Why Filipino lawmakers need their pork fix

The Philippines’ senators and congressmen simply refuse to let go of their pork barrel allocations to the point that they are beyond addicted. Like vampires, they look at pork barrel as their lifeblood, without which they cannot survive.

Even after the PDAF (priority development assistance fund) scandal of a few years back when it was revealed that hundreds of millions of pesos had gone to the pockets of lawmakers instead of to public works and other projects as intended, they adamantly insist that they must have their funds.

Last week, in what must be one of the most mind-boggling court decisions ever, the Sandiganbayan ruled that Senator Bong Revilla was innocent of the crime of plunder, even as it acknowledged that he had, in fact, received millions in PDAF kickbacks.

Revilla was ordered to return more than P100 million of the kickbacks he received, or roughly half of the total.

Since he had gotten away with a crime worse than murder, the senator from Cavite said that he had no intention of returning any money to the government. And to prove that he is totally bereft of shame, Revilla is again running for a senate seat in next year’s elections.

The two other senators who were found to have pocketed similarly humongous amounts – Jinggoy Estrada and Juan Ponce Enrile – are also seeking a return to the upper chamber of Congress. Perhaps they want to see if they can again get away with highway robbery.

After the widespread anger that resulted from the PDAF scandal, Congress was forced to scrap the program. No longer would the lawmakers have access to tons of money, whether for worthy or for non-existent projects. After all, the senators and congressmen were elected to create laws, not to perform quasi-executive work of funding public works projects or even allotting funds for scholarships and healthcare for the poor. For the latter, it would be the job of the Education and Health departments, both of which received two of the largest budget allotments every year.

Regretfully, pork barrel has again been revived. And who but the uber-corrupt Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo can dare do the unthinkable? Not only did the former president return pork barrel to the budget, she naturally gave herself the largest allocation.

To be fair to everyone, pork barrel allocations are not new. They have been around in various forms for decades. As far back as the post-World War II years, media had been writing about and slamming the practice of lawmakers to allot funds for themselves, all with the concurrence of the executive department, of course.

Back in the day, media referred to the lawmakers as “buwaya,” which is the Filipino word for either crocodile or alligator. I never could understand the difference between the two. I believe that alligators are a sub-species of crocodile. Did you know that the largest crocodile ever caught was from the Philippines? The bones of the monster croc known as Lolong can be found in a crocodile museum.

Did I just digress? Not really. See, crocodiles have been around since the age of dinosaurs, and they probably will be here long after man has ceased to exist.

Filipino crocodiles AKA senators and congressmen justify their need for pork barrel because their constituents demand that they provide all sorts of projects from them. They want roads, barangay halls, basketball courts, and health centers to be built for their communities.

In the Paranaque village where I used to live, a senator whom I have the highest respect for actually donated a covered basketball court with his pork barrel allocation. The court is used by rich and poor alike, and is also used for all kinds of barangay events.

That case, however, seems to be one of the few exceptions to the rule.

In general, candidates need their pork barrel kickbacks because of the obscene amounts of money they spend in getting elected. It doesn’t make sense for anyone to spend P50 million (about $1 million) getting elected congressman, only to receive less than 10 percent of that sum as his or her salary for the entirety of his/her term.

Common sense dictates that they must recoup their investment somehow, and there is no better way than to get it from their pork barrel allocations.

Indeed, the country’s political and electoral system is totally screwed. Unless there is a massive change in both, lawmakers will by hook or by crook find ways to grant themselves their fix. Call them vampires or call them buwaya, they will always have a need for pork.