Pork as an Institutional Crisis

In the continuing debate on the pork barrel issue, the direction of the discussion seems to be now moving towards finger-pointing--differentiating the good crooks from the bad, pinpointing which official actions are partisan and which are not, accusing all of being guilty, with some guiltier than others.

As some would put it, systemic as it is, all those who were and are part of that system is, one way or another, guilty of using the pork barrel system to perpetuate one's narrow political interests. 

This is not new in Philippine politics. The country's elites have a penchant on turning against each other, accusing each another of all sorts of things, being corrupt as one of the most common, every time there are big controversies. In the past, such generalizing became a quagmire that drowned the policy and institutional issues and left accountability processes hanging. 

For the pork abolition call not to face the same fate as the other controversies like the NBN-ZTE and Hello Garci (to name a few), it is imperative to maintain the attention on the ways forward to hold power to account and introduce the needed change in the system.

Exacting Accountability 

In an earlier article I wrote for Rappler titled “5 Reasons Pork Perpetuates Corruption,” I have outlined how pork undermines the system of checks-and-balance that should define the relationship between the executive and the legislature. 

With pork, this system of accountability is instead replaced with a system where all forms of corruption are facilitated.

Some of the forms are the following:

Bribery – the executive using pork to influence the actions and decisions of the legislature.

Patronage – the executive using pork to maintain the loyalty of allied legislators; the legislature using their pork to maintain the support of their constituencies.

Plain thievery – pork going directly to the pockets of the politicians. 

While some politicians are guilty of all these acts, some are guilty of one or two. While one action is outright bad (such as thievery). There are acts that others would argue to be potentially good on the immediate terms (such as when the executive uses pork to seek support for progressive legislation or when a beneficiary is given scholarship because of one legislator's patronage). But these would still end up undermining accountability in the long run.

Accountability is a crucial way forward. The processes of holding power to account and determining the extent of abuse of which power-holder would allhave to proceed; and these should not be disturbed by partisan politics. 

Our institutional-legal framework provides that our main accountability institutions are independent and autonomous exactly for this purpose. In the event of a highly partisan and divisive situation, like what is emerging now, the accountability institutions must be put to task to administer justice without prejudice. 

It is time for the relevant accountability institutions, namely the Commission on Audit (COA), the Department of Justice, the Ombudsman, the Sandiganbayan and the courts, to step up and prove worthy of the powers vested upon them. These institutions are the ones with the strongest mandate to get to the bottom of the Napoles and the Malampaya scams and start the process of investigating other abuses of pork allocations.Collapse of Checks-and-Balance

In the meantime, there is a need to abolish the pork system--the real pork system. 

The players and actors in the executive and the legislature have been subjected to the rules of the game called pork and so they had played as such—they are pieces of the pork game.

It is a game that leads to the muddling of the separation of powers between the executive and the legislature. It results in the collapse of their checks-and-balance relationship, which makes all of the actors in this system vulnerable to committing corruption. It involves a set of unofficial rules of the game that has become so pervasive that it has perverted the workings of our political system.

Take for instance the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). Queries on it could have already been raised by the legislature, such as "where are the funds coming from?," "where are we allocating it?," "are we allocating it in the items included in the General Appropriations Act?." Questions that a body responsible for checking and balancing the executive would raise. 

However, the legislature failed to do their mandate. Perhaps it has forgotten that such is its mandate--that it has the power of the purse and that it should assert to check and balance the executive. Perhaps it has forgotten to peform such mandate because some of its members had their cut.

A real pork abolition is the abolition of the pork game and liberating the actors from having no choice but to play the rules of that game. It is the abolition of the system that leads to the collapse of the checks-and-balance.

Ending the Institutional Crisis

Before us is a crisis of institutions, particularly the executive-legislative relationship through which a lot of the functions of the government are performed. 

With a crisis that is institutional and fundamental as this, the response will have to be corrective of those institution. Surely, reforming a fund source or even removing it from the General Appropriations Act (GAA) for one or two years will not achieve this. 

There should be an action that will ban the pork system, disallowing it in our system.

One way of doing this is by passing a law that will ban any pork allocations in any future GAA. However, this is an action that will be left in the hands of Congress and the President, which are institutions both trapped in the pork game.

In a situation such as this, when both the executive and the legislature have been compromised to act on an institutional crisis (since they are the ones involved), our legal-institutional framework points to the Supreme Court to come in and settle the score.

At the moment, there is a complaint filed in the Supreme Court asking for a ruling that will deem the pork barrel system unconstitutional. The crisis in the separation of powers and the checks-and-balance relationship between the executive and the legislature that is unfolding before our eyes should put the High Court to task.

The best way the President will remain as an ally of the people against pork and maintain the trust of the advocates on this issue is to allow and support the independent functioning of the accountability institutions and the Supreme Court. 

Let our institutional-legal framework settle this crisis and hopefully, in the process, our country and its people gets to rebuild the integrity of our political system. 

Let us, once and for all, do away with pork, so our nation and its people can give birth to an alternative system for executive-legislative relationship that will not be prone to abuse and corruption, but instead will be empowering and democratizing.