📰 Pork barrel now 14 times larger than when outlawed [Philippine Star]

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From Jarius Bondoc’s column in The Philippine Star: Worth recalling, when the SC banned pork barrels in Dec. 2013, the slabs were P200 million each for 24 senators and P70 million each for 255 congressmen – P22.65 billion. Today, five years later, pork is 14 times larger.

Pork barrel now 14 times larger than when outlawed

GOTCHA – Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star)
February 4, 2019 – 12:00am

As Filipinos were securing their locales from terrorists the past week, lawmakers were busy securing personal pork barrels. Pork plunder is as heinous a crime as mass murder. Both fetch life sentences. Yet terror bombers and lawmakers fear not the consequences. All believe in impunity to do wrong – and even go to heaven for it. Pork barrel partakers have a clear edge over terrorists, though. None of the former goes to jail.

In recent days individual lawmakers’ pork barrels were found to be larger than earlier reported embedded in the 2019 national budget. Lone anti-pork senator Panfilo Lacson at first discovered P2.4 billion for Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo alone, plus P1.9 billion for then-House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya. In defense, the latter spread the guilt around that 99 other congressmen had pork slabs bigger than Arroyo’s. Two of those favored congressmen even got P8 billion and P5 billion, Andaya said, while the 195 others P60 million each. Even the senators had about P8 billion.

That’s around P270 billion, exposed or admitted at the start of Senate hearings on the national budget.

As that unfolded the House of Reps summoned Budget Sec. Benjamin Diokno for questioning. The House leaders knew he had allotted P52 billion in the 2019 budget for public works of the faction they had just deposed. Part of that, in fact, was the P60-million pork reward each to the 195 congressmen who went along with the leadership coup d’état. Those clearly were “lump sums,” one of the Supreme Court’s definitions of pork in outlawing it in 2013. But that’s of no worry to the lard-greedy. What they demanded to know was why Diokno had “parked” most of that P52 billion in Bicol region. Was it for his in-laws there, a vice governor and a mayor, allegedly to commission as usual from bogus flood control projects? So were divulged new ruses for pork barrels. Billions of pesos were being thrown into dikes, ripraps, and canals whose dimensions were easy to fake and costs to pad. And while the projects mostly were in Bicol, the parked funds were in the names of congressmen as far north as Luzon, west as Visayas, and south as Mindanao.

Diokno disavowed knowledge of the in-laws’ businesses, and justified the flood controls in this onset of climate change. He did admit, though, that the outlay not only was P52 billion but P71 billion. In chorus congressmen and senators denounced that P19-billion extra. They moved it to health services, but kept quiet about their individual pork barrels.

Came the time last week to reconcile the Senate and House versions of the 2019 budget. Lacson proposed open conferences by the bicameral committee. For, in that committee is where funds are juggled or inserted post-legislation – another of the SC’s definitions of forbidden pork. Congressmen and senators made a show of inviting the press in the earlier hours, but closed the doors by nightfall. The House panel publicized that they’d scrutinize the senators’ own lump sum and post-legislation insertions. That was the signal for horse-trading to begin.

Beforehand Lacson smartly had detailed to the Senate President amounts that certain agencies requested as additional funds. Totaling P30,497,826,800, only P3,965,935,000 was for drug enforcement reviewed by his sub-committee; P26,531,891,800 were for others, stated in open plenary deliberations. He posted them on his official pinglacson.net website while challenging other conferees to be as transparent.

Sadly they were not. That provided congressmen with ammo to accuse senators of inserting P190 billion in all.

In truth, as Lacson discovered at the bicameral conference, his Senate colleagues did have their own lump sums totaling P23 billion in all. And the congressmen’s counterpart minimum pork was not only P60 million but P160 million each. This consisted of P70 million each in “hard projects” (roads, flood controls, buildings) and P30 million in “soft” (medicines, books, scholarships), plus the P60 million each redistributed by Arroyo and Andaya upon their accession, Lacson said.

Added to the initially discovered and admitted pork of P270 billion, the lard is now worth at least P305 billion.

Congressmen and senators cannot explain themselves. To avert any more public discussion of their lard, they chatter about delayed government projects and salary increases due to prolonged budgeting. Worth recalling, when the SC banned pork barrels in Dec. 2013, the slabs were P200 million each for 24 senators and P70 million each for 255 congressmen – P22.65 billion.

Today, five years later, pork is 14 times larger.

All experts know that good governance is the only solution to terrorism. Equality, justice, education, sustenance, contentment lessens the chances of fringe obsessions and violent extremism. With porky lawmakers, there won’t be any of those: terrorism will reign.

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