For some of you who just cannot bring yourselves to stay grounded on current events and thus, do not have the slightest idea of what a pork barrel is, you would probably imagine it as “pork put in barrels,” (Kimmy*, III, CAM). Unfortunately, we’re not talking about the mouth-watering bacon burned into an irresistible crisp that arguably tastes better with floods of maple syrup or ice cream. Why the misleading name though? That’s because long before the advent of a proper food refrigeration system, pork was preserved in barrels filled with salt water. In the United States, these brine-soaked meats were given away by government officials for a cheap fee, if not for free, bringing all the slaves to their yard to grab as much meaty goodness he can for himself – not a far cry from the modern definition that brings suspicion on our politicians and their use of the annual Congressional Allocation of Legislators; that is, P70 million for congressmen and P200 million for senators.
This month, The Menagerie took on the audacious task of asking Lasallians what they plan to do with such a huge amount of moolah if ever they get elected as senator. The responses we have received were so meaty (pun totally intended) that we allowed ourselves some cutting and dissecting. So, in case you do get elected, don’t forget to thank us for giving you ideas!
On the K-12, BIR offices and agriculture
With a load of national issues competing for attention as wildly as candidates do during elections, the most noticeable feature of a plan is its priorities. In our survey, students list education (at least 48 percent), infrastructure, health care, employment, housing, environmental concerns, and agriculture as their primary concerns.
With the recent signing of the K-12 bill last May 12, 2013 by President Aquino, this educational system would supposedly align the Philippines at par with other countries in education standards. However, not all respondents laud this decision of the president. Ryan* (IV, CS) assures that he will allot his pork barrel to improve the quality, not the quantity in years of schooling: “[Making donations] and funding quality public education, going so far as to lessen the tuition or at best, make it free. I have yet to see the fruits of K-12, but I don’t think that extra years will help…”
Free education is a goal shared by many of our “responding senatoriables” like Alexa* (IV, BS PSYC) who proposes to “build more houses where poor families can live and more schools where poor children can study for free.” Jake* (IV, BSMSECO), on the other hand, gives us a prudent take on the issue: “There are numerous projects devoted to the student sector, but I cannot seem to find projects devoted to teacher empowerment. This idea operates on the notion that education is two-sided. P60M for infrastructure development in areas where it is most needed; P30M for teacher empowerment programs. To determine the target areas, perhaps we can look at the teacher-to-student ratios. Incentivize the teachers, while not forgetting the students!”
And while respondents tritely – not to mention vaguely – make “roads and bridges” and other facilities part of their plans, wise Jake has a department-specific project in mind: “To my knowledge, our country’s BIR lacks resources in executing main functions, which led to forgone earnings and collections… P10M shall be devoted to BIR’s physical improvement (e.g. office enhancement, computer support). P40M to increase personnel and implementing training and incentives programs such that the system will not nudge them towards resorting to corruption and rent-seeking behaviors. I hope that with this initiative, those forgone earnings and collections can be minimized, so that in the succeeding years, BIR can report larger contribution to the National Government’s revenue.”
Meanwhile, some students also aim for an improvement in the surroundings as part of hard project creation. Jeff* (II, AE-APC) plans to pair up “infrastructure and preservation of natural resources to attract tourists”, while Kate* (II, ECED) thinks development of infrastructure and making cleanups can “strengthen security and order enforcement.”
But perhaps what could be more focused than a plan that centers in a single area, such as that of Jessica’s* (II, AE-FIN) idea to use “P180M to buy new equipment for farmers, expand land, advertise the beauty of agriculture around the Philippines to entice people to go into agriculture and fund (farmer education) to make (farmers) more efficient.”
Shades of a political green pulse
Government officials are those who we expect to be on top of everything with no less than an impressive, elaborate approach towards our nation’s most pressing issues; It is devastating, therefore, to find out that billions of our wealth has gone to waste in the hands of the men and women, whose intelligence and compassion we have counted on.
If you’ve been burned, you must learn: pay attention, listen. While carrying out the survey, responses were individually scanned with the interest of a careful voter, challenging the compilers as much as the candidate. The statements from respondents have these criteria in common: a) breaks down the problem within priority, b) in strategy, specifies the system to be followed in usage of funds, c) issues identified are based on research and diligence with the corresponding solutions similarly derived, and d) tightness of the whole proposal.
Jake opened his statement with the Department of Budget and Management in mind, citing DBM’s Circular No. 537 for the equal division of the fund to ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ projects. He gives his top priorities as the Departments of Education and Agriculture, and the Bureau of Internal Revenue. While his plans for the BIR have been explained above, here are his other plans: For DepEd (“The skills that can foster order in our society. A nation that knows how to read, write, and communicate can bring it closer to good governance.”), he allots P60M for “infrastructure where it is most needed”; P30M for “teacher empowerment” in areas with heavy teacher-student ratio issues. For DOA (“I still bank on the natural endowments of the Philippines.”), he allots P30M to support non-key agricultural sites “to help them catch up with key agricultural sites that already have the mechanism to engage in relatively fair trade” and P30M for agricultural workforce livelihood assistance.
It is therefore critical that we citizens become aware where these thousands of pesos go, and if the effects of the projects are palpable. When we hear senators talking about their lofty ambitions, let us be more perspicacious and observe how some of them have priorities that strike us the most, or fail to address problems with half- baked plans. Queenie Reyes (III, MKT) concludes her input with: “What’s important is that we use the pork barrel for the right purpose which is for the benefit and progress of the Philippines and the Filipino people and not for the pockets of officials who will use it for personal gain.”