The ‘pork-barrel’ evolutions

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

There is no single item of the so-called “pork-barrel” funds can be found in the P5.268-trillion budget that will be signed into law today by President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. (PBBM). Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Secretary Amenah Pangandaman guaranteed this after scrutinizing the 2023 General Appropriations Act (GAA) that was approved by the 19th Congress. As the DBM Secretary, she attested to the non-existence of any graft-prone “pork-barrel” allocations in the 2023 GAA that she recommended for approval into law.

Pangandaman cited this will be the first in recent times that the national government will have a new budget law very early than the usual end of the year signing. As previously announced, the signing rites will take place at Malacañang.

As part of the transparency policy of the government, she assured us, the 2023 GAA will be available for public viewing by Monday at the DBM website once signed already by the President. The 2023 GAA contains the specific funding of the national expenditure program (NEP) of the government that would become available starting Jan. 1, 2023.

House Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez who joined PBBM in Brussels, Belgium in the just concluded European Union-Association of South East Asian (EU-ASEAN) Commemorative Leaders’ Summit, in fact, arrived back yesterday to sign ahead the printed copies of the 2023 GAA. The Speaker, along with the Senate president, currently Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri, are the co-signatories of the President in all Congress-approved bills signed into law.

Speaking at the Kapihan sa Manila Bay breakfast news forum last Wednesday, the DBM Secretary disclosed a “very friendly” veto message of PBBM would be included in the signing of the 2023 GAA. The DBM chief did not mention though the specific vetoed budget provisions in the 2023 GAA and amounts involved.

“I think we only have two to three direct vetoes. The rest are conditional vetoes and general observations,” the DBM chief announced.

Pangandaman noted though there were some P70 billion that were realigned in the Congress-approved 2023 GAA out of the original proposed NEP for the first year of the Marcos administration. It came out from the bicameral conference committee, or the so-called “third Congress” where the horse-trading and compromises among lawmakers take place behind closed doors. Obviously, there were not much nor prolonged differences because both chambers of Congress immediately ratified the 2023 GAA.

Off the cuff, she recalled, the “re-alignments” went into education sector specifically on state universities and colleges, for social services, for additional benefits under the Senior Citizen’s Act, and for the health sector. Lawmakers also realigned resources to still fund the Libreng Sakay program along the EDSA bus carousel. No funding was initially allocated for this project next year.

Pangandaman credited the “good working relationship” between the Executive and Legislative branches of government for the minimal changes in the original 2023 budget bill of the Marcos administration. Actually, the proposed 2023 budget was already done by the previous administration of former President Rodrigo Duterte when they first came into office in July, or already halfway of this year.

Thus, PBBM ordered them on their first Cabinet meeting at Malacañang to recast the budget proposals of each Department Secretaries in accordance with his administration’s Medium Term Fiscal Framework (MTFF) and the eight point socioeconomic agenda. PBBM later submitted to the 19th Congress the details of the MTFF that he spelled out during his first state of the nation address (SONA).

Subsequently, both chambers approved the Joint Concurrent Resolution on the MTFF as the administration’s blueprint to sustain the country’s post-pandemic economic recovery and to support accelerated growth. It also serves as a roadmap in the government’s annual NEP henceforth.

Pangandaman tried to convince jaded journalists like us at the Kapihan sa Manila Bay news forum there could be no more “pork-barrel” insertions into the 2023 GAA. “When we turned over the NEP to them (Congress), we only asked for one thing and that is when they make changes, hopefully, it is in synch and anchored on the MTFF and the eight point socioeconomic agenda,” Pangandaman pointed out.

For twelve years, she once served in the staff of the late Senate president Edgardo Angara and later on as staff of Sen. Loren Legarda. Both Angara and Legarda formerly headed at one time of their terms at the Senate as chairperson of the Senate finance committee. This is the Senate counterpart committee of the House appropriations committee that handles the GAA bill when it gets through the Lower Chamber.

In fact, Pangandaman recalled the “pork-barrel” allocations were previously known as countrywide development fund (CDF) and later evolved as the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

Both the CDF and the PDAF, the DBM Secretary argued, have already been declared illegal in Supreme Court (SC) ruling several years back ago. Following the SC ruling that has the effect and force of a law, both the Executive and the Legislative Departments have to implement the “itemized” budget allocations. From the previous two books, she explained, the printed GAA now come out in four volumes of books containing the item-by-item budget allocations.

Thus, Pangandaman is not naïve or stranger on what constitutes “pork-barrel” as now the DBM Secretary.

The “pork-barrel” allocations are usually inserted into the annual budget of the national government as source of funding for pet projects of well-meaning lawmakers. To unscrupulous ones, the budget allocations went into favored contractors, or “ghost” projects that directly instead to erring legislators. At one time, a farm-to-market road project gained notorious tag as “farm-to-pocket” projects of the greedy ones.

Now, these pork-barrel-like allocations come in the form of various “ayuda” programs of the government.


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