All posts by: Mario Galang

Galang is a specialist in development and governance issues.


Not all pork is bad?

I hope I got it wrong – I mean my reading of the Supreme Court ponencia declaring the Priority Development Assistance Fund as unconstitutional. But, is the Court saying that not all pork is necessarily bad, even if it says PDAF is truly bad?

By implication, yes; and that much is implied when the Court defined its key terms. (Without even intending to, the definition has also put an end to the “confusion of meanings” that attended the pork debate. No more are we in pork Babel.)

“Pork barrel” is not defined explicitly, but “pork barrel system” is, and in so doing the Court hints strongly at what it means by “pork barrel.”
“Pork barrel system” is “the collective body of rules and practices that govern the manner by which lump-sum, discretionary funds, primarily intended for local projects, are utilized through the respective participations of the Legislative and Executive branches of government, including its members.”

I’ve taken note of the reference to “funds” that are: 1) lump-sum discretionary; 2) primarily intended for local projects; and 3) used through the participation of the Legislature or the Executive, including their members. All these three features combined describe or define our controversial “pork”.

This pork variety is proudly Pinoy, not so unlike our adobo. It bears the marks of “local concept and legal history,” as the ponencia acknowledges. Unique unto its own, it distinguishes itself from the universally understood lexical “pork barrel” that such authority as the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) accords entry, as: “The state’s financial resources regarded as a source of distribution to meet regional expenditure; the provision of funds (in U.S., Federal funds) for a particular area achieved through political representation or influence.”

OED’s pork shares with pork barrel adobo at least one common feature: the use of funds for local or areal projects. Otherwise, OED’s pork hardly cares if the central funds are lump-sum or used by whoever in congress or the executive branch. In that sense, the adobo variety is restrictive and covers a narrower scope.

Definitions are only as good as the function they do in your scheme of things. Since the Court wants to establish the constitutionality of PDAF, “pork barrel” defined at this level lacks the precision to serve the purpose.
Hence, the term “congressional pork barrel” – “defined as a kind of lump-sum, discretionary fund wherein legislators, either individually or collectively organized into committees, are able to effectively control certain aspects of the fund’s utilization through various post-enactment measures and/or practices.”

Note that the use of fund is further qualified with “through various post-enactment measures and/or practices.” The operative word is “post-enactment”- meaning, after the budget bill is enacted into law, or the stage at which the president executes the budget.

The description has now taken the unmistakable shape of PDAF. Defined as such, congressional pork barrel is intrinsically illegal, as if it was born with unconstitutional genes. Now, here’s the catch.

Any salient point missing disqualifies an item for the “congressional pork barrel” label. PDAF qualifies, not because it is lump-sum per se; but, as Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno pointed out, its “infirmity is brought about by the confluence of (1) sums dedicated to multiple purposes; (2) requiring post-enactment measures; (3) participated in, not by the Congress, but by its individual Members.”

Point 1 is precisely the lump-sum nature of the fund. The “post-enactment measures” cited in Point 2 are those that require, say, the agency implementing a PDAF-funded project to submit to Congress a priority list of beneficiaries 90 days from effectivity of the budget law – thus allowing Congress to join in the execution of the budget, in violation of the principle of separation of powers as the Constitution provides. For Point 3, one example is when individual lawmakers identify projects under PDAF, which become binding to the implementing agency.

The flipside of precision is exception or exclusion. Limiting modifiers in a definition may tend to stretch the list of exemptions. A few pages into the ponencia, the Court writes: “In a more technical sense, “Pork Barrel” refers to an appropriation of government spending meant for localized projects and secured solely or primarily to bring money to a representative’s district.” This pork looks more like OED’s pork as cited above. By definition, it “fails” the Court’s congressional pork barrel test – is it legal?

The Court defined PDAF into extinction. It was swift and easy and just. What is there to replace it? Trust our lawmakers to come out with innovations of their own. With the Court’s doctrinal definitions, the bounds of constitutionality are now clearer. They would know from this experience what to heed, and not among these is greed.

