Pork Barrel and Systemic Corruption
(Second of Two Parts)
IBON Features/ Commentary | 25 October 2013 | These funds need to be
removed from the discretion of the chief executive – whose powers over
budgets must also be reduced – and subjected to greater public oversight.
by Sonny Africa
(Second of Two Parts)
Pork barrel abuses
The PDAF accounts for just 2.2% of presidential pork barrel. At any rate,
the history of PDAF provides a useful case study of how political elites
abuse the national budget for self-interested purposes. Philippine
legislators were able to identify projects as early as 1922, during
American colonial rule, through a Public Works Act. This continued in the
1950s with lawmakers identifying 'community projects', 'miscellaneous
community projects' and 'nationwide selected projects'.
The more direct precursors of the PDAF are the Corazon Aquino-era Php480
million Mindanao Development Fund (MDF) and Php240 million Visayas
Development Fund (VDF) of 1989 which, upon the addition of Luzon, became
the Php2.3 billion Countryside Development Fund (CDF) in 1990. CDF
allotments to legislators were considered base figures and could be
supplemented by so-called Congressional insertions; in the case of close
allies of the president these could reach many times CDF allotments.
There were estimates in the mid-1990s that 60-90% of the value of CDF
projects were going to the pockets of legislators and their accomplices.
This implies only 10-40% implementation of projects. The CDF continued to
grow, changed its name to PDAF in 2000, and stood at Php25.2 billion in
the proposed 2014 budget. In the case of the Napoles scam, allegations are
that 100% of the PDAF is lost to kickbacks divided 50% to legislators,
10-15% to implementing agencies and local government units, and 35-40% to
Napoles herself. This implies zero implementation of projects.
There are already examples of abuses of most major categories of
presidential pork barrel. In the case of PDAF/SPF there is the Napoles NGO
scam involving Php10 billion over 10 years with Php581 million in
kickbacks allegedly going to five senators. A COA audit report on PDAF/VILP
meanwhile found Php6.2 billion worth of "not proper and highly irregular"
NGO projects in the 2007-2009 period by 12 senators and dozens of
representatives. The audit distinguished Congressional pork between PDAF
'soft' projects (i.e. livelihood, education, health, financial assistance
and small infrastructure) and Various Infrastructure including Local
Projects (VILP) 'hard' public works. The COA report has been criticized
for its selectivity though in covering only 35% of some Php116.1 billion
in total releases over the period covered, for focusing on opposition
senators, and for not covering releases from 2010 during the current
The Php12.8 billion channelled to legislators under the Disbursement
Acceleration Program (DAP) by Pres. Benigno Aquino III, allegedly to be
able to get a conviction for former Chief Justice Renato Corona during his
impeachment trial in May 2012, is an example of the misuse of 'savings'.
It has been reported that 20 senators received Php40-100 million and
representatives from Php10-15 million on top of their PDAF allocations.
Total DAP releases have so far reached Php137.3 billion – with the DAP
fund reportedly coming mainly from unreleased appropriations and partly
from the unprogrammed funds. The constitutionality of the DAP is already
The Malampaya Fund scam is an example of the abuse of off-budget items.
Former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and three cabinet secretaries,
among others, are alleged to have received Php337 million in kickbacks
from transactions worth some Php900 million. Pres. Benigno Aquino III has
reportedly used Php18.5 billion of the fund since taking office. The COA
previously reported a Php1.5 billion discrepancy in the MVUC where Land
Transportation Office (LTO) collections worth Php71.9 billion over the
period 2001-2010 were not fully reflected in Bureau of the Treasury (BTr)
certifications of deposit which only amount to Php70.4 billion.
There is also an economic concern regarding pork barrel funds. The
arbitrary, discretionary and patronage-determined use of public funds is
an irrational and wasteful use of scarce government resources. Public
funds should be consistently spent according to a larger socioeconomic
plan that identifies development priorities and allocates finite resources
between competing uses for maximum social and economic impact. The demands
of real agrarian reform, pursuing agricultural development, building
Filipino industry and providing vital social services to the people are
vast enough as it is.
Yet it is irrational for public funds to be spent according to the whims
of individual politicians whether the president, senators, representatives
or other officials. Such decentralized decisions will tend to be
parochial, misguided, based on incomplete information and even
self-serving. It will be wasteful in the worst instances that funds are
partially or wholly diverted to the pockets of corrupt politicians,
government officials, middlemen and non-government racketeers.
There are three main aspects to the issue of pork barrel and, in
particular, presidential pork barrel. The first is corruption which has
underpinned the spontaneous outburst of rage on the part of millions of
Filipinos. Plunder and malversation cases related to abuses of the PDAF
and Malampaya Fund have already been filed against high-ranking government
officials. Yet while the most sensational this is by no means the entirety
of the issue.
