10 Ways Forward to Totally Dismantle Pork

The 26 August people's march in Luneta shows there is an undeniably strong clamor from the people for the pork barrel system to be abolished. People understand how the pork cripples accountability in the political system and corrupts people's money. People are indignant. 

Assuming people who marched in Luneta will continue to act strongly to pursue what they loudly call for during the 26 August march, what next actions and steps can be taken? What should be the post-26 August march scenarios that will totally dismantle the pork system?

1. Getting rid of the pork or the reformed pork in the 2013 and the 2014 budget is already hard. Therefore, our best option is to monitor the reformed pork system to ensure that the pork of Congresspersons in the reformed system is spent with minimal graft and corruption and that the anomalies and malpractices that transpire in the institutional flaw where your legislators are still allocated with their own funds for their locality (only this time lodged in selected agencies) will be checked and neutralized as much as possible. 

2. In the meatime, we can use the time now and 2014 to prepare for a no-pork 2015 budget through the following:

  • Engage the 2015 budget preparation and authorization process to ensure no pork will be in the budget proposal of the executive and that the approved budget of the legislature will be pork free.
  • Help improve the mechanisms for government targetting and prioritization of needs since this will require massive data collection to inform rationally and objectively where are the needs of the Filipino people and what should be prioritized.
  • But needs and priorities cannot be totally based on numbers and figures because numbers and figures and the manner by which they are collected are never perfect. This is where consultative mechanisms from the ground-up involving as many stakeholders will be most critical. 

There are already existing mechanisms for this and the government has introduced what they call bottom-up budgeting. It is critical to engage these processes and ensure that those participating from all sectors determine their needs vis-a-vis what data and figures say as the needs of the entire country and what development plans and strategies also prescribe as priorities. This is important to ensure that the budget plans from the ground will be coherent, as rational as possible (based on data and figures) and with focus and direction.

3. In passing a no-pork 2015 budget and other measures to ensure the total abolition of the pork allocation (to be discussed in number 10), Congress will have to be convinced to give up their pork. Congress is the next battlefield because it approves the budget. It is the ultimate battlefield because it is the institution primarily affected by the pork barrel system. 

4. People must put pressure on their congresspersons. Organizations that participated in the August 26 march can take this opportunity to reach out to the rest of the country, share knowledge about how the pork barrel system results to corruption, which therefore affects us all and organize district-level pork abolition campaigns, starting with the pressure on congresspersons to pass the no-pork budget. 

This might just be the time for citizens to engage their Congressperson on a policy issue affecting the country, a relationship that we hardly see now because Congresspersons are looked upon by people primarily as just another provider of services and projects.

5. Meanwhile, pressures on top should remain. People can also organize campaigns to pressure Congress, both the House of Representatives and especially the Senate. Monitoring of the 2014 budget deliberation can be done by civil society organizations and media to see who among the senators and representatives will argue for pork and find avenues to address their arguments. 

6. All these actions by the people should serve as a reminder to the President that people are expecting him to keep his anti-pork position and that he will be consistent with it as he defends the no-pork budget and in his final approval of the budget. 

7. The President can also put pressure on Congress and people can pressure the President to pressure Congress. But remember in the past, this is why pork for congresspersons is wielded, with your President using it as a carrot to woo congressmen in passing priority policies of the executives. So, there should also be a change on how the President pressures Congress on this issue. 

Dry-Run to a Party-Based Executive-Legislative Relations 

8. While this could be the opportunity for the Office of the President to put its political officers/ operators to "proper" use by building rapport among Congresspersons, capitalizing on the popularity of the President, this kind of dealings might just lead to a highly personality-oriented and election-centered alliance-building, which in the past never resulted in agreements that are substantive or programmatic.

9. This is where political parties should come in and be truly relevant. They have an opportunity now to show how true political parties facilitate executive-legislative relationship by taking the lead in faciliting executive and legislative negotiation in today's effort to abolish the pork system. 

One of the reasons the pork system exists is because you have an underdeveloped or mal-developed party system. Instead of the parties facilitating the relationship between the executive and legislature on the basis of issues and programs, the parties are being used as a machinery to distribute the pork as a way to perpetuate patronage.

It’s time to drastically change the tide. Parties right now belonging to the administration must act as a machinery to "whip" the members of their parties to heed the call of the President to abolish the pork. To those who won't heed, let them leave the Coalition. 

Let the pork issue be the line that will make the distinction and around which distinct programs will be crafted by parties or coalitions. Make this anti-pork a shot at developing programmatic parties or party coalitions tightly linked with societal aspirations and goals.

The anti-pork rally last Monday shows that the pork issue has a mass base. Organize politically around that mass base so your political organizations, your political parties or alliance, will have relevance to the people and linked with the grassroots. This way also, there is a strong force on top connected to movements below that will ensure pork will not be resurrected in the future budget and will push the anti-pork advocacy forward towards related political reforms, including the passage of a party law that will provide a democratic framework for the party system and support political parties to be programmatic and with strong linkage with the society.

Team PNoy composed primarily of the Liberal Party (the ruling party), Akbayan Citizens' Action Party, Nacionalista Party, Nationalist People's Coalition (NPC) and Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP), has the majority in both the Senate and the House. Arguably, especially those in Congress, they won because of the President's support. Team PNoy is claiming that the alliance is premised on President Aquino's Daang Matuwid.

The abolition of the pork barrel system will be, by far, the truest realization of that Daang Matuwid. Team PNoy will have to grab this chance to show to the people that they are after Daang Matuwid not just in words, but in action. Make the pork abolition happen. 

Legislate Pork Abolition

10. But even if we remove the pork allocation in the 2014 or 2015 budget, it can still be resurrected in the succeeding years as the new General Appropriations Act (GAA) is passed. So how do we exactly totally get rid of the pork allocation in the budget for a stable period of time?

I can think of two options that are available given our legal-institutional context. But since these are legal options, I leave it up to the lawyers to further examine them.

First, pass a law that will scrap the pork from the GAA. It will be like a guide to the formulation of the GAA with particular emphasis on the prohibition to put any Congressional pork in the GAA. It can go as far as advising or instructing the legislators to instead engage the budget preparation so they can have a space to justify the need of their locality vis-a-vis the need of the rest the country. Since it is the Congress' function to pass the GAA, there shouldn't be any prohibition for their participation in its formulation. 

Second, get the Supreme Court ruling on the pork as it is practiced, where the reality is that the legislature is performing a "quasi-executive" function. It is not true that the legislators only recommend projects and services where their pork will be used. In practice and even in department orders and official documents used by the government agencies, the concurrence or approval of the legislators are sought in the identification, finalization and/ or acceptance of the projects and services provided through the pork and related budget items.

Again, I am no lawyer, so I leave the technical legal discussion to the lawyers. But these are two options to ensure no pork allocation will ever appear in our budget. Or, if ever there will be efforts to resurrect it in the future, it will be harder for it will again require another act of legislation or an act of the judiciary.

Our anti-pork calls go beyond just the scraping of that item in the budget called Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). It is about bringing back the integrity of our political system. It is about nurturing a culture of transparency and accountability. It is about making public office a public trust once more. It is about ending patronage politics, which perpetuates disempowerment and dependency of the masses and the rule of the few. 

It will take time to achieve all of this. But the Philippines will have its best shot yet at achieving all of these political aspirations if we get to scrap that item in the budget called pork through the proper use of executive and legislative powers, facilitated by an issue-based or programmatic political party alliance, with an active and empowered citizenry staying vigilant and ensuring that the government and all relevant political actors deliver. 

We get the pork abolition done this way, we might just have achieved the change we want to see.