The battle for the pork barrel

IT HAS BEEN SAID THAT a Filipino with the competence of a Ferdinand Marcos with the integrity and compassion of a Cory Aquino would make the best president we never had.

So it is, likewise, with Cabinet officials. They must be both competent and honest.

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In postwar democracy, it has been bruited about that realizing his own weaknesses, former President Joseph Estrada had the humility to assemble the best Cabinet he could muster to help him run the nation. (That they were vetoed by the other “Midnight Cabinet” in the Palace later- reeking with Johnny Walker Blue Label, is another matter). 

But consider the names of some of Estrada’s Cabinet members: Edgardo Angara, Katrina Constantino David, Gemma Cruz-Araneta, Brother Andrew Gonzales, Alfredo Lim;

Felipe Medalla, Orly Mercado, Horacio “Boy” Morales, Dong Puno, Rod Reyes, Mar Roxas, Mike Toledo, Dulce Saguisag, Domingo Siazon, Manuel Yan, Ronnie Zamora. 

One of them, too, who had both competence and integrity was Erap’s Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno- who now serves in the same capacity under President Rodrigo Duterte.

But with knives and swords drawn out of their scabbards-  why are some congressmen plotting to sever Diokno’s neck from his body by passing a House Resolution No 2305 asking the president to axe his Budget Man?

“No way”, the president and his spokesmen chorused. Led by Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, the entire Cabinet -also- almost to the man vouched for the suitability of Diokno for the job. Even as they threatened that none of them will ever appear in any Congressional hearing if they are badgered the way the DBM boss was maltreated in the congressional hearings on the budget.

The Palace also said Congress is violating the “separation and co-equality between the Executive and Legislative” by teaching the president who is to stay or leave in his Cabinet when the Palace does not meddle with their choices of officials, generally at least,  and not in public.

Also, many senators including the head of finance Loren Legarda saw no horns nor tail in the persona of Ben Diokno to merit his expulsion from his post.

Some Congressmen led by Majority Leader Rolando Andaya Jr., however, exposed that a (single proprietor) contractor named CT Leoncio has been bagging scores of multi-million public works contracts in Sorsogon where some of the in-laws of Diokno allegedly hold political positions. 

One argument against that innuendo is that Ben cannot choose his relatives, to say nothing  about mere in-laws- any more than he is guilty as DBM head as it is not his function to award government jobs to contractors.  That is the line agency and/or the local and national politicians’  usual choices.

Why then do they want Ben Diokno’s head on the plate from the Palace? To replace Diokno with one of their own who will play friendly ball with them? Or they cannot stand reformists like him who invented the “Cash Budget”, a Diokno Baby.

This type of budgeting will avoid having unspent budgets at the end of the year, make planning and identifying suppliers earlier and, in general, finish projects at a speed faster than the slow motion of the usual kind.

As most National Budget students of the GAA (General Appropriations Act) abundantly know-  although theoretically, it is Congress who has the “power of the purse”, the Budget process actually  starts with the Executive through its line agencies – whose individual budget proposals totals into what is called the President’s Proposed Budget for congressional approval.

Senator Ping Lacson- the budget transparency crusader- cites this is where the legislators- senators and congressmen alike – team up with their allies in the agencies to “insert” their favourite pet projects whose implementation they will have ” the say so” as to who the contractors and suppliers to use.

Such an arrangement clearly hints as to who gets the “commissions” and the “kickbacks” in the deal. An independent study by the World Bank has said as much as 20% of the national budget is frittered away into the dirty pockets of legislators and their conniving private sector suppliers and contractors. That’s a humongous amount, Watson. Ouch.

This nefarious, mischievous arrangement was precisely what pushed the Supreme Court to make the PDAF as “unconstitutional” in 2013. Now, the schemers have found new designs to circumvent what the Supreme Court wanted to achieve by banning the PDAF.

It seems the Pork Lard has become slimier from the time the SC ruled it “unhealthy” for the nation’s body in 2013.

Studious columnist Jarius Bondoc – who backs his statements with facts and numbers says in 2013 when there was an automatic pork allocation of P 200M per senator (24 senators) and P 70M per congressman ( 292 congressmen) – these totalled to a Pork Barrel loot of P 25.24 Billion.

Now, because of the accusations and counter-accusations between and among the legislators, it was unwittingly discovered that there exists – indeed-  in the proposed P 3.7 Trillion budget some P272-Billion in pork or TEN TIMES BIGGER than what the Supreme Court wanted to correct and abolish in 2013.

Lacson started the “Domino Effect” on the Pork Barrel Rollers when he exposed that the new speaker Gloria Arroyo -with a few months left in her reign as congressional representative of her Pampanga district had P 2.4-B and her Majority Floor Leader (and her past Budget Secretary) Rolando Andaya Jr. had P 1.9B in pork.

Andaya responded like a fish whose snout was caught by a bait.

He said theirs were small numbers (their pork, it would seem) as one congressman who fell from power in the Lower House had allegedly P 8-B and 100 other representatives had P 2.4-B each while the remaining had P 60-M in pork each.

What a lardy, porky admission, indeed.

Peeved by the senators’ accusations that the delay in the submission of the Budget for approval ( it has failed to pass this year and we will have a re-enacted budget  that will be implemented at least for Janaury 2019) to the Senate was because of the many insertions made by the House- Andaya angrily pointed his fingers to the senators that each of them (except Lacson) had worked to get P8-B each in pork barrel.

So, again, due to their fishwives’ version of trading flying “bakyas” in the marketplace- the whole world now knows this Congress has allocated a total of P272-B (add up all the above) in pork barrel funds for themselves going into an election year in 2019.

Isn’t this really a crying shame to ponder upon?

So, why are these honourable legislators now ganging up on the utterly professional DBM Manager like Ben? 

Is it because he appears like the Exorcist carrying the crucifix in the darkness peopled by too many Draculas in sheep’s clothing? Answer that, gentlemen and ladies.

For comments: email to dejarescobingo@yahoo.com or bohol-rd@mozcom.com



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