small-scale infra-projects like irrigation systems, safe drinking water, waiting sheds, small bridges so that school children don’t have to balance themselves on makeshift bridges crossing streams on their way to school, rural clinics, etc.; and those who have been helped and continue to be helped by soft pork like medical assistance, vaccination programs, feeding programs, livelihood training programs, farm implements, scholarships, help to bury their dead etc.

It is the micro-level assistance provided by good pork that makes me hesitate adding my voice to the clamor for the outright abolition of all types of pork. Many of those who call for the abolition of pork are a step removed from the lives of the intended beneficiaries of pork. They can take the long macro-view.

Don’t get me wrong. I too beleieve that looking at the big picture is good. However, while we think big and long, let’s also not forget that millions of our people simply have to make it through the day.

Let’s make sure that those who live day to day, hand to mouth, can live long enough to benefit from the long-term all-encompassing solutions that we are cooking up for them.

There is a simple way to make pork work. Hold the legislators accountable. First and last. No fingerpointing to implementing agencies or NGOs. If something goes wrong along the way then it is the legislator’s fault. He has to fix it himself.

Because there is no excuse in the world that will justify why a legislator’s pork goes to other than his intended beneficiaries. The only way pork can be lost is if the legislator steals it or does not keep a watchful eye over it. If he does not have the resources to monitor his projects then he should not embark on them. He will just be throwing away money that can be spent on those who need it. He should just give his pork projects to some other legislator who can make it happen.

The important thing is for pork to get to intended beneficiaries. In full. It does not really matter how it gets to benficiaries as long as it gets to them. Beneficiaries don’t really give a shit how it gets to them as long as they get it, right?

Let’s call for full transparency on the part of the legislators. Every allocation, every project, every distribution, must be reported in detail, progress and completion reports, all readily available to the public as they happen. That way responsibility is clear and accountability can be exacted.

Let’s fix the problem without hurting those who need it most.

Manuel Buencamino

Buencamino was a weekly columnist for Today and Business Mirror. He has also written articles in other publications like Malaya, Newsbreak, "Yellow Pad" in Business World, and "Talk of the Town" in the Inquirer. He is currently with Interaksyon, the news site of TV5. MB blogged for Filipino Voices, blogs for ProPinoy and maintains a blog, Uniffors.com. Game-changers for him, as far as music goes, are Monk, Miles, Jimi, and Santana.

  • Mika ,

    I think what happened with this politicians is, once they have discretion over this dizzying amount of money lets say one million pesos then they probably thought its ok to pocket a “percentage” for themselves like one hundred pesos for example thinking the money would not be missed kasi konti lang naman , then as they grow bolder with each personal allocation they become greedier and greedier and can justify this kind of mugging. Just because they give a small amount to the poor doesnt mean the pork barrel is working. The pork barrel should be given 100% to the people and i dont see why the respective agencies like doh, dpwh or dep ed cant be assigned that money and responsibility. Bakit dapat may middleman pa.

    • Emmanuel Doy Santos ,

      Given the long list of legislators involved, 192 of the 14th Congress, the investigation of the abuse of pork may take a long, long time to resolve itself. In a de facto sense, it’s like abolishing pork at least until 2015 or 2016, which will impair the fund-raising ability of the current congressmen and senators prior to the elections.

      Secondly, the president said that he intends to prosecute offenders. Given that a number of anomalous or dubious pork barrel users are members of his party and administration, isn’t it proper for him to either: ask them to take leave of the LP or take a leave of absence from their official government posts? I am currently trying comprehend the COA report more fully. (The president’s own use of pork as a senator was given some attention. I am not sure what that means).

      Thirdly, regarding your point that pork is fine as long as it reaches the intended beneficiaries, I hope you don’t mean the board passers named as beneficiaries by one NGO. Many of these projects had fake beneficiaries. They were not designed with any authentic need in mind, except perhaps the need of the project sponsor.

