Pork: Killing our democracy softly

August 8, 2013 at 16:45

Each Congressman receives pork barrel funds of about P70 Million per year; and each Senator receives P200 Million per year. For a Congressman who manages a successful 9 year run, that’s P630 Million; and for a Senator that’s almost P2 billion.

The recent brouhaha on the P10 billion pork barrel scam implicating 5 senators and (at least) 23 members of the House of Representatives, yet again reminds us how this “dark meat” is proving quite unhealthy for our democracy.

The evidence shows that the headline figure of P10 billion is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg – the deleterious effect of pork on our democracy is far more pernicious. The truth is, our country is addicted to pork; and this addiction is part of what fundamentally prevents good governance from taking root.

Looks good, but deadly

On paper, the P70 million Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) (or more pejoratively called “pork barrel”) of a district legislator can be used on infrastructure projects, livelihood projects, initiatives for improving health, social, and economic conditions of communities, calamity assistance, and the purchase of equipment.

Legislators spend their PDAF allocations through the Department of Budget and Management and the appropriate implementing agencies with the cooperation of local government units. Legislators then submit a list of their proposed projects along with a list of contractors and suppliers to the Department of Budget and Management. The DBM then releases the funds to the appropriate implementing agency.

The implementing agency executes the project proposal and conducts the necessary bidding processes and coordinates with the local government units involved in the proposal. Once all parties are in agreement, the project is carried out in full by the implementing agency with the approval and cooperation of the heads of the affected local government units.

This seemingly sound system of checks-and-balances masks a significant amount of discretion that a legislator possesses. Even when audited, pork barrel funds can be channeled to various projects and programs that are guided less by objectives such as poverty reduction, and instead fuel a vicious cycle of rent seeking and political perpetuation.

70 million reasons to run for Congress

PDAF can be used by legislators to increase the likelihood of their re-election or the election of their relatives and allies. The clientelistic nature of local Filipino politics and the propensity of politicians to label public goods with their names and/or their likenesses (”Epal”) perpetuates how many Filipinos view public goods—as the bequests of local officials rather than the product of collective action by the country’s citizens.

Moreover, the ease by which political capital can be bequeathed to relatives through name recall means that these projects can be used to consolidate and expand the power of dynastic clans. A simple calculus of public resources controlled by five prominent political clans in the country can help paint the picture of part of the economic power these clans have amassed.

Here we consider the sum of pork barrel funds from Congressmen in the clan, provincial internal revenue allotments (from Governors of Vice-Governors in the clan) municipal internal revenue allotments (from Mayors or Vice-Mayors in the clan) as an indicative sum of the public sector resources at their disposal. The resulting sum does not include the local tax revenues and dues collected through local government units.

Easily, each of these clans can effectively control anywhere from P1 to 2 billion per annum in public sector resources. And this accounting does not yet consider the regulatory and other implicit political power that control over a province implies.

Family Pork Barrel Provincial IRA through Governors or Vice Governors in Clan Municipal IRA through Mayors or Vice Mayors in Clan Illustrative Total
Dy Family





(Three Members)


Garcia Family



(Two Members)



(Two Members)


Jalosjos Family

(Zamboanga Peninsula


(Three Members)




Singson Family

(Ilocos Sur)


(Two Members)



(Two Members)


Tan Family

(Western Samar)




(Three Members)



Recent empirical analyses of the use of pork barrel funds suggest that legislators bias the distribution of their pork barrel in favor of local patrons and allies. And gerrymandering has also been linked to local government finance allocations – a recent study by Prof. Joseph Capuno in UP suggests that having a mayor that belongs to a political clan is linked to greater likelihood that a municipality is converted to a city.

Seeking expanded control of public sector resources has become a major objective by political clans that have become “fat” (i.e. with clan members occupying multiple elected government positions at the same time). After all, as evidenced by the data above, securing a mayoral post or a gubernatorial post affords political families control over more public resources (and with far less effective checks and balances given family members can occupy key posts).

Ending our addiction to pork

We cannot think of pork as something that can be solved by through political reforms alone. Indeed, the vast majority of our people also need to better understand how our democracy is malfunctioning; and what exactly the roles of our public servants are. Interviews of politicians by sociologists reveal how the public also contributes to pork addiction. (These are direct quotes from a study by Clarke,G. and M.Sison. 2003. “Voices from the top of the pile: Elite perceptions of poverty and the poor in the Philippines.” Published in Development and Change.)

  • “There are some politicians who wish there were more poor people. The poor are the bailiwick because […] if you are a moneyed politician, it’s better to have poor people because you can buy them. Give them P200, P300 in the elections and they will vote for you.” [A politician interviewed and cited by the authors].
  • “I’m just vice mayor but you know I have an average of twenty to thirty people every day in [my] house, in [my] office, asking for support. I have no money and they need money. Even if it’s P100, I’m spending P2000 a day. It’s good I have other businesses, if not you’ll be forced to steal money from the government to give to the poor […].”
  • […] Once you’re a government official, people think you are a rich person, that you can get money from the government. That’s not true…My salary is only P21,000 [per month].” [A local politician interviewed by the authors].

Pork fuels our democracy’s vicious cycle—of poor people who depend on it for help, and politicians who ingratiate themselves to less informed voters and strengthen their stranglehold on power by disbursing it with little accountability. This vicious cycle of resource diversion and pork consumption has been shown inimical to society’s objectives of poverty reduction, attracting investments and job generation. Instead pork is part of what fuels rent-seeking and dependency.

The more competitive and dynamic parts of our economy will ultimately end up paying for this gross inefficiency—an extra cost that hobbles our economic competitiveness. Pork will continue to throw sand in the wheels of high and inclusive growth.

Source: Ronald U. Meralco, Rappler, 28 July 2013


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