Year of the Pig
DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - January 9, 2019 - 12:00am

The Western holiday season is over and we can next look forward to Chinese New Year. This year, it is the Year of the Pig.

I don’t know much about the Chinese zodiac calendar so I googled. This is what Google told me, the Chinese characters included:

“The Pig is the 12th of all zodiac animals.

The Pig is also associated with the earthly branch (—dì zh?) hài (), and the hours 9–11 in the night.

“In terms of yin and yang (—y?n yáng), the Pig is yin. In Chinese culture, pigs are the symbol of wealth. Their chubby faces and big ears are signs of fortune as well.”

Chinese New Year isn’t until Feb. 5. But for members of Congress, every year is Year of the Pork.

We ended last year with big headlines on the battle for pork between the House majority floor leader and the budget secretary. The public benefits from skirmishes like this.

Nonoy Andaya, the House majority leader, didn’t lose much by way of reputation in the exchange of dirty accusations. He is a seasoned politician. I am, however, concerned that the technocrat Ben Diokno, whose professional reputation is his prized possession, lost much in the process.

I knew Ben when I was still in high school at UP Prep and Ben was a student leader at the UP College of Public Administration. Both were located in Rizal Hall on Padre Faura. Ben was one of the more distinguished members of the University Student Council during my college years in Diliman.

Later on, I had the opportunity of working with him briefly at the Philippine National Oil Company (PNOC). My interactions with him in professional groups had always been positively reassuring of his good moral character.

If I have entertained doubts about him in recent months, it is only because I think he had become too much of a drumbeater for Build Build Build even if we all know it is going nowhere fast. I concede he has to publicly toe the party line, but even in private conversations he was more eager than Martin Andanar to be the propagandist.

But using his power as budget secretary to corner funds for his balae’s company isn’t in his character. I would be very surprised to find Ben change this much late in his career. Whatever for?

Any decent person will want to leave a proud legacy to his family’s future generations. If his balae name dropped him without his knowledge to get concessions, that is another story.

This skirmish is really about how Ben changed the budget process to one that is cash-based. Cash budgeting means the agency has to do the job within the year, but can pay up to the first quarter of the following year, what is some called the extended payment period.

The old system of two-year obligation budget allows the agency until the end of the second year to choose a contractor or supplier, get things done on the 3rd year, and pay the contractor on the fourth year or beyond. This system is slow, hard to track, discourages good contractors from doing business with government, and denies beneficiaries early access to programs, facilities or outputs.

Cash based budgeting is the opposite. Things get done faster, benefits are derived sooner, and the good providers are attracted to work with government. It is practiced by two-thirds of the OECD countries. It is also the norm for private companies. 

Politicians in Congress, however, prefer the more opaque system. It is easier for congressmen to set pork funds aside, and as we saw in many cases, easier for their chiefs of staff to siphon.

Andaya’s accusations don’t make sense. Under Ben’s system, the budget secretary has no more say on how and when the money is to be spent after the General Appropriations Act (GAA) is approved as long as it is spent within the year. Ben made the GAA the release document.

Under GMA and Andaya as budget secretary, agencies still needed a document from the budget department even after the GAA had been approved. That is additional leverage for the President to make pork hungry legislators behave.

Andaya’s only purpose in tarring Ben is to make him less credible when he defends his more transparent system of managing the national budget. Ben has refused to budge on the cash budgeting system and has also called for incorporation of collections under the road users tax into the general budget.

Then again, Ben has apparently compromised with political realities by still providing for pork, but lodged (or inserted?) in the budgets of implementing agencies. That’s how former speaker Alvarez and his supporters got humongous allocations. That’s also how current Speaker GMA and Nonoy Andaya’s group got theirs too.

It would be great if President Duterte made a clear statement that he does not want pork in the budget. He should say that legislators are supposed to legislate and not have their dirty fingers in the affairs of line agencies.

Oh well… a pork-free budget isn’t going to happen this year. It is the year of the pig and porkers, according to the Chinese, know how to enjoy life. They are a bit materialistic. Having pork funds inserted in the budget gives them security.

As my Google search revealed, porkers “if given the chance, they will take positions of power and status. They believe that only those people have the right to speak, and that’s what they want.”

I think our politicians are giving pigs a bad name. In this Year of the Pig, let us work to give pigs back the honor and reputation that our politicians have sadly taken away from them.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

CHINESE NEW YEAR. YEAR OF THE PIG
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