Living Without Pork
March 11, 2003
March 11, 2003
March 11, 2003 - Mr. President, I rise today on a question of personal and collective privilege.
Last week, we passed the Senate version of the General Appropriations Bill of 2003. No less than the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and principal sponsor of the bill aptly described the 2003 budget as “bare-bones”, thus appealing to his colleagues to contribute their share to arrest the projected budget deficit which our economic managers expect to hit the PhP300B mark by year-end.
I now answer the call.
I call for the scrapping of a very corrupt and corrupting system in our political institutions. All I ask are a few minutes of your precious time – and of your mind.
We now must move to abolish the pork barrel system. We must see its end during our watch without need to mourn its loss. It is a virus of corruption that must die. And, there is no better hall on this space on earth to make it happen than the Senate – expectedly, a place of men and women with mature age, with honor, with dignity, with integrity. Further, there is no better time to declare its end than now – when the country’s budget deficit is at an alarmingly uncontrollable pace. For the past year, it was PhP213B. Of course, we do not believe the numbers.
One thing, I may say is apodictic. It is still counting. There is nothing in the pork barrel system that gives us pride. There is only everything that makes us hide in shame.
It should not matter anymore under what name the system sounds. Be it the Countrywide Development Fund, or the Congressional Initiative Allocation, or the Priority Development Assistance Fund. It is, and will remain to be a fund of compulsive corruption.
The name itself traces its origin to the pre-civil war days in the United States when, in periodic fits of generosity, white masters would give their black slaves salted pork in barrels. More often than not, the eagerness of the slaves would result in ugly shoving and rushing to grab more pork than the others. The more pork one could grab for himself, the more triumphant he would appear than the others who were meek and reluctant.
We may not realize it, but the Filipino people would sometimes see us behave like slaves rushing to the pork barrel. A critic has a worse description – that of swines rushing to get more slabs than they can consume.
Mr. President, our countrymen expect to see every peso of their taxes wisely spent on every project. They become profoundly disillusioned everytime they are robbed of it.
Let me say now what they hate to hear. But they must hear what we have been afraid to say.
Under the pork barrel system, only less than half of the taxpayers’ money actually goes to the programs of work. More than half habitually goes to the pockets of corruption. Occasionally, depending on the insatiability of the corrupt, a shameful twenty percent of the fund is left to finance the project. Holy mackerel.
We can pretend all day not to know. But the Filipino people have never been stupid not to see through such pretense.
Let me give the breakdown. It is nasty.
• 2% goes to the Commission on Audit as S.O.P.
• 10% is given to the district engineer and other officials of the Department of Public Works and Highways.
• 2% is passed on to the Barangay Chairman.
• 14% goes to the contractor – 10% in profit and 4% as value-added tax, thank God!
• 5-10%, if the Mayor or Governor so demands.
• And – hold your breath – 20% of project cost is earmarked for the legislator who identifies the project.
Shares sometimes vary depending on greed.
Even the billboards that advertise the proponents of infrastructure projects are overpriced.
Legislators who allocate funds for the purchase of medicines and other pharmaceutical products, as well as school supplies get bigger takes. By how much, Mr. President? Some suppliers say, it is, “from here to eternity.”
In a book published in 1998 by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, entitled, “Pork and Other Perks,” the author wrote about vivid accounts of actual pay-offs involving legislators. Thus, a pay-off usually takes place inside the office of legislators. The more sophisticated ones prefer hotel rooms and restaurants. Sulo Hotel in Quezon City is said to be a favorite.
“Pork barrel” every year runs to billions of pesos. I hate to say it. The people hate to hear it. But they lose billions of pesos anyway. They lose these billions to the many deep pockets of corruption.
Mr. President, my esteemed colleagues, there is no saying here that every senator or congressman is corrupt. It is only to say that we have all become suspect. The public has every basis and right to suspect. And we seem not to mind anymore.
Mr. President, those with clear conscience among us do not need to rage. They only need to help those without it.
In this regard, may I take this opportunity to thank the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and some of our colleagues who have expressed support to this advocacy.
