The necessary pork barrel
Reading all the bad things written about the pork barrel in the dailies, one wonders, If it is so evil, then why do we still have it ?
Because the pilfering of the pork barrel funds has a vital social function. Back in his district, a congressman is seen by his constituents not as a lawmaker but as a social worker, a Kuya Cesar with tons of money to help ease life's many inconveniences. The provincial constituents do not care about congressional deliberations, much less how well their representatives intellectually comport themselves with important national issues. What is important is that the legislator is approachable.
If a congressman were to to be as saintly as St. Francis de Assisi, abjuring all worldly temptations, he would be, in a sense, denying his constituents the one service most expected of him. For where else will he get the money to finance the funerals, the hospitalization, the many fiesta celebrations, the weddings of his constituents? Out of his own pockets? C'mon. Even the venerable makers of our Constitution did not envision the Philippine Congress as philantropy central. Besides as Sen. Avelino colorfully pointed out, when Jesus died in the cross He made a distinction between good crooks and bad crooks. I'd like to believe that our congressmen are at least good crooks.
Seriously though, I am inclined to think presently that the abolition of the pork barrel would be undesirable. As pointed out by the Supreme Court in Philconsa v. Enriquez, and as echoed by Rep. Lagman, the pork barrel aims to solve the problem of uneven allocations, of member close to the leadership getting more than their less favored colleagues. With equal pork barrel allocations of P65 M a year, each congressional district is at least guaranteed a decent amount of money for its development.
If the pork barrel is to be abolished. it would not necessarily mean less corruption and less wastage of government money. Most likely, we would just be beggaring our legislators while enriching other officials. What is to be done therefore ?
The Jesuit priest John Carroll, drawing lessons from the US, has written an op-ed piece in the Inquirer ( sorry, the link on the website doesn't work, check today's hard copy) saying that the proper tack would be to strengthen DSWD and engage professional social workers in the department so that people would begin looking for DSWD--rather than for their congressmen whose primary responsibility should be to craft law-- for matters concerning social security.