Let the ill-fed pay
On grimy post office steps, flanked by cartons and plastic bottles, scavenger “Raul” prepared Sunday breakfast: green mangoes plus salt. “Kain tayo (Dine with me), sir,” he called when we passed to mail a letter.
Raul is 55, but looks 80. Blind in one eye, he limps in discarded slippers. Hand-me-down clothes flap on a frame sapped by too many altanghaps: almusal (breakfast), tanghalian (lunch), hapunan (dinner) rolled into one.
We itched to prod Raul: Ask Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr., “Did you include me in the P194.7 million doled from your pork barrel to bogus NGOs?”
The Commission on Audit documents how legislators shoved millions of pesos to a shell Pangkabuhayan Foundation Inc. (PFI) and a bogus ZNAC Rubber Estate Corp. (ZREC). Amounts squandered: Estrada—P106.7 million; Enrile—P74.69 million; Revilla—P9.7 million.
The PFI deployed multiple tax identification numbers. It claimed no liabilities, but its Quezon City office was padlocked for failure to pay rent. PFI president, Petronila A. Balmaceda, vamoosed. PFI’s fund balance equaled total assets—to the last centavo, auditors marveled. How did it “operate without any office equipment, furniture and fixtures, essential in day-to-day operations”?
Raul never heard of these scams. So we zipped our lips and instead cast about for some cash. He would breakfast on something other than salted green mangoes, this Sunday morning at least.
But what about breakfast on Monday? And how many other Rauls are there?
This January, Social Weather Stations reported: 3.3 million families went hungry in the last quarter of 2012. That’s a million families fewer than in the previous quarter. Still, “hunger knows no friend.”
Estrada, Enrile and Revilla insist they were conned. Enrile claimed ignorance of the recipient of his pork. “What I designated were local government units. And I do not know why ZREC had to transfer the money to Pangkabuhayan Foundation whatever that is…”
Revilla scrubbed his hands, too. Sure, he identified projects under the agriculture department’s program for Basilan. “When an NGO asked for our help to assist countrymen caught in the armed conflict in Mindanao, we had no second thoughts. We set aside funds for them, especially since it was the Department of Agriculture that’d implement the project.”
“I do not recall the name of that foundation,” blandly declared former agriculture secretary, now Bohol Rep. Arthur Yap. He also passed the buck: “Senators and congressmen, then and today, are allowed to endorse co-ops to undertake projects using their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). They must account for the funds.
“They’re all honest men,” as the Iberian shepherd wailed. “But my cloak is still missing.” Is that because the senators played deaf? Wala nang bingi dito sa mundo gaya ng ayaw makinig, the Tagalog proverb says. “There are none so deaf in this world as those who refuse to hear.”
Malacañang provided an unsolicited reminder. As senator, in December 2009, President Aquino voted against the budget—precisely because it allocated P340 million from legislators’ pork kitty to a corporation recommended for dissolution since December 2003. Guess who?
Who else but ZREC. “Why and how could funds have been allocated to a corporation subject for dissolution?” then Senator Aquino said. He shredded then Agriculture Secretary Yap’s excuse: There had been no Department of Finance notification that ZREC had been blackballed.
“We cannot simply dismiss suspicions of duplicity and corruption,” Aquino insisted. The 2009 COA report already flagged warnings about ZREC. Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez included ZREC on a list of 36 “underperforming” government-owned and -controlled corporations. Rodriguez recommended its abolition in a bill that he filed in the House of Representatives.
From 2008 to 2013, the Senate’s MOOE (maintenance and other operating expenses) kitty bolted from P759 million to P1.57 billion—not subject to audit. In the face of public fury, the Senate has agreed to an accounting as the 15th Congress ends. Its coffers had been drained anyway.
“We need to unmask those who benefited from this scheme,” Senator Estrada now demands. “The Senate should investigate this scam.”
Hold it right there, senator. Estrada’s pork barrel was dissipated. Like it or not, Estrada’s role is under question. And the first thing to do is dispel the slightest doubt. That demands Estrada and company must inhibit themselves from any Senate probe, least of all, one called by themselves.
Otherwise, they’ll be suspect, prober, judge and acquittal artist rolled into one. Estrada’s statement on the need to “unmask those who benefited from this scheme” already implies self-absolution. A whitewash is the last thing this country needs from Estrada and company.
Jinggoy “was linked to payoffs from ‘jueteng’ operators during the short-lived administration of his father,” Inquirer notes. Remember former AFP Chief of Staff Angelo Reyes who committed suicide? Estrada relished ridiculing Reyes, at public hearings, for receiving “pasalubong” from the AFP on his retirement.
Estrada however slurped unabashed into the MOOE kitty that underwrote P1.6 million in “Christmas gifts” from Enrile. Estrada and 17 other “friendly” senators didn’t return them.
Alas, “the injury we do and the one we suffer are not weighed in the same scales,” Aesop says in one of his “Fables.” Instead, the bill for such scams will be fobbed off on people like Raul the scavenger.
(E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org )