Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts
Vol. IV, No. 31 September 5-11, 2004 Quezon City, Philippines
current debate on the Malacañang proposal to cut down pork barrel
allocations has failed to take into account so far is the question on the
nature of these funds and how they have been used through the years.
ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
all started with a Malacañang proposal to reduce pork barrel allotments
for congressmen as a way for the government to cope with the fiscal
crisis. Some congressmen objected to the proposal, and thus began the
the debate has failed to take into account so far is the question on the
nature of pork barrel funds and how they have been used through the years.
barrel funds are commonly associated with congressmen and senators, but it
is not only lawmakers who avail of these.
pork barrel as “a derogatory
term used to describe government spending that is intended to enrich
constituents of a politician in return for their political support, either
in the form of campaign contributions or votes.”
spending, public works projects and agricultural subsidies are the most
commonly cited examples, but do not exhaust the possibilities,” Wikipedia
explains further. “Pork barreling is an important explanation for
According to the American writer William Safire, the term “pork barrel” is derived from a practice of pre-American Civil War days in which masters would give their slaves slated pork in barrels. Wrote a U.S. journalist in 1919: “Oftentimes, the eagerness of the slaves would result in a rush upon the pork barrel, in which each would strive to grab as much as possible for himself. Members of Congress, in their rush to get their local appropriation items…behaved so much like Negro slaves rushing to the pork barrel.”
Paul Johnson of the Auburn University Department of Political Science
defines pork-barrel legislation as: “Appropriations of public funds by
Congress (or other legislative assemblies) for projects that do not serve
the interests of any large portion of the country's citizenry but are
nevertheless vigorously promoted by a small group of legislators because
they will pump outside taxpayers' money and resources into the local
districts these legislators represent. Successful promotion of such
pork-barrel legislation (often through skillful logrolling) is very likely
to get the legislator re-elected by his constituents.”
pork barrel originated in the U.S., but it is not so clear when. But it
was already in use as early as 1817, when South Carolina Rep. John Calhoun
introduced a Bonus Bill. The bill sought to construct highways connecting
the eastern and southern parts of the U.S. to its western frontiers using
the earnings Bonus from the Second Bank of the United States.
to Calhoun, the Bonus Bill was in accordance with general welfare and post
roads clauses of the U.S. Constitution. Then President James Madison,
although approving of the Bonus Bill’s “economic development” goals,
vetoed it as unconstitutional.
the Philippines, pork barrel funds have been in use at least since the
1930s during the U.S. colonial occupation. Wrote Patricio Diaz in a column
for MindaNews: “The
spoil system originated from American politics. Just like today,
appointive positions then were the preserve of the party in power. These
positions, like today, were used to pay political debts.
pork barrel in Congress was part of this spoil system. In fact, in the
1930s, pork barrel was like the personal discretionary fund of the members
of the Legislature who belonged to the ruling party.”
pork barrel in the Philippines has assumed various names, most probably
because of the term’s less-than-savory connotations. During the
presidency of Fidel V. Ramos (1992-1998), it was known as the Countrywide
Development Fund (CDF). It is presently known as the Priority Development
Assistance Fund (PDAF).
presently get P200 million ($3.57 million) each in pork barrel
allocations, while House representatives receive P65 million ($1.16
whatever name and method, “Diaz further wrote, “the
pork barrel today has the same ultimate purpose as in the 1930s:
privileged politicking by the incumbent at the expense of the government.
And, let's be candid about it: in the past, assemblymen spent their pork
barrel the way they wanted to; essentially, it's the same today.”
legislators have mostly used the pork barrel for initiating “public
infrastructure” projects in their constituency areas.
that’s where lies the rub. The Philippine Center for Investigative
Journalism (PCIJ), in its 1998 book Pork and Other Perks, reported
that pork-funded projects “do not undergo the usual process of
evaluation to determine their feasibility.”
they are not subject to evaluation, such projects are prone to
overpricing. The PCIJ book cites a 1996 report by the Commission on Audit
(CoA) revealing that “In some cases, the extent of overpricing reached
more than 200 percent of the market prices and government-set costs.”
book quotes directly from the CoA report thus: “It is alleged that the
proponent legislator connived with the government officials concerned, and
the supplier and contractor to obtain the commissions, ‘standard
operating procedures,’ or kickbacks from the transaction.”
much of contemporary Philippine history, the pork barrel has served mostly
as a way for presidents to corrupt politicians to win their loyalty and
get them to support particular political agendas. In the allocation of the
pork barrel, corruption is directly tolerated by the higher-ups to secure
the support of politicians, especially those who are closer to the local
communities whence votes come.
the late 1940s, for instance, President Manuel Roxas dangled pork barrel
funds to congressmen as a way of winning their support for the Bell Trade
Act. The Bell Trade Act gave American corporations equal “rights” with
Filipino businessmen in exploiting the country’s economic resources,
even as the latter had the advantage of greater capital.
required a 2/3 vote to pass, and there were six representatives from the
Left-led Democratic Alliance (DA) who constituted a block on the bill.
Roxas also used pork barrel funds to entice other representatives to
support the dubious charges of “electoral terrorism” filed against the
bill managed to be enacted.
the martial law period (1972-1986), President Ferdinand Marcos gave
generous pork barrel allotments to assemblymen to win support for the
dictatorship. The current Malacañang occupant, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo,
has been reported at various times to have enticed legislators with the
pork barrel to support her administration’s legislative agenda and, in
the 2004 canvassing of presidential votes, to secure her a quick
Palace spokesperson Ignacio Bunye had denied allegations that Malacañang had hastened the release of the second tranche of pork barrels for 2004 to buy Macapagal-Arroyo an earlier proclamation. Budget Secretary Emilia Boncodin was cited in a newspaper report as saying that pork barrel releases were indeed made shortly before the canvassing, although she denied that this was done to get lawmakers to railroad the counting of votes. Bulatlat