It took a growing anti-pork barrel dissent for President Aquino to utter the “it is time to abolish the PDAF” spiel, only to propose reforms in the system seconds after. The same offline and online outrage should make him realize, too, that his pork barrel double talk will not appease the millions who pledged to march to Luneta on Monday, Aug. 26.
It is time to end the government’s pretense that priority development assistance fund (PDAF) in principle is good and that the system only needs to be reformed (which Aquino apologists propagate). Pork barrel, by any other name, presents a problem deeper than the corrupt schemes of lawmakers, Napoleses, and fake nongovernment organizations (NGOs). The real goal and nature of the appropriation system should be questioned: Does pork, by any other name, promote genuine national development? Does it really help the poor in the long term?
Political economy of pork
In the literature, pork barrel is sometimes hailed by neoliberal pundits as an alternative to the welfare state model, precisely because it allows a fragmented approach to social service provision and more room for private sector participation in the provision of these needs. The neoliberal premise is that the cash-strapped state can allocate only crumbs to education, healthcare and other social services while the private sector is given the steering wheel for these services. Thus, we see all sorts of piecemeal approaches – from scholarship grants, medical assistance programs, bridges, basketball courts and multi-purpose halls.
Have we finally awoken to the bankruptcy of “development” in priority development assistance fund? For decades, pork has constrained our imagination of development to more basketball courts, multi-purpose halls, and scholarship programs. The opposite of this is the national democratic vision of development: state-run national industries, work for all, land to the tillers, modernized agriculture and food sovereignty. Under the current neoliberal framework of Philippine governance, these development goals will never end up in the annual budget.
Pork barrel essentially represents a political economy that uses eager politicians as agents of privatization of social services. The pork barrel scholarship programs bragged by Aquino and other politicians only serve to justify the sharp cuts in tertiary education budgets. Pork-sourced medical assistance from lawmakers only serves to justify the corporatization of public hospitals. Pork, even if transparent, feeds the vicious cycle of profiteering and political patronage – both of which are beneficial only to bureaucrats and their partners in the private sector.
Here, we are not even factoring in the likes of Napoles and corrupt politicos, or the “epal” syndrome of many politicians who are so proud to attach their name in the construction of covered courts and waiting sheds. But the basic problem is clear: billions of people’s money are being channeled to cute palliative projects by politicos that are in no way in line with national development! Hence “pork barrel misuse” is redundant, as public finance is already misused once it falls under pork/ lump sum items in the general appropriations.
Now President Aquino wants us to believe that he is for the abolition of this inherently flawed system when he actually wants to perfect the same system with new rules. It’s like putting cherry on top of warm poop, but the poop stays there. Such is the stunt of a desperate President trying to preserve the holiness of his pork-laden “Daang Matuwid”.
We should take note that President Aquino’s own pork, to the tune of more than P1 trillion, will remain untouched under the so-called reforms. The so-called new safeguards will only cover funds disbursed to members of the Senate and House. We should take note too that the new rules do not articulate a clear development agenda. Hence we can still expect the permanence of basketball courts, multi-purpose halls and other pork picks in the annual budget under the new system.
Netizens on Friday were quick to expose Aquino’s deceptive talk on pork, coming up with #newpork to make fun of the intrinsic evils in pork barrel. Budget Chief Butch Abad and the President should read this and this in case they still cannot think a new name for PDAF.
Whatever name the President picks, it will always be clear to the national democratic movement that it is bureaucrat capitalism. It will always be clear that pork, by any other name, is institutional plunder and patronage under the collaboration of bureaucrats and corporate interests. Transparent pork is transparent plunder. Effective pork is effective political patronage. There is no way you can purge the evils in pork. You have to abolish it per se. And when we say abolish, we mean to scrap the entire pork system, not repackage it under a new name.