At the height of the scandal over the misuse of the congressional pork barrel or Priority Development Assistance Fund, the Supreme Court prohibited lump sum appropriations in the annual national budget.
The SC also barred lawmakers from exercising personal discretion in the use of the budget after the General Appropriations Act has been signed into law. But the SC did not prevent lawmakers from exercising that discretion before the enactment of the annual GAA.
And so today, with the pork barrel technically eliminated, lawmakers still have a say in the utilization of even larger amounts of public funds. For the first time in about a decade, the government is operating on a reenacted budget partly because congressmen, senators and the Department of Budget and Management are engaged in a brawl over pork barrel-type funds “inserted” into or potentially cut from the proposed GAA.
From their P70 million each in the PDAF, members of the House of Representatives are now allotted at least P160 million worth of projects they can earmark. Senators, who used to get P200 million each in PDAF, are now allotted larger amounts, according to the head of the House appropriations committee, who says even the DBM and Malacañang have pork barrel-type discretionary funds.
Congress has the power of the purse, and the process zof crafting the annual budget gives lawmakers a voice in deciding projects for funding. But this power must be in sync with objectives and priorities set by the chief executive and laid out in detail by each executive department.
In 1990 during the presidency of Corazon Aquino, the Countrywide Development Fund was set up with P2.3 billion in initial allocation. The CDF system allowed lawmakers to appropriate funds for small-scale infrastructure or development projects that were not covered by the annual national outlay.
Since then, the CDF grew exponentially. It became the PDAF during the presidency of Joseph Estrada and was subsequently tapped for the plunder of billions in people’s money using bogus non-government organizations.
With nearly 300 individuals demanding a personal say in the utilization of billions in public funds, pork barrel-type allocations wreak havoc on the government’s long-term development plans. Not even the PDAF scandal, however, in which the Commission on Audit implicated some 200 lawmakers, could curb the insatiable hunger for “pork.”
President Duterte has shown what political will can do in getting things done in this country. Under his watch, perhaps pork barrel-type congressional allocations can be drastically reduced or genuinely eradicated.