Galang is a fellow of Action for Economic Reforms.

Every pork you take

You belong to that crowd who went to Luneta for the MillionPeopleMarch: your face red with rage, you cried “Scrap the pork!” You went home sobered up by the experience, but wanted to do more and make pork-busting a sideline career – what do you do?

I don’t have a complete list of “Do’s”, but I have in mind a few hints that I thought might help.

You know it all started as a PDAFscam, with corruption as the issue; focus shifted to pork, then broadened to cover the so-called presidential, P-Noy pork. Pork barrel is a 25 -billion peso item in the budget under the label Priority Development Assistance Fund or PDAF. In theory, senators and congressmen may identify projects of their choice and charge its costs against the Fund following a prescribed set of rules and guidelines. If pork barrel is generic, PDAF is the brand.

The issue morphed from PDAF to pork because some people found the brand bad and saw it fit to condemn the whole generic lot. Anyway, President Benigno C. Aquino III has dropped the label and issued a new set of rules and guidelines. Protesters want more: they want the whole pork caboodle out, no less.

P-Noy pork is native, home-cured pork. In its original sense in the US, the “pork barrel is a popular metaphor for projects and favors for legislators’ districts.” When its sense broadens to include projects for senators, the label changes to “earmarks”. Back here we lump them under the single pork label, but still in reference to Congress.

Some experts thought: pork is virtually a discretionary fund; the Executive has sole discretions over some hefty lump sum funds; ergo, these funds must be pork, too. The simplistic logic tends to mislead.

The budget is a forecast, and forecasts do fail, giving way instead for the unpredictable to happen (calamities, crises, wars, human errors, etc.) You allow for them through lump sum items. Hence, lump sums per se are not bad, even if they are discretionary.

Instead of using simplistic logic, protesters need to specify which item is “pork” and why.

If you know your issues, you would know what you want to happen or see in place, and why. This is your stand on the issue and it depends on where you sit.

On pork, you have at least two choices: scrap or reform.

The “scrap” call means removing the 25 billion peso pork item and the P-Noy pork items from the budget and distributing the funds to other line items, preferably under certain national agency budgets. It stems, implicitly, from an awesome amount of mistrust – of senators and congressmen, of P-Noy. It reserves its trust for national agency officials who were appointed by those it happens to mistrust.

Whether by design or by happenstance, this call has the effect of putting PNoy in a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t situation, and driving a wedge between the Executive and the Congress.

Pork is the Executive’s unofficial leverage in the legislature. You use it to push for your agenda through a body whose members are otherwise focused on pursuing their individual agenda. You use pork to build coalitions that will steadily stand behind your policies. You take away all pork and you leave the Executive in a paralyzing standoff with Congress, or worse, as Senate President Franklin Drilon warned, “you place him at its mercy.”

Against the backdrop of an agitated mass demanding quick good performance, scrapping the pork amounts to an act of political self-roasting. So, if P-Noy is your political enemy, “Scrap all pork!” may make the most sense to you.

Here I find the political group Bayan as a good example. But the reverse is not true: you may be an ally to P-Noy and still shout “Scrap!” – which makes the least sense to me. In a game where reciprocity is the norm, this move amounts to a defection. I have in mind the Akbayan Partylist. “Scrap!” in fact is the most widely taken stand among the active non-organized crowd, stemming less from analysis than sheer anger alone.

Reform measures tend to find less adherents during times of ferment than radical calls. It must be why pork reform is the least popular stand. It means the pork item in the budget will stay (let alone P-Noy’s). But since it takes corruption as the core issue, it demands the putting into place of policy, participatory, procedural and like other reform measures.

There has been a burgeoning list of items for reform that are real, triggered precisely by the PDAF scam. Those in the know have started exploring alternatives to PDAF, with promising yields. Information exchange via social media helps in shaping and drawing out the wisdom of crowds.

