Louie C. Montemar, Fellow at the Stratbase ADR Institute and a Professor of Sociology and Political Science
“Pork barrel” today refers to selective government allocation and spending driven by electoral or political incentives. The term dates back to a time in the West when preserving meat was actually done in wooden barrels for future consumption. The term has since seeped into popular usage as a metaphor for the allocation of political largesse or favors.
According to a study done by De La Salle University political science professor Ronald Holmes, there are three types of pork with two variants each that can be seen in post-Marcos Philippines, namely: 1. Congressional pork (Slush Funds and Earmarks); 2. Presidential projects-based pork (Appropriated and Off-budget); and, 3. Quasi-pork (Impoundment/Augmentation and Blank Check). These are premised on the significant budgetary powers of the President that very actively promotes particular vested interests. These interests signify four “motivations”: 1. Passage of legislation; 2. Election incentive; 3. Political survival; and, 4. Personal enrichment.
Mr. Holmes’ study was designed and conducted prior to the start of the Duterte Administration, hence, it does not include the current regime among its cases. Given the many issues that have now been raised by politicians and observers outside government, we should look more closely at the 2020 National Budget, including the way it was passed from being the National Expenditure Program (NEP), to becoming the General Appropriations Bill adopted by the House of Representatives and the Philippine Senate, to being the General Appropriations Act (GAA) with the signature of the Philippine President.
The P4.1 trillion national budget is seen as being loaded with pork barrel inclusions, what with, among others, its accommodation of huge intelligence funds and increased Special Purpose Funds (SPF) allocation, while slashing other funds after it was passed at the House of Representatives. Intelligence funds are unaudited sums of money while SPF are appropriations provided to cover expenditures for specific purposes which the recipient departments/agencies have not yet identified during budget preparation.
To illustrate, under the Office of the President alone, the allocated confidential and intelligence expenses totals P4.5 billion. This does not even include what is tucked into the huge national defense chest.
Then there is this: there was P633.44 billion in SPF in 2019, while this year, the SPF is at P684.20 billion. This means a P50.73-billion hike for specific purposes that “have not yet been identified during budget preparation.” This amount is 62% of the total budget for all departments and their agencies. This practice simply eschews transparency, accountability, and the national interest. It is government waste and a prime manifestation of divesting taxpayers’ money. And we seem to have a parallel bureaucracy in our midst.
On Sept. 20, 2019, with President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to expedite things, Malacañang’s budget proposal flew through the House of Representatives with 457 votes to six in favor of passing House Bill 4228 or the general appropriations bill (GAB) for 2020. There were no abstentions.
There are also observations that the budget was not distributed well, particularly in areas that needed it the most. The Congressional Policy and Budget Research Department of the House of Representatives itself shows in one of its published papers that “the budget share of Mindanao has been declining from 15.3% in 2017 to 12.5% in 2019, before inching back to 13% in 2020 (as proposed). Similarly, the shares of Luzon and Visayas steadily decreased during the period 2017-2020. As proposed for 2020, Luzon captures 21.4% of the total NG (national government) budget while Visayas gets 9.3%.”
The National Capital Region (NCR) is getting much more, proportionally, compared to these broader areas. If one were to consider the names of Senators and Representatives who pushed and promoted certain items during the actual budget, one may not be so surprised to note that, among others, there are particular cities that are getting more allocations compared to other areas that are even more needy and thus require more national government support.
It is very possible that even though the budget for education, health, and infrastructure under President Duterte’s administration are prioritized, the real use of such funds will go to favored but not necessarily more needy areas, groups, and constituents. How such favored cities seem to be unduly favored in the national budget allocations despite the fact that there are more needy areas out there could be just the tip of the pork iceberg, as it were.
Such irrational use of our limited resources for particular politicians’ political survival, electoral viability, or personal enrichment, certainly has an impact on our economic state. Aside from mere perceptions of corruption, the continuing practice of pork could be a major factor in the slowing down of our economic growth in the last couple of years.
This article was originally published in BusinessWorld.