The Centrality of Pork Amidst Weak Institutions: Presidents and the persistence of particularism in post-Marcos Philippines

Event details

PSC Seminar

Date & time

Tuesday 16 January 2018


PSC Reading Room 4.27, Hedley Bull Centre (130), Garran Road, ANU
ANU Canberra


Ronald Holmes


Helen McMartin

Pork barrelling, the common term for targeted spending driven by electoral incentives, is practised across many countries. The focus is generally upon projects and programs directed to constituencies whose support is critical for incumbent parties or politicians to secure electoral victory. On the demand side, pork barrelling is often fuelled by the expectation of voters that politicians should ‘bring home the bacon’.

Unlike most countries in the world, the practice of pork barrelling in the Philippines has been long and continuous. Starting from the early 1920s, when pork was distributed exclusively as a collective good, there has been significant evolution as well as variation in the components of the pork barrel, the modes by which it has been distributed and the motivations behind its deployment. At one level, this study provides a typology of the practice of pork barrelling as it has evolved over time: cursorily from 1922 until 1986, and, in greater depth, across five administrations from the fall of Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 through the end of the presidency of Benigno S. Aquino in 2016.

At another level, this study challenges major presumptions within the comparative politics literature. Matthew Shugart asserts that in systems where a president is bestowed with strong constitutional powers, amidst weak parties and pervasive inequality, the Chief Executive can be expected to curb the particularistic orientation of other politicians, specifically legislators, and mobilize their support to work for collective or national goals. This assertion does not explain the persistence of pork barrelling in the Philippines, where constitutionally strong Philippine presidents employ their very significant budgetary powers to distribute pork to members of the legislature. This enables them to build and sustain coalitions that are essential to pushing a legislative agenda and/or enhancing prospects for political survival. Thus while the pork barrel is often wasteful, with negative consequences in terms of development outcomes, it does provide distinct advantages to Philippine presidents. Given the weakness of political parties and general ineffectiveness of the bureaucracy, they have often found the diverse mechanisms of pork barrel spending critical to achieving their goals. Within this context, Philippine presidents lack strong incentives to curb particularism in favour of collective or national goals.

About the Speaker
Ronald Holmes is a PhD candidate in the Department of Political and Social Change, Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs.

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