A tale of two pork barrels

California State Assembly Member Raul Bocanegra: His allocation was used benevolently

California State Assembly Member Raul Bocanegra: His allocation was used benevolently

By Lawrence C. Ochoa

I came across the issue of “pork barrel” from Filipino American newspapers stacked up on our dining table.

I took interest and researched that this so-called pork barrel and the scam it is associated with refers to the Priority Development Assistance Fund. PDAF is a lump-sum discretionary fund granted to each member of Philippine Congress to spend on priority development projects of the Philippine government, mostly at the local level. However, the pork barrel fell into the hands of politicians. It is now being investigated why the funds did not go to meaningful development projects.

I was perplexed how these allocations would fall into the hands of irresponsible politicians and be spent indiscriminately without any sense of accountability. Given the checks and balances built in the political process in the U.S. I would be surprised if the “pork barrel” scandal would survive given heightened public scrutiny.

Americans learn very early on from school how government budget is built from taxes and how these are allocated from the federal government and funneled through states and then local jurisdiction. Very important is citizens’ lobby and public scrutiny.

The issue sparked previous memories of how proper and democratic processes have been utilized in delegating financial responsibility in America, as it should be.

A few months ago before high school graduation, a group of us from my Christian Leadership class from Bishop Alemany opted to take a field trip to Sacramento to see how legislators analyze, discuss and create laws (specifically, in our case, how budget is allocated at the local level).

Our group had a cause to sell to the legislators which was to lobby for government funding for food banks, a Christian effort to curb poverty and nutritional deprivation in our midst. We joined other seniors from other schools and presented a PowerPoint at a church in downtown Sacramento about how we can work together for hunger relief in our community.

Afterwards we met at the Capitol with California State Assembly Member Raul Bocanegra (D-Pacoima), of whom the school has familiar relations with. His father is a well-regarded gardener for my high school whom he had performed diligently for to provide his family with adequate means.

We were excited to meet a lawmaker who came from simple beginnings and now, he’s making significant laws creating small businesses for people with no access to capital in San Fernando Valley where I am from.

Assembly Member Bocanegra has a modest size office at the north end of the Capitol building. He welcomed my classmates and I and our school mentors to sit in a sofa across his desk for an afternoon conversation. We took turns presenting to him our support for SB 116, arguments which we suspect he already knows.

We’re seeking his support in extending the sunset date for the Emergency Food for Families Fund so that it could remain the Personal Income Tax Return as a voluntary “check off” contribution on the tax form. We presented that the “check off” raises more than $500,000 per year. This equals to about 898,000 pounds of food or 720,000 for people in need.

From my experience meeting him, and asking about actions he’s taking towards Senate Bill 116, I was convinced he had sufficient concern of the best interests of the low income people and senior citizens. His own humble upbringing had given him empathy to help the poverty-stricken demographic. His perspective enabled our group to successfully make an impact on his observations, as he had claimed to take great strides in supporting the bill towards becoming a Senate Bill.

The California legislator’s benevolent considerations provided a contrasting parallel to the Philippines’ own “pork barrel” ulterior agendas; the ill-distribution of national funds, originally earmarked for local use was ethically abominable.

This not only shows the Philippines operatives’ greed at the expense of the needy; but also is a disconnect with the masses who put them in a position of power so that they could make the decisions that would benefit everyone.

Those who had created and misused the pork barrel probably had no sympathetic connection at all, leading them to exploit the people they were entrusted to make a difference for. The citizens put these people in a position of power to make key benefits, but were taken advantaged of, leading to close to three billion pesos or millions of dollars being laundered, throwing the country far into debt and economic misery.

What if this would happen to the taxes generated from the voluntary taxes for Emergency Food for Families Fund? In dramatic terms, it would have deprived one million low- income Americans, homeless and seniors of food at their table on a daily basis.

I guess when our citizens remain vigilant and involved; and when we hold our politicians accountable every single day, this dreaded scenario overseas will not see the light of day in our country.

Leave a Reply