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Understanding ‘pork barrel’

(UPDATED 8:17am, August 28) – ‘Makibaka, wag mag-baboy!’

This line was one of the most commonly used yells during the #MillionPeopleMarch today which was held simultaneously around the country, with its center at both Quirino Grandstand and Luneta Park in Manila. I personally wasn’t able to understand the about the pork barrel at first, but I was able to uncover more as I began the search for the truth.

What is the PDAF? Where did it come from?

The Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), known more as the ‘pork barrel’ takes its roots from the American congress system, and was embraced by the Philippine legislature during the 1930s.

It was appropriated to members of congress since its introduction, and during the Martial Law era, Marcos had complete control over this fund.

During the post-Martial Law era, the 8th Congress placed parameters and guidelines in the use of the pork barrel. In 1989, the Mindanao and Visayas Development Fund were formed with a lump sum (accumulated) amount of PHP 480 million and PHP 240 million, respectively. However, assemblymen from Luzon also wanted to have a budget for their local projects, and this marked the birth of the Countrywide Development Fund (CDF) in 1990. Since then, the CDF was included in the General Appropriations Act (GAA).

During the Estrada administration, the CDF was renamed to its present name PDAF, which provided more safeguards to avoid malversation of funds, including the option to let NGOs implement the projects.

Is it unconstitutional?

No. It is constitutional under the current 1987 Philippine Constitution. Article VI Section 24 provides:

Section 24. All appropriation, revenue or tariff bills, bills authorizing increase of the public debt, bills of local application, and private bills, shall originate exclusively in the House of Representatives, but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments.

How it is allocated?

The PDAF is a lump sum fund allocated to members of congress – PHP 200 million for members of the upper house and PHP 70 million for members of the lower house. It is included as one item in the yearly budget plan under the General Appropriations Act.

A legislator can have access to the fund by first submitting a proposal letter of sponsoring a project listed in the priority projects determined from the GAA. It is then submitted to the Finance Committee of the house the legislator belongs before being endorsed to the Senate or House speaker, and to the Department of Budget and Management.

DBM checks its compliance with the GAA, and they disburse the requested budget to the implementing agency in a form of a Special Allotment Release Order (SARO). SAROs are more likely a disbursement voucher for checks intended for implementing agencies that will receive the ‘ready-to-cook pork’. Normally, the implementing agency is an executive department of government, like Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) for relief assistance. However, legislators did have the option of having NGOs implement the project, making auditing more complicated.

How it is audited?

Normally, there is no known procedure for the auditing of the expenditures under the PDAF, since the fund’s nature is discretionary and it is appropriated as a lump sum amount. In the beginning of President Aquino’s office in 2010, the Commission on Audit started conducting a special investigation for the projects funded under the PDAF, spearheaded by its Commissioner Grace Pulido-Tan.

The Commission on Audit explained the special auditing process as follows: They check the documents available with DBM, including the project proposals and the SAROs. COA also contacted the different implementing agencies such as Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), DSWD, and other government entities. Also contacted were the different NGOs selected to implement the project.

COA conducted ocular surveys in the project sites, interviews with heads of implementing agencies (including NGOs) and checks of the existence of the NGOs appointed as implementing agencies.

Disclaimer: I may be inaccurate in other parts of this post. Please beep me if you find anything wrong. Thank you!