Professor Sarah Raymundo of the University of the Philippines said that one of the indicators that specific issues are already socially relevant is when they become part household humor. In the “Search for the Hidden Pork Forum” held at the UP College of Law, she shared how, when her relatives recently acquired two piglets, one of them was named Janet and the other one was named PDAF.
The Pork Barrel system has transcended the political and it is now in the realm of pop-culture. People are angry and tired with the idea that their taxes are not going where they’re supposed to. And the manifestations of corruption really are infuriating.
Private mansions are being built instead of schools or hospitals. In the South, lavish capitols are built at every change of regime, depending on the politicians’ “baluarte”, while most of the farming communities still live in abject poverty.
Ill-gotten wealth allows the politicians’ children get to go the most expensive schools and universities, sometimes abroad, where they ironically learn about social justice and equality. All the while little girls are married off at 12 and boys become farmers at 11 in rural barangays where public education is nothing more than a fleeting concept. Teenage girls and boys are prostituted and/or abused, sometimes by their parents. Teenage girls bleed to death at their first miscarriage.
If somebody asks if there is a “struggle” among the Filipino youth, well the answer is yes. This has less to do with juvenile heartbreaks on Facebook and hashtags than the actual implications of a broken system of public finance to the lives of young people.
When we talk about corruption, we generally think that it’s a topic that’s too mature for us. If we assume a demographic based solely on birth year, I’m talking about the Filipino Millennials or those born in the 1980s to the early 2000s; a sector that comprises around 1/3 of the population. The term “Millenials” can also refer to a certain demographic of attitudes, psychological and sociological traits apparent in young people. We are supposed to be the tech-savvy, narcissistic, socio-liberal and globally informed, online generation on Twitter. We speak through hashtags, memes, gifs and Youtube.
But do we talk about corruption? More specifically, do we talk about the DAP?
The Pork Barrel System: from PDAF to DAP
The Pork Barrel system, with the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and the Malampaya Fund, has been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. The premise was that it violated the balance of powers in the government because it allowed the Legislative to assume Executive roles in the usage of public funds. This led to collusion between the two branches of government. Through the PDAF, which totaled around P25 billion for this year’s budget but was “eliminated” after the SC decision, Legislators could “recommend” projects by non-government organizations. A lot of these NGOs turned out to be bogus and none of the projects were actually made. The Legislators got kickbacks and that’s ONE way that money is corrupted in government. This is how Napoles did it.
It’s not just the Legislative of course. It is highly unlikely that the Executive had nothing to do with pork barrel scam. One of the problems that we’re facing now is tracing the dynamics of corruption in government. It has become a systemic form of cancer in governance where with every malignant lump that we remove or find, we find more and more. The PDAF was one of these lumps that we have superficially removed, but a further look into the budget and government would show that the pork barrel system is very much alive.
The pork is not dead. It was simply tucked away somewhere in the system.
The Disbursement Acceleration Program is the next big issue in the world of Philippine public finance. In monetary amounts, it’s around PhP 130- PhP 150 billion pesos. It’s hard to simplify the issue but basically it’s a mechanism that allowed the Executive to “pool” “savings” from unspent appropriations from government agencies and use it to augment existing projects or fund new projects through Department of Budget and Management Circular 541.
Funding projects without appropriation cover in the General Appropriations Act is against the law. On this premise alone, the DAP is unconstitutional, at least to the petitioners against the DAP in case filed at the Supreme Court. The petitioners include no less than the Philippine Constitution Association, and public finance experts Prof. Emeritus Leonor Magtolis Briones and Dr. Benjamin Diokno.
The Disbursement Acceleration Program is another scandal like the PDAF in the sense that there was collusion between the Executive and Legislative as well. However, instead of the Legislative assuming Executive roles, it was the other way around. Instead of actually following the budget law Budget Circular 541 made it possible for the Executive to allocate funds outside the GAA. These allocations were given to Legislators, essentially making it pork barrel.
Again, the DAP is pork barrel. In the Supreme Court Oral Arguments on the program, the DBM was on the edge and short of admitting its unconstitutionality. The most damning is DBM’s admitting to cross-border transfers made by the Executive to different government agencies like the Congress and the Commission on audit. They justified it through its perceived merits, like the need for the Executive to be flexible with the budget, regardless of the presence of a present budget law.
Strangely enough, along with praising its benefits, they have also killed the DAP.
This seems like an attempt to subdue the strong criticism and allegations against the DAP, but the case has gone too far in the Supreme Court, media and social consciousness; at least for certain sectors who are watching the budget.
The Youth in all of this
We’re taxpayers. The age range for the youth is 15-35, making us either studying, employed, or both. But many are also out of school and unemployed, some even married, and even they pay consumer tax with everything they buy. From socks to Jollibee, when we pay, we pay taxes.
Many of us get to go to school where we can learn about these things but according the National Statistics Office, one in every eight Filipinos aged 6 to 24 are out of school. I come from the University of the Philippines, where we’ve always maintained that education a basic right, and statistics like this is very disturbing.
My point here is that the Filipino youth is asymmetrically informed and empowered, though I believe that all the youth have the shared responsibility to address this issue as well. The “Millennials” among us who have access to education, information, and yes, the internet, have the capacity to usher in the change that we need in budget and political reform- for those in our sector who are currently vulnerable and incapacitated by the current system.
What do we do about it?
Aside from being informed and following issues in public finance, and DAP in particular, I believe that there are plenty of avenues where the youth can become part of the change, and I hope we never get tired of hearing this. “Becoming part of the change” has become a jaded motherhood slogan for so many of us, even for me, after being exposed to a lot of youth politics that use it for campaigns but ultimately focused more on individual gain than actual change. Even in UP, there were “trapos in the making”. But in spite of that, I believe that we aren’t just part of the change, but crucial to it.
I want the youth to care and become part of organizations that carry advocacies that matter to us. Hopefully, public finance becomes one of these advocacies and we can start with the issue of Pork Barrel. Aside from the DAP, PDAF and our loathing for Janet Napoles, there are plenty of things to look into. There are still things called “Lump Sums”, “Special Purpose Funds”, “Presidential Pork”, and agency level corruption. It would be great if these were also raised in the discussion of the Freedom of Information Bill, which is at least already on the move.
I work for Social Watch Philippines, a civil society organization that’s fighting for transparency in government and citizens’ participation in public finance. It does this through capacity building activities and local engagements with people’s organizations and various groups.
Eventually, we’d like to have a youth arm for SWP. It’s still on the drawing board and there’s plenty of work to do, but for young people out there who are interested, the SWP Facebook page is really friendly. Or you can help us out and shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ll write you a poem if you do.