Pork for herd immunity

How do we achieve herd immunity? It’s using pork for more beneficiaries in order that members of the 18th Congress will have to waive two quarters of their pork as a counterpart fund for district immunization, which can readily be matched by local funding.

 

Note: This column originally appeared in The Manila Times on December 1, 2020.

 

Counterpart funding can be explored to put together a bigger fund for the use of every Filipino in relation to the Covid-19 vaccine instead of limiting it to 20 million Filipinos. The number remains debatable today because the 4Ps were supposedly 14 million and the SAP from the DSWD was inefficiently rolled out simply because the database was unstable. Our population is 110 million and the target number of 20 million is 18.5 percent only. Would it be enough for herd immunity? It has been said, “When most of a population is immune to an infectious disease, this provides indirect protection — or herd immunity (also called herd protection) — to those who are not immune to the disease.”

The literature has defined herd immunity as “if 80 percent of a population is immune to a virus, four out of every five people, who encounter someone with the disease, won’t get sick (and won’t spread the disease any further). In this way, the spread of infectious diseases is kept under control. Depending how contagious an infection is, usually 50 percent to 90 percent of a population needs immunity to achieve herd immunity.”

Shouldn’t the plan be to identify the risks in a geo-location manner, incidence of exposure, capacities, population density, etc.? There should be key performance indicators in the rollout, but until now, no one seems to identify these. Then, there is the need for risk communication prior to rollout. But the basic question we need to answer, first and foremost, is whether 20 million shots would create the herd immunity we want.

How do we achieve herd immunity? It’s using pork for more beneficiaries in order that members of the 18th Congress will have to waive two quarters of their pork as a counterpart fund for district immunization, which can readily be matched by local funding. Congress should not be thinking of pork during a pandemic. The new norm cannot afford old ways, which have long been banned by the Supreme Court.

As all Filipinos know, there is one vital legislation that comes out of our Congress every year and that is the General Appropriations Act or GAA. As it is being debated and formulated, there is also the accompanying issue of revenue and pork. At the start of the appropriations process, the macroeconomic assumptions are laid out. These assumptions are “with which budgetary levels are to be determined. They involve the projected gross national product (GNP) real growth rates, inflation rates, 91-day treasury bill rates, the London interbank offered rates (Libor) rates, foreign exchange rates, population growth and other economic parameters.”

The budget cycle is composed of four major processes: preparation (by the executive branch), legislation/authorization (by the legislative branch), execution and accountability. Year-to-year the debate has always been focused on what can legislators bring home and the nature of debate changes from one chamber to the other. At the House, it is bringing home the bacon to the district. Bacon refers to public works projects where we have seen our share of ghost ones and 60-percent kickbacks. It is cyclical because the kickbacks can be slush funds for the usual kasal-binyag-libing (wedding-baptism-funeral) or for seed money for election expenses.

Voters are still focused on projects and not on legislative measures, filed by their representative or senator, in approval ratings. This pandemic can be a way of informing and educating voters on the real role and function of legislators, but that unique chance has never been met head-on; what with the freedom of information still limited to the executive branch.

Pork barrel is “a fund or budget item over which a legislator has discretion over its allocation and use.” The concept of pork barrel is very much American in origin. It was designed to reach the countryside but in an equal amount. It was borne out of the Public Works Act of 1922: “The construction of national roads and bridges, national buildings, beacons, lighthouses and similar projects fell under the jurisdiction of the Director for Public Works. However, projects, such as Police barracks, local roads, artesian wells, wharves and piers, and telegraph and telephone lines were under the jurisdiction of the legislators. The use and distribution of funds for the these types of projects required the post-enactment approval of both chambers of Congress. This latter menu of public works allocations became known as the forerunner of the infamous pork barrel.” And then Napoles’ shocking P10-billion scandal came into the picture and further redefined how pork became a concrete source of kickbacks.

