Year of the Pork

By: Reyshimar Arguelles

NAME a cocktail that’s so potent, so poisonous that the mere mention of it will make you want to throw up. One need not look farther than the deadly combination of politics and money. No other issue in the grand public sphere incites serious bickering by our lawmakers, except of course for national security and juvenile incarceration.

Then again we have to live by the fact that, in order for government to work like a well-oiled machine, we have to entrust the Senate and the House of Representatives with “the power of the purse.” In other words, the Constitution provides for them to call the shots when it comes to public funding as determined by the President.

Apparently, this is a feature that’s supposed to protect public coffers from being used for unscrupulous purposes and ensure that every centavo collected from tax revenues and other sources are spent as intended. The principle of “checks and balances” is very much present in the way government appropriates funds for healthcare, social welfare, defense, infrastructure, education, and all other aspects of public life.

A general appropriations bill, the basis of which originates from the Office of the President, has to undergo vetting by both houses before it is passed. Eventually, they will have to come to a consensus before the bill is ratified and the funds are utilized for purposes outlined in the bill. What bad could happen in a body that’s filled with honest people, with honest intentions, and have honest agendas lest their souls burn in hell?

The enactment of the 2019 budget would have been the scenario had ego-tripping not taken over the common sense of our honorable men and women working (or supposedly working) in these august chambers. The P3.757-trillion budget for this year was supposed to be ratified before both houses were suspended in time for the Holiday season. The delay was caused after members of the Senate found several “insertions” that reek of lump sum miasma.

In a standoff with his counterparts in the lower chamber, Senator Panfilo Lacson questioned several funding allocations that went under the radar, including the Department of Public Works and Highways. He cited several budget amendments that included allocations of about P160-million each to House lawmakers. No doubt, to Lacson, these allocations have the makings of a rebranded version of the pork barrel, that symbol of the decrepit greed that is eating at the core of public service and that has formed as one of the bases of the rage directed against the Aquino administration.

In their defense, several House lawmakers snapped back at Lacson by defending their insertions and singled out the Senate for its own version of lump sum funds in the guise of “institutional amendments.” Rep. Anthony Bravo of the Coop Nattco Partylist called Lacson a “hypocrite” while House Majority Leader Fredenil Castro urged Lacson to start calling a duck what it really is – a duck.

In response, Lacson said that the Senate’s amendments have nothing of the embellishments of pork, saying that these underwent through the proper implementing agencies and involved careful study, unlike pork-funded projects that have no significant economic and social impact whatsoever. Still, what’s worth explaining is the P23-billion insertion that some members of the Senate were able to slip into the bill.

As Congress deliberates on these amendments before a looming pre-election deadline this week, we need to point out the timing of this standoff which will undoubtedly impact the country’s economic performance this year, according to the President’s communications team. Whatever name you call them, whether they’re insertions or amendments or ducks, any movement of funds in light of the campaign season must warrant scrutiny.

What a way to start the Year of the Pork, este, Pig, right?