Get a Grip to Seize this Moment: Congress is the Battlefield

The content of the march tomorrow needs a little hold. It is becoming chaotic. And the confusion and the lack of right background information and proper perspective will be a disservice to the cause.

We need to get a grip, find our opening and locate our focus to seize this moment to really make a difference.

So, let us go through basic Politics on the budget process:

1. The pork allocation is contained in a law called the General Appropriations Act (GAA), which is passed like any other law.

2. The President, therefore, cannot unilaterally abolish the pork. He can opt not to include it in his proposed budget, but this will have to be approved by Congress. That's Congress' power of the purse.

3. So when PNoy said last Friday he is supporting the abolition of the pork, that means he intends either: a. not to include it in his proposed budget; or b. transform the allocation system. It seems the proposal he presented last Friday is the latter.

4. But since we are under the 2013 GAA, the President will have to implement the law. This year, 2013, we have 25.2B pork allocation, half of which has already been disbursed. PNoy suspended releasing the remaining half through his power of release. But it cannot be suspended forever. It is a law!

5. The only way the pork allocation in the 2013 GAA is removed is if Congress will heed the call for abolition and pass an amendment to the 2013 GAA removing the pork allocation and hence stopping the release of the remaining half. For 2014, the executive has already passed the budget proposal to Congress with 25.2B allocation. Again, it is up to Congress to disapprove that. Since the proposal is not final until it is passed into law, however, I see no institutional or legal constraint for the executive to put forward an amendment to its proposal. Similarly, in 2015, the only way for pork allocation not to appear again in the budget is for Congress to approve a no-pork proposal of the executive (assuming again there is no change in the position of the President--that he is still pro-pork abolition). 

A fight as big as bringing down the pork barrel SYSTEM will take a long time. We want to bring back the integrity of our political system. End the culture of "suhulan." Restore the effective checks-and-balance relationship between the executive and legislature. This will take a long time.

So as not to get lost in the fight and be of disservice to our cause, we need to start somewhere where there is opening. We have to understand the institutional context of the country and the power dynamics to identify that opening.

It is important to remember that this administration is far different from the last administration. If it was GMA, ousting her would have been valid at any time of the day long time ago. This administration, though could still improve in a lot of area, is not doing bad at all. It is never implicated in any big corruption scandal. You have very concrete reforms in governance. Your growth rate has increased, investment rating has improved, trust rating has remained high.

Given this context, you ask me, the President's announcement is the opening, which means the pressure should be on Congress. That's the first step.

We focus on the pork allocation in the 2013 and 2014 GAA to test who are our allies in our long and hard fight for a truthful and complete abolition of the pork barrel system. We use that as our way to build a constituency among politicians and government officials (particularly among legislators because they are very crucial in this particular battle), who truly are after the structural change we want.

Easy to say "I am pro-abolition" or "I am against patronage politics." But if you ask them: "can you ammend the 2013 GAA to do away with your allocation this year?"--now that's a real test. Because that's real money we are talking about.

The battlefield is Congress. About time, we put them to task in an important structural reform. Make Congress abolish the pork barrel!

(The link below is an appeal to Congress I wrote, which is published on Rappler. It has the arguments to convince good and honest Congresspersons to support this cause. Let's use it to reach as many legislators as we can.)