On Nov. 19, 2013, the Supreme Court amended an earlier pork barrel decision and promulgated the ruling that pork barrel was unconstitutional. The landmark decision was commendable because it clearly laid down the constitutional principles by which the “formulation and implementation of the national budget are to be guided, explaining the reasons for such principles and wisdom that underlie the constitutional arrangements in the sharing of authorities over government spending.”

Voting 14 out of 15, the high court traced the history of the pork barrel system that its decision was addressing and made these clarifications: “…The Court defines the pork barrel system as the collective body of rules and practices that govern the manner by which lump-sum, discretionary funds, primarily intended for local projects, are utilized through the respective participation of the legislative and executive branches of government, including its members.” The pork barrel system involves two kinds of lump-sum discretionary funds: the congressional pork barrel (CPB) and the presidential pork barrel (PPB).

The CPB is “a kind of lump-sum, discretionary fund wherein legislators, either individually or collectively organized into committees, are able to effectively control certain aspects of the fund’s utilization through various post-enactment measures and/or practices. In particular, petitioners consider the PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund), as it appears under the 2013 GAA, as congressional pork barrel since it is, inter alia, a post-enactment measure that allows individual legislators to wield a collective power.”

The PPB is defined as “a kind of lump-sum, discretionary fund, which allows the president to determine the manner of its utilization.”

 

The Supreme Court clearly rendered its decision “to rectify an error, which has persisted in the chronicles of our history. In the final analysis, the Court must strike down the pork barrel system as unconstitutional in view of the inherent defects in the rules within which it operates. To recount, insofar as it has allowed legislators to wield, in varying gradations, non-oversight, post-enactment authority in vital areas of budget execution, the system has violated the principle of separation of powers; insofar as it has conferred unto legislators the power of appropriation by giving them personal, discretionary funds from which they are able to fund specific projects, which they themselves determine, it has similarly violated the principle of nondelegability of legislative power; insofar as it has created a system of budgeting wherein items are not textualized into the appropriations bill, it has flouted the prescribed procedure of presentment and, in the process, denied the president the power to veto items; insofar as it has diluted the effectiveness of congressional oversight by giving legislators a stake in the affairs of budget execution, an aspect of governance which they may be called to monitor and scrutinize, the system has equally impaired public accountability; insofar as it has authorized legislators, who are national officers, to intervene in affairs to purely local nature, despite the existence of capable local institutions, it has likewise subverted genuine local autonomy.”

It is quite disconcerting that the national government continually circumvents the ruling of the high court. In fairness to President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, he sat on the “pork” in the GAA 2019, causing a dry season for some, who were bent on fundraising for election expenses. But then again, we also know that to the “victors go the spoils.” In our situation today, there is no other project worth the taxpayers’ money than the ability to buy and immunize all Filipinos. The bigger the number of beneficiaries, the better to create herd immunity or else we just end up with a placebo effect.

Then, we need to ensure that those who receive the vaccine are monitored, and that would mean getting our national identification card set up and running before immunization in order that we are not throwing taxpayer money without the ability to trace and monitor in accordance with our privacy protocols.

With all the expenses and the unintended consequences because of Covid-19, governments today are being asked to do more and give more in order that the economy can bounce back with citizens confident of their health. Congress just passed the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises measure, lowering corporate income tax from 30 percent to 25 percent and to 20 percent by 2027, and the national government will have to release the local government unit share in accordance with the Mandanas ruling come 2022. Balancing all these would mean getting both the national and local governments to act together in channeling funds to the vaccine that would allow the economy to move effectively and reboot the whole system affected by Covid-19.

Give up the pork, and let’s have true herd immunity for the majority of Filipinos.

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About the Author
Malou Tiqiua is the Founder/General Manager of PUBLiCUS Asia Inc. A noted political management expert in the Philippines and Asia, she brings over 20 years of professional experience in public, private and the academe combined. Author of the comprehensive book on electoral campaigns in the Philippines, "Campaign Politics", Malou is a graduate of the University of the Philippines with a Political Science degree and a Master of Public Administration. She completed her second master's degree (MA in Political Management) from the Graduate School of Political Management, George Washington University.
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