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Monday, July 22, 2013

Members of Philippine Congress shouldn’t have been given the pork barrel to begin with

If you will pardon me, but I have a very simplistic take on the issue of pork barrel and it revolves around this simple question:
Why are legislators involved in the disbursement of development and project funds?

After all, we elect legislators to craft laws. But then we also elect our local government officials to oversee the administration and governance as well as the development of our communities. You’d think then that any funds that supposedly are to be used on projects that aim to deliver on development goals of specific communities would be administered by local government officials.
I guess it goes back to the very terms that describe these circles of politicians. The earlier — our senators and House representatives — belong to the Legislative branch of government. As such, they should be focused on just crafting and debating proposed laws. The latter — our barangay, town/city, provincial, and national officials — all belong to the Executivebranch. As such, they presumably are the ones primarily responsible for deciding on the allocation of resources to whatever projects and operational activities where they are most needed.
In short, it does not make sense to have Legislators making decisions on how funds for executing projects and operational requirements should be allocated, much more disbursed.
In fact, this is exactly what is at the crux of the whole brouhaha surrounding that shady character Janet Lim Napoles. What qualified these so-called senators and congressmen to disburse public funds to these “non-government organizations” — which, in this case and if the allegations are correct, turned out to be a bunch of crooks? In the Executive branch, there are highly-mature procedures and checks-and-balances in place to control the disbursement of public funds. They may not always work right, but they are there. Compare that to the Legislative branch where congressmen enjoy full personal discretion in the allocation of their pork. Tsk tsk. Imagine putting all that money at risk in a branch of government that in principle has no business engaging in the management and disposal of development funds to begin with.
Allowing congress-people to allocate development funds is like allowing consultants and strategy analysts in a corporate setting to bypass operations executives and project managers in the disbursement of project and operational budgets.
It just does not make any sense.
It’s not a question of who your constituents are. It’s a question of what thescope of your responsibilities to your constituents is. As far as I am aware, legislators are responsible for making good laws that benefit their constituencies. Executives, on the other hand, are committed to their constituencies to deliver the goods within the framework of the law crafted by the legislature using funds they have been entrusted with. That’s not a very complicated delineation of responsibility for anyone to wrap their heads around, is it?
Apparently it is. According to Speaker Sonny Belmonte, “it would be impossible for legislators to provide the much needed basic services for their constituents without the pork barrel.” Hello?! Since when has delivery of “basic services” been a responsibility of a legislator?? I define “basic services” to be stuff like housing, health care, law enforcement, and maintenance of public works. Reality check for you Mister Speaker:Government agencies who manage those services all report to the Executive branch of government!
You just know that these “debates” are being had by the wrong people when no less than the Speaker of the House of Representatives of the Philippines himself can be rated a big fat FAIL when it comes to understanding such a no-brainer.
Two things come to my mind when I think of legislators’ redundant“contribution” to society in the delivery of “basic services”…
(1) EPAL. Because they are legislators, their job is cerebral and does not as a matter of routine bring them high visibility with their voters in between elections. That is why they need to be seen to be part of the whole circus around delivering “basic services”. Epal nga talaga. If they were sincere about their desire to be of “basic service” to their constituents, they should instead focus on doing their real jobs PROPERLY, which is to formulate laws that serve the public first.
(2) GREED. Well, this one does not really need much explanation. Unlike their luckier colleagues in the public service who are employed by the Executive branch, if it weren’t for Congressional pork, there really wouldn’t be large sums of money flowing through the ledgers of the average senator or congressman. Pork is their only shot at a piece of the Philippines’ corruption pie.
So before we talk about “greater transparency” and “more controls” to ensure that Congressional pork is not “misused”, perhaps we should first consider whether Congress should be allowed to continue enjoying pork to begin with. I think that is the more basic question to settle first.
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