Seares: Labeling ‘pork’: Term doesn’t include legitimate spending for local projects

Pachico A. Seares

SINCE the Supreme Court struck down on Nov. 19, 2013, the entire Priority Development Assistance Fund or PDAF for that year and declared “pork” as illegal, the word has assumed a meaning that is as bad and foul as can be.

If it is “pork,” it is against the law and thus criminal.

To Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who imposed on himself the job of being the “pork” police, the rule is to shoot it on sight.

Recognizing pork

The problem is how to recognize which is “pork” and which is not.

The law and the Supreme Court interpreting the law do not say that every appropriation for local benefit or purpose is illegal.

“Pork” is from the term “pork barrel” whose dictionary meaning is “the use of government funds for projects designed to please the voters in legislative districts.”

Nothing wrong in the intent and the practice, which originally allowed lawmakers to procure funds from the national (or federal) government for projects in their districts. Each legislator knows better what his district needs. But he has to defend his project against national priorities. And the scramble for projects eventually led to setting aside a specific amount for each congressman or senator and, eventually, the evil practice where the lawmaker controlled and pilfered a large part of the funds.

SC definition

The high court is clear in its 2013 ruling about what “pork” is. Aside from the entire PDAF in that year, “pork” is that which:

[1] authorizes the lawmaker, to “intervene, assume or participate in any of the post-enactment stages of the budget execution”;

[2] confers lump-sum allocations to the lawmakers, from which they can fund specific projects they themselves identify;

[3] allows “any informal practice of similar import or effect.”

In plain language, “pork” is any appropriation where the lawmaker can take part in choosing the project and spending money for it. After the House or Senate approval of the budget, he should’ve nothing to do with how it is implemented, except as part of the oversight work of members of Congress.

P10 billion scam

The post-budget control was what enabled the P10 billion scam spread over 10 years, which exploded on the face of Congress in 2013 with the multiple-article expose of the “Philippine Daily Inquirer.”

Five senators and 23 congressmen were charged with stealing public funds from projects for which they had appropriated money that was spent under their direction.

“Pork” is only illegal if the lawmaker takes part in the post-budget work. And yet the way many people regard it now, any spending for local projects, initiated by a member of Congress, is “pork.”

Intent of the law

Which is not what the Constitution, the law, and the SC intend. Surely, it is not their intention to ban local projects that benefit a town, city or province represented by a congressman or helped by a senator.

The legislator can still recommend and lobby for those projects under specific items in the general appropriation budget.

What is bad and evil is the stealing of the money, not its legitimate use for a public purpose.