EDITORIAL- PDAF: A game of names

The call, therefore, must be not only for the abolition of the PDAF, but of the entire pork barrel system. As long as there are no concrete safeguards for transparency and accountability, the pork needs to be permanently gagged.

The success of the Million People March in Luneta proves two things about the Filipinos: they know when their rights are being trampled on, and they are ready to resist the bullies. This day marks a new sense of heroism for a nation who thirsts for genuine change.

After much pressure brought about by the alleged P10-billion Napoles scam, President Aquino finally conceded last Friday – only to offer half-baked solutions and to leave citizens hanging for the single greatest action they seek: abolish the pork barrel system.

It is time to abolish the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of the Congress, he said. But to abolish the PDAF is only a part of a larger, corrupted system.

Aquino’s vision of abolition, in other words, skims only the surface of the deep and murky waters of pork barrel. It does not match the visions of the people in addressing the roots of the misuse of public funds, which hinders the delivery of basic social services for all.

In lieu of PDAF allocation, Aquino’s proposed system mandates lawmakers to submit specific project proposals to be evaluated and included as line items in the national budget. Once approved, these funds will become part of the budget of the implementing agency.

It appears, however, that the main contention against PDAF persists: public funds remain to be at the discretion of lawmakers, as approving or vetoing the General Appropriations Act lies on the two Houses. How, then, is the PDAF effectively abolished?

Aquino branded the move as such in the hopes of pacifying the people’s wails. But for all we know, only a new name is due.

The Countrywide Development Fund (CDF) was formed in 1990, and was given an initial P23-billion budget to support local projects of senators. Ten years after, it was renamed to today’s PDAF, and continues to be driven deeper into controversy.

Now would be a good time to give PDAF a new moniker – in the guise of abolition – to give it a fresh face 13 years after.

Annually, 24 senators receive P200 million each, and 289 representatives, P70 million each as their PDAF. With the current system, billions of funds are at stake, much to the public’s horror.

According to Aquino, the PDAF “enables representatives to identify projects for communities” that local government units (LGUs) cannot afford.

Contrary to their mandated duties, our lawmakers shamelessly portray themselves as heroes, ready to save the day at our every beck and call. Such theatrics is problematic – insulting, even, to government departments and LGUs.

The PDAF system makes it a necessity for senators and representatives to interfere when it comes to assessing and supporting the people’s conditions. It implies the incompetence of local agencies to communicate with the citizens regarding their concerns. Do actors-turned-senators really know the needs of local residents better than social workers and regional school directors?

Moreso, the provision of basic social services should be innate in governments. There must be no need for the public to lobby for properly-maintained rural health units and sufficient classrooms; instead, it is the duty of core agencies to provide them.

PDAF also illustrates a glaring redundancy at work, as seen in its menu of priority projects – all the way from the purchase of school equipment to scholarships, to the construction of local roads and the installation of electricity in peripheral sitios.

Why are lawmakers allowed to assume god, look down from their ivory towers and hog all the glory?

The obvious solution is to empower government agencies and LGUs by giving them more funds – money that they rightfully deserve. This would fill the gnawing gap that the PDAF poorly tries to patch.

Channeling the billion-peso pork funds to local units would enable them to better identify the people’s needs at the grassroots level, and would give them money to directly carry out programs and address concerns – no need for ‘divine’ interventions.

Political will and the power of the pork highly influence the execution of both national and local programs, as lawmakers assume influence over the implementing agency of one’s project. This is highly contradictory to the government’s bureaucratic processes, and to the rest of the administration’s meticulous line-item budget approach.

The lump sum allocated for pork barrel – for PDAF and the President’s Social Fund, to name a few – curbs transparency, as it leaves much room for ambiguity. The use of these ‘special purpose’ funds rely solely on the interpretation of our esteemed lawmakers. We can only cross our fingers and hope their take on the fund would be to the public’s benefit.

The call, therefore, must be not only for the abolition of the PDAF, but of the entire pork barrel system. As long as there are no concrete safeguards for transparency and accountability, the pork needs to be permanently gagged.

PDAF is abolished only when public money is taken away from the Congress’ disposal, and is instead appropriated to the core agencies. Otherwise, it is nothing but reform, and Filipinos will continue to cry foul and call government with the nastiest of names.

Author: TNP

The Official Student Publication of the UP College of Mass Communication.