What comes into clearer focus in the light of all this is crowd access to government information: a strong push for the approval of the Freedom of Information bill is in order. We hope to sing these lines with Sting someday:
Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every pork you take
We’ll be watching you

Galang is a governance and development specialist, and a fellow of Action for Economic Reforms (www.aer.ph).

Fences and Neighbors

Disheartened by the death toll from armed clashes in Sabah, I’ve sought enlightenment on one question that I thought was key to addressing the issue of world peace: why do people quarrel over a piece of geography? Prof. Google has led me to some good online sources.

It probably all started somewhere in time when an enterprising creature, or creation, staked out an area of space, chased off intruders, and called it “territory.” Where deadly competition rules and the only sure measure of success is survival, territory amounts to an ingenious strategy for unhampered access to resources and reproductive opportunity (sex). Owning one is more efficient than joining a mad scramble for food every time you want to eat; or for sex every time you feel the urge to breed.

And so it came to pass that territory grew into a passion. Birds do it, bees do it, electric eels do it, almost all do it, including slime molds.Building a territory comes in a manner that is not completely unfamiliar: it’s governed by a tacit rule better known by its French label,fait accompli—it’s yours if you can hold on to it. Defense comes with the territory.

In an impressive anticipation of Westphalia and Torrens Title, certain animals have advertised territorial ownership in unmistakable terms. Frogs, birds and crickets do it through vocal signaling; some mammals squirt or rub off scent as signposts at key spots within their home range. And all these even before the ancient Romans started worshipping a god of boundaries named Terminus.

In the cool economics of nature, it makes for a good balance sheet of energy to let your neighbor be and avoid hostility, a situation we call “my dear enemy.” But this is not where you’ll find the elusive clue to lasting peace. The situation assumes that neighbors are held in balance by matching strengths: weakness is an invitation to aggression.

Ask Jane Goodall. Her extended observations of chimpanzees in the wild have changed beliefs that the primate species are basically peaceful. A gang of chimps demonstrates lethal aggression when it outnumbers its foes, often attacking them with murderous savagery. Otherwise, the evenly matched groups confronting each other by chance would soon break up after a noisy display of aggression. Expansionary raids into other territories minimize risk by picking numerically weak groups, killing its members until none were left. Chimps share 99% of human DNA.

Territoriality is so pervasive in nature that early observers see it as an instinct, an “imperative” that applies as rigorously in the affairs of modern man as in the affairs of animals: “If we defend our title to our land or the sovereignty of our country, we do it for reasons no different, no less innate, no less ineradicable, than do lower animals.”

I’m not sure if it’s a human instinct, but I do know that humans are just as obsessed with territories as other animals are, but expressed in ways that bear the mark of the sapient species.

We invented a territory called “nation”, went to war for it, and did the nastiest crime under its banner. The world as we know it is shaped and reshaped by human drive for territories, pursued with savagery unimaginable even to the most aggressive of Goodall’s chimpanzees.

Take a quick look at how the modern USA came into being. You start after 1492 with the North American Indians giving up a portion of their original territory to European colonialists under pain of genocide; next, take account of Great Britain getting driven out of its 13 colonies in the face of the greater American Revolution; then watch how wars, treaties, money and forced eviction of the Indians allowed the US to expand its territory from the 13 original states; and then again listen to the American troops, doing a complete reversal of their anti-colonial roles, chanting, Underneath the starry flag, civilize ‘em with a Krag, as they grab territories overseas for colonies.

Combined with racism, Hitler’s belief that Nazi Germany needed a “living space” (new territories) for its survival helped plunge the world into war and gave history the Holocaust that we already know, and us a taste of the banality of evil.

Good fences make good neighbors, writes Robert Frost. My un-poetic mind, refusing to believe, insists he had it all mixed up—it must be the other way around.

Galang is a specialist in development and governance issues.