There is, second, the patronage aspect and the conscious decision by every
president to preserve and use the elaborate pork barrel system to remain
in power and exert political influence. The Aquino administration's
alleged use of DAP in the partisan political campaign against a sitting
chief justice could be a recent example of such a practice. Apart from the
DAP the Aquino administration has also dispensed Php60.4 billion in PDAF
to 21 senators and 285 representatives between July 2010 and July 2013.
Any patronage-driven or politically-motivated use of public resources at
the level of the presidency propagates an undemocratic and feudal
political culture which is reproduced all the way down to the lowest
barangay level of governance.
The Aquino administration's recent declaration that the PDAF will be
abolished is disingenuous – the presidential pork barrel apportioned to
legislators remains but now with legislators even more dependent on the
discretion of the president. Pres. Aquino meanwhile keeps direct control
of hundreds of billions of pesos that can be dispensed to allies, or
withheld from opposition, or otherwise used to purchase political support.
There is no reason to expect an end to the spectacle every six years of
legislators changing to the newly elected president's political party.
Patronage also wrongly makes public and social services something that
political patrons dispense for loyalty and support rather than services
that every Filipino is entitled to as a matter of right. Every beneficiary
of medical assistance or scholarships from pork barrel funds for instance
deserves and should be benefiting from public health care and education
without having to depend on the discretion of any politician or government
Third is how the pork barrel system is used to ensure that the government
serves the interest of big domestic and foreign elites. Various
administrations have used the persuasive and punitive powers of the pork
barrel to produce the current array of anti-people economic and political
policies that keep the majority of Filipinos economically destitute and
politically marginalized. This happened at least as early as 1946 when
then president Manuel Roxas reportedly used pork barrel to get legislators
to ratify the Bell Trade Act which ensured US domination of the
post-independence Philippine economy. Similar benefits until today ensure
that big business is a reliable provider of funds for the electoral war
chests of candidates including those, such as the president, who overtly
wield pork barrel as a tool of governance.
Seen in this way the pork barrel emerges as just one aspect of the much
more expansive and multifaceted problem of bureaucrat capitalism where the
enormous resources and power of the State are used for private profit and
personal gain by those within or outside government. This is a gross
distortion of public service and a deep form of corruption.
The different areas of public power are abused in many ways. The pork
barrel controversies of officials getting kickbacks from public projects
are examples of misusing the government's fiscal powers. Other examples
include officials paying themselves hundreds of millions of pesos in
excessive salaries, bonuses and benefits such as in the case of the
Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) board members, Social
Security System (SSS) board members, PhilHealth and PCSO. There are also
the notorious payoffs for tax evasion and smuggling.
The government's regulatory authority is likewise misused with payoffs for
franchises, contracts and bypassing regulations, as well as kickbacks from
asset sales and bribes around big privatization deals. Legislative powers
are abused whenever big business pays off lawmakers to get favourable
laws, investor incentives or trade deals. Judicial powers are misused
whenever favourable court decisions are bought. Military and police forces
are directly involved in criminal activities as well as used by the
government to suppress dissent or assertions of social and economic rights
that threaten landlord earnings or capitalist profits.
Remedies, reforms and struggles
The president's patronage and pork barrel scheme is one of the most
obvious manifestations of a government serving mainly the interests of the
country's political and economic elite rather than the majority of the
people. It is deeply undemocratic and anti-development.
The abuses of the pork barrel system are slowly being exposed which
naturally leads to demands for greater transparency and accountability.
Real transparency and then accountability in the misuse of pork barrel
however cannot be selective and must cover both opposition and
administration officials. These must also go beyond the concern about
plunder and malversation to also include the use of public funds for
patronage, partisan political purposes, and pro-elite governance.
There are urgent and immediate reforms. The pork barrel in all its forms
within and off-budget needs to be abolished and controls instituted. These
funds need to be removed from the discretion of the chief executive –
whose powers over budgets must also be reduced – and subjected to greater
public oversight. It is difficult to expect this either from the
presidency, which is the main beneficiary of the pork barrel system, or
from Congress which is in many respects controlled by the president aside
from also benefiting from the system. These make the process of lawmaking
through a people's initiative, though complicated, a potentially
Steps can also be taken to improve transparency and accountability such as
passage of a meaningful Freedom of Information (FOI) law and reforming the
COA to better fulfil its mandate of operating autonomously in the public
The arbitrary, discretionary and patronage-driven use of hundreds of
billions of pesos in public funds is an irrational and wasteful use of
scarce government resources. These should be rechanneled to social
services and regular agency budgets according to a socioeconomic plan that
prioritizes people's needs and welfare above all. Progressive party-list
groups have already identified where these funds can be spent for
additional health (Php96.5 billion), basic education (Php63.3 billion),
higher education (Php33.4 billion) and housing (Php10.0 billion) services
as well as government salaries, subsidies for farmers, and other welfare
The outcry against the pork barrel has renewed public interest in social
issues and stimulated even greater activism. These are real foundations
for meaningful change however the pork barrel issue plays out. ###