Love or confusion

My heart burns with feeling, but,
My mind, it’s cold and reeling
Is this love baby..
Or is it just confusion?
You tell me baby, is this
Love or confusion?

Mama, we must get together and find out
Exactly what we we’re tryin’ to do.

Jimi Hendrix

The President is facing his administration’s biggest challenge. The issue is supposed to be straightforward—the investigation and conviction of politicians and fixers who embezzled their allocation of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). The administration is committed to doing this.

The people do not want a repeat of the egregious pork barrel misallocation. Hence the demands go beyond investigation and subsequent conviction of the culprits.

The well-intentioned and the idealistic, those who belong to the million people march, have raised the stakes for change by making other demands.

Consequently, a hodgepodge of demands has emerged. And the central demand now revolves around the abolition of the so-called pork barrel.

To be sure, the corrupt, especially those implicated in the pork barrel scam, and the assorted political opportunists, have exploited the opportunity. They now ride on the crest of the popular wave.

The motivations or the objectives are different, but the do-gooders and the unscrupulous have the same call: Abolish the pork barrel, abolish PDAF.

Despite their disagreements on the pork barrel and the President’s fiscal powers (exemplified by DAP), the administration on the one hand and the do-gooders under the banner of the one million march, have a common interest in fighting corruption and effecting good governance. Indeed many of those who joined the one million march voted for PNoy and want his reforms to succeed.

But the turn of events has led to disappointment on both sides. Worse,
the polarization of the two only benefits the bad and the unscrupulous, the likes of tanda, pogi, and sexy.

Thus on the part of the administration, it is wise to distinguish between the criticisms of the do-gooders and the tirades of the self-seeking. Surely, some of the demands of the do-gooders, those that have to do with transparency and accountability, are grounded and thus deserve recognition.

On the part of the do-gooders, they likewise have to take stock and sort out the nuances or complexities of the issues. They embrace ideals and pursue them in a straight and quick way. But oftentimes, changes are slow and incremental.

Government reformers, because of the many political constraints and tradeoffs, become pragmatists and realize that what works is the second-best.

To illustrate, the million people march and government reformers have a common disdain for patronage politics. But patronage politics cannot just be wished away.

This reminds me of Marx, who said that the emergence of a classless society can only happen once the state is abolished, but to achieve this, he argued that the state first had to be strengthened through the rule of the proletariat. In the same manner, the elimination of patronage politics can be seen as an ultimate goal, but in the transition, reformers have to deal with patronage and even use it as an instrument to achieve other major reforms.

There lies the confusion. The do-gooders, who otherwise like or love PNoy, are disappointed with him for not doing enough to abolish patronage politics. On the other hand, PNoy and his nucleus realize the constraints; that the road to reforms is full of zigzags.

Confusion gets abetted when concepts about the pork barrel and the president’s public spending are unclear or ill-defined. Worse, the opportunists spread duplicitous propaganda.

For example, the faultfinders claim that PNoy has the biggest pork barrel of them all, thus earning the moniker “pork barrel king.” The problem is how they define pork barrel—anything that is lump sum and discretionary is called pork barrel. That is wrong.

Everyone has his definition of pork barrel, to include the one above. In a paper titled Politicization of Philippine Budget System: Institutional and Economic Analysis on ”Pork Barrel” (2011), Japanese academic Kohei Noda observes that “the concept of ‘pork barrel’ has never been made clear, and thus the definition of the term is heavily dependent on the speakers.

Let us then stick to the dictionary or academic definition of pork barrel. The Free Online Dictionary defines pork barrel as “a government project or appropriation that yields jobs or benefits to a specific locale and patronage opportunities to its political representative.”

Noda (2011) defines the pork barrel, as “the budgetary spending intended to benefit limited groups of constituents in return for their political support.”

In Greasing the Wheels (2004), the political scientist Dian Evans writes that the term pork barrel “was used in Congress as early as the 1870s to describe legislation containing projects for members’ districts.”

In short, lump sum and discretionary funds do not automatically make pork barrel spending. And in its strictest sense, pork barrel refers to the spending of legislators for their districts although the role of the Executive in the interaction with the legislators is relevant.

Further, lump sum and discretionary appropriations by themselves are not bad, as explained by my colleague Mario Galang in previous BusinessWorld columns. Some lump sum and discretionary funds are necessary to have flexibility and address unanticipated or uncontrollable events, starkly exemplified this year by the series of killer typhoons, the Bohol earthquake, and the Zamboanga siege.

Moreover, pork barrel funds have benefits. They are funds at the margin that respond to the specific needs of district constituents that otherwise are missed by the central plan. And as painstakingly discussed by Evans (2004), the pork barrel is an instrument to form majority coalitions to pass public interest legislation.

Another issue that confuses pertains to the constitutionality of the administration’s DAP. Anyone is entitled to an opinion that DAP is unconstitutional in the same manner that others are entitled to assert that it is perfectly legal.

The argument in favor of DAP’s constitutionality, as articulated by Mel Sta. Maria, the resident legal analyst of TV 5, is solid and convincing. The key provision is found in Article 6, Section 25 (5) of the 1987 Constitution. It says that the President “may, by law, be authorized to augment any item in the general appropriations law for their respective offices from savings in other items of their respective appropriations.”

On this basis, to quote Sta. Maria, “the President is authorized to augment any item from the savings coming from another item. Since the constitution does not specifically limit or narrow down the type of augmentations resulting from transfers of saved-funds, the President may do any of the following: a. Transfer of savings from an item listed in the Programmed Appropriation to augment an item listed in the Unprogrammed Appropriation. b. Transfer of savings from an item listed in the Unprogrammed Appropriation to an item listed in the Programmed Appropriation.”

In addition, says Sta. Maria, the constitutional authority for the President to augment any item in the general appropriations is enabled through the 1987 Administrative Code.

The point is, there should be no confusion that the DAP at present is constitutional. That it is now being questioned in a now politicized and finicky Supreme Court is another matter altogether.

The confusion arising from differing perspectives must be addressed through honest dialogue. The civil society do-gooders and the reformers in government must dispel any perception that there is no love lost between them. Happily, they will be work together to pursue common reforms and a common dream.

To return to Marx, I recall what he wrote in Revolutionary Spain (1854): “On a closer analysis, then, of the Constitution of 1812, we arrive at the conclusion that, so far from being a servile copy of the French Constitution of 1791, it was a genuine and original offspring of Spanish intellectual life, regenerating the ancient and national institutions, introducing the measures of reform loudly demanded by the most celebrated authors and statesmen of the eighteenth century, making inevitable concessions to popular prejudice.”

What caught my attention was the phrase “making inevitable concessions to popular prejudice.” An example of such concessions: “The religion of the Spanish nation is and shall be perpetually Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman, the only true religion.”

Which leads me to this question: Will PNoy, with respect to the pork barrel and the President’s fiscal powers, make “inevitable concessions to popular prejudice?”

In fact, PNoy has given one concession to popular prejudice–the abolition of PDAF. The next step is to institute the rational reforms on transparency and accountability–the citizens’ access to public information, for instance.

These reforms have an immediate and direct impact on checking corruption related to budget appropriations. These reforms will reduce the noise and confusion. And hopefully, they will result in regaining the love between the government reformers led by PNoy and the uninitiated do-gooders.

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