A preference for pork: The Philippine neopatrimonial state


Filipinos have a high tolerance for corruption, which they see as a necessary evil in the delivery of local programs and projects.

This is the only conclusion one can arrive at based on the results of Pulse Asia’s latest survey on the pork barrel, conducted during the last two weeks of September and released over the past fortnight (see part 1 here and part 2 here). For those who might have missed it, here is a quick round-up of results:

  • Awareness of PDAF or pork barrel was at 90%, up from 66% a decade ago.
  • Ability to identify a local project funded by PDAF over the past six years was only 39% nationwide down from 52% in 2004.
  • On what to do with the PDAF 45% were for its outright removal and for implementation to be left to line agencies, up from 30% a decade ago. The balance was split among those who wanted to keep PDAF in some shape or form, including 45% wanting some changes to the system to be made and 10% who don’t want any changes made at all.
  • On the use and management of PDAF about 8 out of every 10 Filipinos saw it as being undertaken for questionable motives such as electioneering, kickbacks and as inducements to support the executive’s legislative agenda.
  • On the proportion of PDAF going to corruption nearly 8 out of 10 Filipinos think that more than half of the pork allocation is being plundered.
  • On what legislators should prioritise in their work only about a third wanted them to focus on lawmaking, while 42% said they ought to focus on having projects and programs, i.e. pork barreling. The remainder was split between investigating scandals and other issues (14%) and reviewing and passing the budget (12%).
  • On the president’s handling of PDAF about two thirds believe that the misuse of pork has continued under his administration and the same amount approve of his handling of it (the Palace announced the suspension of PDAF but allowed congressional insertions or pork barrel projects in line agency budgets with more stringent requirements).

Despite a supermajority holding the view that PDAF is not being undertaken for its specified or intended use and that more than half of the money is being wasted or stolen, a plain majority are still in favour of keeping it in some shape or form. This explains the strong approval of the president’s actions in the wake of the PDAF scandal. Even among the educated, wealthier classes (ABC), where 9 out of 10 believe that half or more than half of the PDAF budget is being stolen, only 47% want pork abolished.

Support for the abolition of pork reaches a majority only in the NCR with 56% behind it. Mindanao is where support is weakest at 38%. The rest of the country hovers around the mean at 45-47%. There is little variability among classes ABC and D on the issue with 47-48% supporting abolition. It is Class E that diverges from the national mean at 38%. The median voter appears to sit somewhere in between the lower middle and poor classes of D and E.

Only about 38-39% of class D and E respondents could identify projects financed by PDAF in their community over the past six years, down from 53% a decade ago. There was hardly any change recorded for class ABC during this period with 46% indicating that they knew of such projects. People in Metro Manila were less conscious at 30%, down from 50%, and Mindanao had the highest level of awareness at 48% down from 60%. The rest of Luzon and the Vizayas hovered around the national mean at 37-38%, down from 51% and 54%, respectively.

Given the continued operation of PDAF, the lower levels of consciousness regarding projects benefiting the local community could be due to their being less conspicuous, which in turn could be because more money went to “soft” projects, that appear to be more prone to the “ghost” phenomenon. The suspicion that most of their pork goes to corruption has not deterred most Filipinos from supporting its retention.

PDAF was a way for the political elite to formalise their patrimonial activity by giving them access to public funds to distribute rents among their constituents, but it failed to address their need to finance campaign spending at elections and to provide an adequate level of compensation commensurate to the power and authority that they wield over the vast resources of government. As a result, it is no surprise that they did what they did.

Filipinos have always known and provided tacit approval for this. Just like traditional housewives from the 1950s who tolerated their spouses’ flings outside their marriage for so long as they were discreet about it and continued to be good providers of their households, the Filipino public was willing to accept a certain level of corruption by their padrino-politicians, for so long as they “brought home the bacon.”

Now that the game has been exposed, and the scale of their infidelity has been rubbed in their faces, the public has understandably become unsettled. But despite all this, what a majority of Filipinos still want is a return to the way things were. They appear half-hearted at best about doing away with a system of patronage that they believe has served them well.

Their inclination is to give it another chance, perhaps with some minor adjustments. Even if this means divorcing the set of politicos who have let them down and been found out, they would just as eagerly fall into the arms of another set who will offer them the same sort of pandering as the previous batch.