      Finally, given the scale of abuse, I think it is right to have a review of the pork barrel system. To suspend it, while that review is underway. It’s not enough to just prosecute offenders. Something is wrong with the system. If the review concludes that there is a better way to do it, then by all means let us proceed along that path.

      But the president didn’t even hint that such a review was necessary. It is important that an independent body conduct that review, not congress or even the palace since it is involved in the disbursement of pork.

      • manuelbuencamino ,

        1. Yes it may take that long for an audit of 2010 – 2013

        2. Yes. He can ask them to take leave of Congress but he cannot make them do it. It’s not within the powers of a president. Two, as you have said time and again, party membership here is a joke so what is to be gained if he asks them to take leave of the LP?

        3. My point was there were actual beneficiaries and they should not be punished because some assholes cheated. Many is not all. Most is not all. Let’s separate the successful pork projects from the fake ones. Let’s learn from success stories instead of throwing out the baby with the bath water which is what usually happens when babysitters get hysterical.

        4. Yes, It is time to review it. It is suspended as of now. It should always be under continuous review so that improvements happen all the time. It is not enough just to prosecute offenders.

        The president stated that it was under review. That they were studying how to put in place tighter control and better monitoring tools. An independent body would be composed of people of have no experience with PDAF? So they will have to learn the system, master it, before they can conduct a credible review. I would prefer to have those who run their PDAF projects – from Congress, IAs, and NGOs- to be your proposed independent review board. They are the success stories. We can learn from them.

        • Emmanuel Doy Santos ,

          I would have to take issue with your response to the last point. In the UK’s parliamentary expenses scandal of 2009 which incidentally came about after an FOI act was passed, then PM Gordon Brown had to bring in an external regulator to set the standards for MP’s as only an external, independent regulator could render an impartial decision. You are sacrificing speed for impartiality as in the case of COA which took 2-1/2 years to issue its special audit report on PDAF and VILP.

          • manuelbuencamino ,

            Let’s just say you need people who know what the damn thing is all about to conduct a thorough investigation for you.

            Also I was not arguing for speed over impartiality, I was simply stating a fact – if you bring in people who know nothing about the PDAF process then will be learning steps. I was merely pointing out that you should be prepared to wait.

            As to the Gordon Brown approach I am not familiar with it. Who was going to be hurt by the changes, the legislator or his constituents? Was it simply a matter of cutting out the fat from the expense accounts of parliamentarians? What was the background of his external regulator?

            If fat was the problem, then that is not such a difficult problem as it involves only legislators. It’s personal.

            But PDAF involves beneficiaries. A legislator is not supposed to partake in the benefits. So when you cut off a legislator’s PDAF you are actually calling for cutting off priority assistance to those who really need it. That’s why my approach is make PDAF work, don’t take it away from those who need it.

      • moonshine ,

        abolish the pork barrel period. no why’s and no but’s. habang may pork barrel gagawa at gagawa ng katarantaduhan ang ating mga pulitiko. lahat ng mga pulitiko natin ay mga gahaman sa salapi. magmula sa panahon ni diosdado macapagal hanggang kay noynoy lumala ng lumala ang korapsyon. kaya nga gumagasta iyan ng limpak limpak na salapi at handang pumatay ng tao para lang makaupo sa puwesto at kanila ring babawiin ang lahat ng kanilang nagasto sa kampanya.

        • manuelbuencamino ,

          masyadong catholic ‘yan approach mo. 🙂

        • GabbyBD ,

          ii agree mb.

          • manuelbuencamino ,

            Thanks Gabby

            • Choi ,

              haist. MB ganyan tayo nagbubulag-bulagan sa maraming taon ng ang sistema. Yung mga project sa PDAF na yan taon-taon palagi na lang the same project dito sa amin. Pero ala namang nakikitang project. mas Maganda si PNOy o ang executive department lang ang mag-implement nyan. Para kung may palpak, ang nasa legislative ang maghuhusga sa ginagawa ng executive. Legislative means to make laws and not to make projects. Kung walang pork barrel, mawawalan na ng political dynasty, maiiwasan na rin ang vote buying kay maiibsan na ang corruption.