Many call the Luneta event against the pork barrel this Aug. 26 an ambitious “Million People March.”
But even if one million is far from reached, a substantial number of citizens congregating on this issue should be a loud and clear signal that they are taking to heart President Nonoy Aquino’s statement: “Ikaw ang Boss Ko.” Many of PNoy’s bosses want the pork barrel scrapped. But is this the right thing to do?
I quote here an exchange of e-mails that may guide the reader’s own answer to this. They come from people steeped in business, but their arguments are very relevant for small farmers and fisherfolk.
The first e-mail is from a source who would rather not be identified: “Are you sure you want to scrap pork? Is it really useless? Maybe it is good, except that it is being shockingly misused. The solution then is not to scrap it, but to promote its good use and hold accountable those that misuse it.”
There are two e-mail responses quoted here. One is from Gregorio Magdaraog: “This pork problem has been raised many times before. Time and again, those who craft the General Appropriations Act have found a way of justifying it by giving it different names and “purposes,” and never really coming up with the so-called safety nets against corruption. From the very beginning, it has been a source of self-serving largesse and/or a tool for furthering feudal power. The monies that politicians are able to generate from the exercise of this pork barrel is scandalously known to be a source of recovering excessive expenditures in electoral campaigns. ”
Magdaraog makes an important point relevant to local governance, which is what the small farmers and fisherfolk feel the most: “In addition, this kind of power/privilege given to legislators have actually turned them into quasi-local executives, providing a hiding place to circumvent the principles of power sharing or otherwise perpetuate political dynasties.”
In his e-mail response, Roberto Atendido likewise opposes the pork barrel, and cites its misuse: “Take the example of that famous bridge in Bohol that has become a tourist attraction. They built it in the wrong place. No motorist is able to cross over it today because one end of the bridge runs right smack into a church. To make the bridge operational, one has to relocate the church, which of course will not happen. What does this congressman know about building a bridge, except that he just wants his pork? This is not just idiocy, but a criminal act against tax-paying people. ”
Like Magdaraog, Atendido adds a good governance dimension: “When resources are scarce, the better way of handling infrastructure projects is on a national scale so that investments and resources are channeled to where it is needed. You don’t need the senators’ and congressmen’s pork barrel. The executive branch can better manage this. Local projects such as basketball courts, health centers, etc., are better handled by LGUs.”
What is the view of the farmers and fisherfolk? Two weeks ago, this was asked of the Alyansa Agrikultura, a coalition of 42 federations and organizations representing all the major agriculture and fisheries sectors. The question was whether the pork barrel should be reformed or abolished completely. In some situations, the pork barrel did help farmers and fisherfolk. But this was more the exception than the rule. And since the pork barrel scam amounted to P10 billion where the farmers and fisherfolk were the alleged beneficiaries who never got anything, the Alyansa took the strong and unequivocal position that the pork barrel should be scrapped.
Last Aug. 12, the Budget Committee of the public-private sector National Agriculture Fisheries Council (NAFC) met to discuss the proposed 2014 Department of Agriculture budget. Since one of NAFC’s key functions is to monitor the use of government funds for the agriculture sector, the Alyansa recommended that the NAFC’s private sector representative be kept informed of the ongoing investigation of the pork barrel scam, an investigation it proposed in an earlier meeting. A DA official said this was just politics, and there was no need for NAFC to look into this.
The Alyansa representative said that it was part of NAFC’s responsibility that justice be done: the innocent should not be unfairly judged without evidence, and the guilty should be identified and punished.
That day, it became evident to Alyansa that putting effective checks and balances to ensure responsible pork barrel use would be like “Mission Impossible.”
If the reader thinks the same way, joining the Million People March on Aug. 26 is strongly recommended.
(The author is chair of Agriwatch, former secretary for Presidential Flagship Programs and Projects, and former undersecretary for agriculture, trade and industry. For inquiries and suggestions, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or telefax (02)8522112.)