PDAF

Manila, Philippines -- The Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) has a nice ring to it. A conceptual construct smelling like roses, -- for public service -- and bordering on the ethereal since it is priority assistance. So if terms are to be credible, "priority" means taking precedence. Hence it must be a requirement above the rest; a "must have" over other contending hierarchical public needs for local or national constituencies? Of late, the PDAF has become main staple of debate precisely because of exposes seeing light in media; discourses and initiatives by leading voices, and in the public sector, questioning the rationale for the "Funds" continuation? And as to who's "priority need" it actually serves? And this, not to shed light on how the "leftist party list", as well, appropriate their own PDAF and for whom? The innocent and idealist in Congress, want a surgical scrapping of what is notoriously dubbed by many as, "pork barrel", from both Chambers since the added public function, is anathema to the core of legislative work. They claim identifying public works, development projects etc. and funds of this nature are better allocated for local government units. Others quip, without the PDAF, aka "pork-barrel", only serious candidates interested in law-making (not money-making) will aspire for congressman or senator. I disagree. The nature of the political beast, presently subjected to a multi-party system, term-limits, culture of popularity will require him to be "creative" in shoring funds for his re-election e.g. media ads, running against an incumbent mayor with city/municipal funds, aside from actual dole-outs to needy voters.

As early as 1978 towards 1984, anecdotal history among the old politicians retell of "leaks" in how funds of this nature are disbursed by legislators. One tale goes, an opposition personality was all set to ride his white horse and divulge the practice in a "privilege speech" in the Batasan (during the Marcos Years) when his very own anti-Regime colleagues intervened and persuaded him to desist, as the political carnage would involve many. Such backroom practice has been part of the political panorama for many years. The names and particulars will never see print. Let us just say, the system is syndicated from initial phase of identifying the project recipient whether a foundation, an NGO or government institution; to include releasing; law-enforcement, just in case investigation is ordered, if the anomaly is discovered etc. Officers, officials, individuals who engage in this scheme of "liquidating", have a share in the pork-barrel fund. In the late decade of the 60s a 10% level of graft was the standard. Today, it is 40%-70% upon identification of the project by the legislator. And it must be "kaliwaan" or cash on delivery. Deposits made abroad are not unheard of. The smarter foundations who are able to "front" or package the PDAF outlay for ghost or partial delivery for projects, only fly back to the Philippines on a seasonal basis to earn their keep. They prefer to stay abroad enjoying their millions?

While there is merit to serious calls for greater accountability and transparency in the disbursement of the "people's money", such an advocacy cannot be confined to the Congress or the Senate alone. To limit the housecleaning to the legislature will be construed as a partisan hatchet job. Every corner of government work involving public funds must be subjected to the same standard of scrutiny - from President down to Barangay Official. And they will either smell like roses or...something else. The "Line-Item Budgeting" is the way to go for all government.

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