To be concluded…


Doy Santos aka The Cusp

Doy Santos is an international development consultant who shuttles between Australia and the Philippines. He maintains a blog called The Cusp: A discussion of new thinking, new schools of thought and fresh ideas on public policy (www.thecusponline.org) and tweets as @thecusponline. He holds a Master in Development Economics from the University of the Philippines and an MS in Public Policy from Carnegie Mellon University.

  • manuelbuencamino

    “PDAF was a way for the political elite to formalise their patrimonial activity by giving them access to public funds to distribute rents among their constituents,”

    PDAF is the bacon that district constituents expect their representative to bring home. That’s probably why the largest segment of respondents 42% said that senators and congressmen should give priority to having projects and programs. There has been a decline of 7% from 2004 but I would attribute this to the recent negative stories on PDAF.

    The increase in the number of respondents who say that senators and congressmen should prioritize lawmaking seems to me a misunderstanding of the different roles that the House and the Senate plays. I find the trend alarming. It appears that respondents are combining the functions of both houses. Gone is the basic, and crucial, difference between the houses as specified in the Art VI Section 24 of the constitution. “All appropriation, revenue or tariff bills, bills authorizing increase of the public debt, bills of local application, and private bills, shall originate exclusively in the House of Representatives, but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments.”

    • GabbyBD

      i’m curious, what are the different roles such that you find the focus on lawmaking alarming?

      my reading of that part of the consti is that the house has a specific jobs, but both are involved.

      • manuelbuencamino

        The most important piece of legislation is the General Appripriations Act.

        That’s why I’m concerned that focus on lawmaking and other business general might overshadow the GAA. First things first. As to the roles the two houses play, Ithe Senate’s participation is limited to proposing or concurring with amendments to the House’s original document. .

        • GabbyBD

          ah, ok. that makes sense as i’m sure u know that the budget is a law, and that this is a big part of their job.

  • manuelbuencamino

    “Only about 38-39% of class D and E respondents could identify projects financed by PDAF in their community over the past six years, down from 53% a decade ago.”

    A possible consequence of the anti-epal campaign?

    • Emmanuel Doy Santos

      Perhaps, but as far as I know that campaign began during the 2013 campaign. The question covers the past six years.

      • manuelbuencamino

        There was a comparison made with the findings from six years ago. Was there an anti-epal campaign then?

        • Emmanuel Doy Santos

          I’m not sure what you mean. The comparison was made with 2004 in which respondents tried to recall any project from the past six years. The #epalwatch campaign began from a Tumblr account and its first entries came in 25 June 2012. It was later picked up by DSWD to protect CCT from politicisation in 2013. So as far as I know it has only been at work in the last year or so. Too late to have had an impact on the years prior.

    • Bert

      Could be the effect of the extensive proliferation of fake NGOs during the previous administration that extended up to the first three years of the Noynoy presidency until it was arrested by the relentless effort of the government to clean itself leading to the exposures of the scams.

      With the present strategy of the government at transparency in implementing various projects funded by PDAP (or DAP), the awareness of even the class D and E could could rise again.

  • GabbyBD

    What i love this debate is that it a cut above the usual corruption story. This is a question on the limits of the executive; a topic we can all have opinions on, and we can all have valid arguments.

    I also loved the fact that pnoy bothered to explain the admin’s side on this. the admin SHOULD explain more about what its been doing, its mindset, etc.

    There should be even more transparency, and i echo calls by others (say radicalchic) to extend transparency more.

    [what i dont echo is her lack of tone, but her tone will be her tone.]

  • So PDAF allowed the currying of favors and reputation in local markets but did not provide enough cash for staff, travel, signs to plaster alongside the highways, advertising, or to give to the Barangay Capitans to buy votes. So we got some skimming and skamming go. It appears the purpose of the PDAF projects may or may not be highest and best community need, as long as the project is visible and done right before the elections (like the new water piping in our barangay done last month that assured re-election of the captain.)

    I’d say leave the prioritization of local projects to local government and get the national lawmakers working on better laws. Include among the better laws some good campaign finance rules. Get lawmakers out of the business of wielding discretionary funds like little kings. Keep the President’s fund in place so he can operate like the big king he is chartered to be.

  • manuelbuencamino

    Remember, the reason why the constitution says all appropriations bills must originate with congress (district representatives) is because it is the congressman who is supposed to bring home the bacon. He is supposed to have been informed by the local officials about his district’s needs and he gets the necessary funds from the national budget. Ain’t nothing wrong with that. That’s the way it is supposed to work. That’s what representation by district is all about. The Senate is supposed to have the national view not the district rep. The problem is some representatives are crooks. Ultimately it’s the voters’ fault. But the ease of stealing can also be minimized by strict controls.

