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…