One colleague, Senator Joker Arroyo, has done something truly admirable: he had not allocated a single centavo from his “pork barrel” allocation for the past year. However, I cannot help but wonder how his PhP200M pork was realigned since it was part and parcel of the 2002 GAA. That is the reason why I want my allocation this year deducted from the proposed 2003 GAA. I have an unsolicited advice to the distinguished gentleman from Makati and the Bicol region – why not slash the 2003 national budget by PhP211M more?
To all of us in this august chamber, maybe we can help alleviate the burgeoning budget deficit by waiving our 2003 pork barrel fund allocations. We can actually do our share, no matter how small, in balancing the budget by doing just that. With twenty-three senators, at PhP211M each, four billion, eight hundred fifty-three million (PhP4.853B) will automatically be deducted from the 2003 national budget.
The Speaker of the House, Jose de Venecia, can equally display his statesmanship by doing the same in the lower house. With more than 200 congressmen, at PhP65M each, that would be another PhP13B at least. Let us be the first to sacrifice for the sake of tiding us over a financial nightmare. I, therefore, call on the Senate and the House of Representatives to voluntarily give up the pork.
Mr. President, it is a simple choice between self-respect and self-aggrandizement.
That is exactly my point. Those among us whose hands remain untainted and unsoiled by the fruits of corruption from the evil “pork” must now be insulated from the temptation it may bring upon us. How? Let’s try scrapping the “pork.” There is life without it!
We all know who we are and what we are on this issue. That is one thing we are all sure about. Mine are not speculations – I definitely have my own sources. The figures I brought out earlier are never a figment of my imagination.
If the “pork barrel” stinks, how much longer must we suffer the stench? I believe it is time to abolish it altogether.
Mr. President, we were elected by the Filipino people to make good laws for the common good and never to make gold under the “pork barrel” system. We are here to make laws, not to build roads and bridges.
We were voted into office to provide check and balance under the principle of powers; and not to accept fat checks to enhance our bank account balance.
Former French President and Prime Minister, the late Jean-Raymond Pompidou, was correct. There is a whale of difference between a politician and a statesman. He said, “while a statesman places himself at the service of the nation, a politician places the nation at his own personal service.”
With the “pork barrel” system, we are all perceived as dirty, corrupt and greedy politicians. Without it, we can all become better statesmen and public servants.
Whenever our committees investigate anomalies in government, does it not occur to us how equally guilty they think the legislators could be?
Mr. President, pardon my asking.
There are all kinds of arguments to defend the “pork.” Its advocates invent new methods and formulas to make every legislator happy. Ironically, in the mind of every Filipino, they are all mad and madly corrupted by it.
I know that the pork barrel system has never been legally flawed. In fact, the Supreme Court has ruled on its constitutionality.
But the Supreme Court never ruled that scrapping the “pork barrel” system would be unconstitutional either.
I can only hope the Senate leadership will take a serious look at this proposal and not simply toss it to the dust heap of the Philippine Senate history.
I am sure to lose some friends and create more enemies in this 12th Congress. I am sure skeptics will taunt me and the cynics will mock me without end.
I remember BAYAN MUNA Party-list Representative Crispin Beltran, he who declared the lowest asset in the lower house at eighty-one thousand pesos, said in a media interview immediately after my position on the “pork barrel” issue first came out, and I quote, “mabuti pa si Lacson ay may ibang pinagkakakitaan na illegal. Paano naman kami na sa “pork barrel” lamang umaasa?” Realizing that what he said was an instant give-away, he paused and started to stutter. Another congressman commented that this representation would not need to make money from the “pork barrel” because supposedly, “I have a lot in some foreign banks.”
Mr. President, if this is my misfortune, so be it. It is not the one I cannot possibly learn to live with.
Mr. President, I derive no pleasure in telling what I have told. I am sure many colleagues derive no pleasure in hearing what they just heard. But the people surely hate what they already know about.
It is time to bring the “pork barrel” system down. Or, we all go down under.
We can surely live without “pork.” Certainly, there is life without it.
Thank you very much!