Bernardo M. Villegas
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Lessons from Pork Barrel Scam

           Something good always comes from an evil situation.  The scandal of the pork barrel may still lead to a further strengthening of Philippine institutions that will outlast the present regime.  As I have written in the past, learning from the best-seller Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, building strong institutions is the key to long-term socio-economic progress.  The first institution that can be reformed for long-term development as a result of the recent scam is the legislature.  As dozens of commentators have already emphasized, especially The Philippine Star columnist Boo Chanco, Congress has absolutely no business getting involved in the execution of projects in whatever, even just recommendatory, capacity.  Boo's suggestion of "abolishing Congress" may be rephrased as "abolishing the access of people in Congress to the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PADF)".  This institutional anomaly is a violation of the Constitution, which clearly states that the Legislature has the responsibility of lawmaking while the Executive is the branch that has to do with the execution or implementation of projects and programs for the common good.  Somewhere along the way, our system of government got contaminated by the bad practice of "pork barrel" that originated in the United States in which legislators started meddling in the actual execution of projects, thus blurring the distinction between legislation and execution that is mandated by our Constitution.

          The existence of the PADF in the hands of legislators, beside violating the Constitution, inflicted another serious harm on good governance.  The inordinate attention paid by the legislators to actual projects and programs (i.e. roads, school buildings, basketball courts, etc.) in their respective regions has taken too much time from their indispensable role as law makers so that dozens of very important bills for the common good of society have languished, some of them even dying a natural death.  Among these is the Competition Law whose absence allows the privileged few in the Philippines to lord it over the masses of consumers, victimizing people with their high prices and poor quality of service.  Another is the much-awaited rewriting of the Labor Code whose provisions have not caught up with the earthshaking changes of a digital age.  The mining industry is in limbo, causing billions of dollars of opportunities lost in investments, because legislators do not have the time to follow up an executive order that purported to reform the mining industry for the common good but has left everything in suspended animation. I can go on and on.  The short of it is that legislators have to spend twenty four hours a day in the halls of Congress (instead of disappearing after the roll call) to be able to help craft a legal environment that is constantly adapting to an ever changing world. Projects for the good of their constituents are better left to their political allies among the governors, provincial board members, mayors, municipal board members and other elected local government officials who are in the executive branch of government and whose job is precisely to implement projects.

          I have heard some people object that if the pork barrel is removed from Congress, no one will run for our lawmaking body.  My answer is that the wrong kind of people will no longer run.  But a new breed of Filipinos will want to be lawmakers in the mold of the Tanadas, the Dioknos, the Manglapuses and Rectos of old.  These will be those from the educated class who have as their primary motivation the building of a just and peaceful society based on enlightened legislation.  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.