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Look Ma, no pork?

With some congressmen and also some senators usually having a hand in small infrastructure projects, there’s always some money to be made.

Ninez Cacho-Olivares

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What’s in a name? Pork, by whatever name it is called, is still pork, no matter what new name it is now being called, especially by politicians.

House Ways and Means Committee chairman Albay Rep. Joey Salceda recently announced that the 2020 national budget bill, as fashioned by the House of Representatives, has no insertions, and that, to members of Congress, means no pork — as defined by the Supreme Court (SC) in a 2013 ruling.

The SC declared as illegal the allocation of pork barrel at the time, which was officially known as the Priority Development Assistance Fund, commonly known as pork.

However, Salceda added that each member of the House of Representatives will receive P100 million under next year’s proposed budget, but such allocation cannot be considered “pork barrel.”
Salceda was quick to clarify that the allocations are not the same as “pork barrel” in the way the illegal pork has been defined by the High Court.

He explained further, saying that this allocation is “Basically P70 million for infrastructure, and they were itemized in the National Expenditure Program. Well, there is no such thing as non-itemized expenditure.”

But that’s the way politicians usually justify, by way of getting their share of the billions in pork that they ensure to get hold of yearly.

More on the congressional justification of the pork that is not pork. While the 70 percent of the “allocations” go to infrastructure, the rest — which is 30 percent, goes to soft projects like medical assistance for needy constituents.

Another justification goes this way: “If a congressman needs a health center… How do you think it will be funded? So, do you consider that pork?” the congressman said. “It is pork-free based on Supreme Court standards, and the mere fact that there were no new insertions.”

With all the ”justified” pork allocations, pray tell, just how many health centers have been built by each congressman with their “soft projects” funding? What kind of medicines is being supplied to these health centers? Headache pills?

Salceda told reporters that a minimum of P100 million is assured each congressman on questions asked about the congressional allocation.

Apparently, senators, who number 24, are supposed to also have their share of the newly congressional definition of no pork insertions, all P200 million each.

The no pork insertions’ definition came to fore in the 2019 budget bill, when the senators appeared to have gotten away with having their pork and perhaps eating it too by way of having the Senate “pork” already included in the budget. This means no post-enactment pork, therefore, going by the usual politicians’ logic, is transformed into a pork-free budget.

Really? With some congressmen and also some senators usually having a hand in small infrastructure projects, there’s always some money to be made, which may explain why some construction projects almost always end up substandard.

Think about it: For really big infrastructure projects, P100 million from each congressman’s allocation is peanuts. It costs billions for big projects. The P100 million per congressman’s projects are small-time projects for districts of each congressman — such projects — if truly funded, may, or may not be beneficial to the respective constituents.

As for the soft projects, well, it all depends on how each congressman allocates the amount of medical assistance to the needy.

But that’s not all that has been pre-included in the bill.

The House has said it will make changes in the proposed budget to provide funds for education, health, electrification and agriculture.

The justification is that there will be realignments introduced when the budget is passed on second reading today. But Congress won’t call it pork. And the claim is that there will be no pork, no parked funds, and no budget delay.

So, why do congressmen still get their P30 million for such projects when it is generally believed that when the Executive branch comes up with its proposed budget, each department would obviously propose budget funds for education, health, electrification and agriculture and whatever each department needs by way of budget funding.

Why then does the House of Representatives still add more funds for education, electrification and agriculture when these are presumably already included in the P4 trillion-plus budget, which already puts the nation in hock?

To fund the pork barrel again?

Is it again a matter of “Look Ma, no pork?”

This is what magicians usually say in explaining the magic trick of an object — say a coin or a bandana is made to disappear when the object is merely kept between his fingers or sleeve.

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