The persistence of pork-A A +A
The Point Being
Friday, September 6, 2013
THE pork barrel in the Philippines has come to be known by many names -- Congressional Initiative Allocation (CIA), Countrywide Development Fund (CDF) and most notoriously as Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).
But if Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago were to have her way, with the manner that the lump sum controlled by legislators has been used, it might as well have been called the PNF or the Pwedeng Nakawin Fund. For, indeed, the loss of billions of taxpayers' money can only be described as systematic theft and even plunder.
Janet Napoles and her family, their JLN Corp. the bogus NGOs that they controlled, and the executive and legislative offices (allegedly involving five senators and 23 members of the House of Representatives going by documents submitted to the National Bureau of Investigation) that they had access to dramatized the collusion that can facilitate the flow of means from public coffers for private ends.
But the estimated P10 billion that Napoles et. al. were able to avail is but the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The same way that the PDAF is not the only manifestation of the pork barrel in the Philippines, the problem neither started nor will it end with Napoles and her incarceration.
For instance, the Commission on Audit (COA) audited P101 billion in various infrastructure including local projects (orVILPs) that the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) disbursed nationwide, the P12 billion in PDAF released in particular to the agencies DA, DPWH and DSWD (Agriculture, Public Works and Highways, and Social Welfare and Development); and P2.36 billion from the allocation for financial assistance to LGUs and budgetary support to government-owned and controlled corporations for the period 2007 to 2009.
As summarized by Manila Times columnist Tony Lopez, the going rate of the "leakage or bribe" to senators and congressmen is 30 percent for PDAF and 68 percent for infrastructure funds. Based on the COA report P1.393 billion worth of infra funds benefited three senators and six congressmen while 200 senators and congressmen allocated P6.156 billion worth of PDAF to fake NGOs. Ten of these NGOs were associated with Napoles. Six legislators even gave P188.6 million of government money to themselves via the foundations of which they were a part.
All these for a period of only three years. Imagine what the figures would be like if we go back to the late 1980s which was when the practice of the pork barrel got revived. Imagine who might be involved if the transactions from 2010 up to 2012 are audited.
We have been so focused on Napoles, her family's glitzy lifestyle, her subsequent surrender to the President, and the details of her incarceration that these 200 legislators have become a sidebar. While the nation ironically has Napoles to thank for shining an illuminating spotlight on corruption, these legislators are additionally indebted to her for keeping the spotlight off them.
When we did hear from them via media, a number of these public officials have not exactly endeared themselves to taxpayers with statements like this one made by Cagayan de Oro Representative Rufus Rodriguez, "The P3.5 million was just a small amount and it was a good project, and anyway it did not come from my own pocket." The flippant attitude towards P3.5 million could probably be overlooked (maybe the Congressman is so used to a lot of money that for him that amount is small change even if it is not for his constituents) but what is galling is the total lack of a sense of accountability for public resources -- anyway, it did not come from his own pocket.
Maybe Representative Rodriguez was just being candid, the same way that Senator Jinggoy Estrada was when he said "It is not up to the senators to determine whether an NGO is bogus or not. Alangan naman na kami pa ang magsasabi na, 'Uy, bogus 'yan.' How will we know?" That might have sounded like a smart response to Senator Estrada who allegedly gave Napoles's network access to his PDAF 18 times. But to his colleague Senator Defensor-Santiago, not checking NGO recipients is a "lame excuse" and an "evasion of responsibility".
Perhaps the attitude that aptly represents why the pork barrel would persist if left to the prerogative of most politicians is the view of Representative Lani Mercado of Cavite who said "Basta huwaglang manghihingi sa amin ang mga tao! E, anong ibibigay namin (kung wala na kaming pork barrel)?" Is the idea that public funds are up to politicians to dispense and that the main expectation citizens have of their elected officials is largesse the operative mindset of political leaders and aspirants today?
For as long then as politicians are convinced that money is the main element of their interactions with constituents, starting from the electoral campaign period up until their last day in office, and even beyond, the pork barrel is likely to persist although it will take on other names and embellishments.
It has been commented that running for political office is mega-expensive in the Philippines, more so if one is running for a national position. But why worry if a senator can look forward to a pork barrel of P200 million per year per senator (multiplied by six years, the term of office; and possibly multiply by another two, the allowable maximum term) -- potentially P2.4 billion worth of resources, the allocation and use of which can be shaped by an elected official and the interests he/she represents. Or if one is aiming for a congressional seat, P70 million per year per representative, multiplied by three years for one term, (or P210 million) with the potential of getting multiplied by three terms. Voila! P630 million worth of largesse that a representative can dispense in exchange for continued political support.
(By the way, Representative Mercado's on and off-screen partner, Senator Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr., reportedly channeled the PDAF allocated him to Napoles's network in 22 instances.)
These all remind me of what activist Carol Pagaduan-Araullo described as a situation where the "ruling elite use the government machinery and resources to further enrich themselves and entrench their families in power at the expense of the people." These members of the ruling elite "make a lucrative business out of their government positions, (who) protect and advance their economic interests and privileged positions in society using state power, and (who) are therefore at the forefront of preserving the rotten political system and the socially unjust status quo."
As far back as forty years ago, this malaise was called "bureaucrat capitalism or burukrata kapitalismo" and always earned a resounding "Ibagsak!" as a response. It obviously has persisted.
I understand the slogan so much better now.
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Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on September 07, 2013.