    Taxes also originate exclusively in the House. And for the same reason. The district representative is there to ensure that any proposed tax does not burden his district any more than it does others. So in the case of the SIN Tax, the district reps in tobacco regions had to vote against it unless some form of compensation was offered for the tobacco farmers who would be affected negatively by that enlightened piece of legislation.

    You cannot eliminate pork for as long as you have district representation and a constitutional provision that says all appropriations and taxes must originate from the body of district representatives. District representation is government of. for. and by the people.

    • cocoy

      MB/Doy, I heard from lawmakers that… for them Congress doesn’t have power of purse. My question: Is the balance of power, in terms of wielding the purse unfairly on the executive?

      • Emmanuel Doy Santos

        It’s effectively been usurped by the Palace’s ability to impound and re-align the budget.

        • Usurped is a loaded word. The budget gets a final check from the top executive of the land who is ultimately responsible for how things work. Or don’t.

      • GabbyBD

        when lawmakers say that, i wonder what they mean. they do have the power of the purse, but they probably mean something else.

      • manuelbuencamino


        To the extent that the president has a line item veto, yes. To the extent that Congress can decrease but cannot increase the budget submitted by the president, yes. To the extent that absent an appropriations bill, the previous year’s budget becomes re-enacted, yes. To the extent that the Executive along with other co-equal bodies are allowed to utilize their savings within their own departments without needing the approval of Congress, yes. These are all contained in the Constitution.

        • Emmanuel Doy Santos

          And the DAP? Does it fit under any of the categories above? I guess that’s a question which the SC is deliberating on now.

          • manuelbuencamino

            DAP is another term for disbursing savings. I guess the question the SC is looking at is what exactly are savings and can they be realigned across various agencies within the executive department?

          • Emmanuel Doy Santos

            Not just that, DAP augmented the PDAF of congress, so the legal question that needs to be resolved is: can savings from one branch be used by another?

          • manuelbuencamino

            Did the executive give the funds to senators ala PDAF or did the executive merely consult the senators prior to implementing projects?

          • Emmanuel Doy Santos

            Wasn’t Drilon the conduit as head of the senate finance committee at the time?

          • manuelbuencamino

            Drilon was informed that the administration was going to accelerate spending and inputs from senators who were interested were welcome

          • manuelbuencamino

            From Rene Saguisag’s column http://manilatimes.net/bizarre-and-insane-peoples-pork-barrel-initiative/49475/

            “So in condemning an institutional arrangement as a rotten egg, who can lay a better one? Our 1987-92 Senate did not abuse, nor our predecessors. As a teenager during the time of Prez Magsaysay, it was a good time to be alive.

            Then the Marcoses came and nearly ruined all our values, institutions and processes, which the Arroyos nearly completed. Then we elected a non-lying, non-cheating and non-stealing Prez, and hope came back. Blasted as a lightweight, now PNoy’s hit as a dictator.”

    • Nice overview. Indeed, the house members can and should advocate for bills and a budget that benefit their district. But not for the money so they can be little kings and decide who gets what, potentially at cross purposes to the national plan. Put it in a bill. Put it in the budget. That’s all.

      • manuelbuencamino


        No one in Congress gets cash from the government. The cash comes from kickbacks. Earmarking won’t change anything because it does not eliminate kickbacks. The PDAF was really meant as an equalizer on top of budget insertions or earmarks. Ideally, giving every district P70M ensured that every district, big or small, metropolitan or rural, pro or anti-administration, got at least a minimum amount of projects, projects tailor-fitted to the district. The problem is with implementation of PDAF not with the concept. PDAF can be likened to dividend pay-outs.

        • Thanks. Seems a little different with earmarks: (1) better visibility of proposed expenditures, and (2) President’s line item veto.

        • cocoy

          Didn’t one of the survey houses ask what was important to people? Surprisingly, the budget was even lower than lawmakers’ duty to “investigate in aid of legislation”.

  • Bert

    Poor premise. I am against the abolition of pork and I am not a beggar. The pork barrel is essential and beneficial to the development of the nation I am against the abolition of it because I believe that the pork barrel is not evil. The crooks and the thieves are.

    I think that the results of the surveys reflect my thinking and the Filipinos are not mendicants. That is all.