Public Lives

Milking the government

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It was bound to happen. Given an existing system that makes it possible for legislators to get a kickback of 10 to 20 percent from their pork barrel allocations, someone, sooner or later, would come up with a scheme that allows greedy lawmakers to pocket not just a portion but the bulk of the funds. The scam becomes virtually untouchable to the extent that the operators can invoke the influence of the willing politicians they represent, while freeing them from any accountability.

As shown by the Inquirer’s investigative report on the pork barrel scam, JLN Corp., a company that bears the initials of its founder, Janet Lim-Napoles, appears to have devised the perfect scam. As simple as the scam may seem at first glance, it is in fact an elaborate operation involving a lot of paperwork and assiduous followup, using a wide network of connections in various government offices. It cannot possibly work without the active collusion of politicians and/or tolerance of officials in different government agencies.

If it is true, as alleged by her former associates, that it is Napoles who is the brain behind the entire scheme, then we have here someone who has grasped the complex culture of government and mastered its vulnerabilities. Hers would be the kind of knowledge one needs to reform the structure of government, strengthen its control systems, while clearing away the red tape that burdens the law-abiding public.

The exposé of this scam—which entails the participation of shell nongovernment organizations (NGOs), the enlistment of ghost beneficiaries, and the fictitious delivery of goods and services—logically strengthens the call for the abolition of the pork barrel system. Indeed, there is no reason for legislators to be in the business of proposing projects and identifying contractors to implement them. These are executive functions. The reality, however, is that the pork barrel is one of the pillars of the patronage structure on which our political system rests. It is what permits our legislators to play the role of patron and to recover part of their electoral campaign expenses. All presidents know this. And so, rather than get rid of it, they use it as an incentive or weapon to keep legislators in line.

But our attention should not be focused completely on the misuse of the pork barrel as if it were the only way by which public funds are channeled into private pockets. If one looks closely at what the scam represents, we would see here a paradigm of corruption that is replicated in countless other ways in government transactions. The elaborate control systems in place in government are easily subverted because of the blurring of accountability that occurs as one goes down the lower levels of the bureaucracy.  The signatures of the approving authorities lose their meaning because these officials are in no position to verify the content of all the documents that come their way. Various Supreme Court decisions have repeatedly stressed the difference between ministerial and accountable functions.

We can almost anticipate this line of defense being used by the senators and congressmen who have availed themselves of the services of JLN Corp. and its bogus NGO affiliates. They can simply say they didn’t know how the projects funded by their pork barrel were actually implemented. For, the responsibility of ensuring that government funds are not misused in the process rests with implementing government agencies like the Department of Agriculture, and indeed, with the Department of Budget Management and the Commission on Audit.

In turn, the government offices at different levels of the hierarchy can claim they were operating on a presumption of regularity. Ultimately, the onus of the blame may be pinned on some lowly clerk who took the list of supposed NGOs and beneficiaries at face value, and endorsed it for approval by higher officials.  But, in fact, this lowly clerk cannot be prosecuted, since he is not the approving authority. His superiors are accountable theoretically, but they are so far up in the chain of authority that they cannot really check every item of information contained in the documents they sign. It is such weak links in the bureaucracy that are likely to be spotted by those who intend to corrupt the system.

From the reports, it appears that the JLN scam has been around for at least 10 years, cornering about P1 billion in pork barrel funds every year. That it has lasted so long attests to its astuteness. It was able to build credibility by enlisting as its regular clients some of the most powerful figures in Congress. JLN and its NGO fronts appear in the documents merely as contractors and suppliers. But, in truth, they were the originators and prime movers.

Anyone with a reasonable amount of intelligence will not take very long to master the ins and outs of the racket. Ironically, Napoles’ own control system had its share of weaknesses.  Unless she compensated her trusted assistants generously and monitored their every move, there was no way she could prevent them from stealing some of the money, or striking out on their own. The scheme precisely began to collapse after she maneuvered to have her key people arrested for betraying her trust. That’s how they turned into whistle-blowers. Their affidavits are self-incriminating, but they point to Napoles as the mastermind.

She, of course, denies any involvement in this criminal activity, or even personally knowing any of the legislators that have been named. One can almost expect her powerful partners in government to equally distance themselves from her, while quietly protecting her.

public.lives@gmail.com

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  • TGM_ERICK

    So in conclusion, only names are dishonored but the persons will get off the hook and again we will see them seated in the dishonorable legislative chambers.

    Ang daming naimbento at nagawang scam magmula ng ten years ago. Follow the lider ah. Pati heneral nagpakamatay dahil walang nagawa kundi “if you cannot beat them join them. Iyan ang pumatay sa kanya iyang prinsipyong iyan na namamayani sa gobyerno.

  • blowcoldblowhot

    Since suspicions are rife
    that pork barrels of public officials are being misused amid the P10 billion
    pork barrel scam that is being played up against the political opponents of the
    administration, civic groups are now demanding a probe on President Aquino’s
    bigger P25 billion discretionary funds.

    The activist fisherfolk alliance Pambansang
    Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) said the Commission on
    Audit (CoA) should pursue a comprehensive audit on the P24.8 billion-pork
    barrel Congress had allotted for Aquino last year.

    Pamalakaya vice chairman Salvador France made
    the appeal a day after Malacañang announced that the Office of the President
    will keep his pork barrel amid mounting calls demanding the abolition of pork
    barrel given to lawmakers and the Office of the President.

    France said his group is supporting the demand
    for the abolition pork barrel currently given to senators and congressmen,
    including the President’s Social Fund (PSF).

    “The Filipino taxpaying public including the
    urban poor who pay P3.60 in expanded value added tax for every kilo of rice is
    entitled to an honest-to-goodness audit of the pork barrel transferred to
    Aquino’s presidential account in 2012. The CoA should establish how the
    President spent his pork last year and present a honest accounting of public
    funds spent by the ruling political party in Malacañang,” France said.

    The Pamalakaya leader lambasted Aquino for
    refusing to heed the legitimate demands of the people to have presidential pork
    abolished along with the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of
    lawmakers following the discovery of P10-billion pork barrel scam by CoA.

    France said PSF is a potential source of money
    which the president and his allies can use for corruption since this kind of
    pork barrel is free from public scrutiny and government audit.

    According to Pamalakaya, the Office of the
    President’s pork barrel in 2012 included the P2.695-billion in intelligence
    funds, of which, P666 million was earmarked for National Security Monitoring
    including requirements for the Presidential Anti-Organized and Syndicated Crime
    and Transnational Crime Campaign as well as P600 million for confidential and
    intelligence expenses which are released on approval of the President.

    The group said in 2012, the Office of the
    President also sought P224.68 million budget for travel expenses alone.

    Pamalakaya said Aquino exercises discretionary
    powers on the intelligence funds of the Office of the President, contingent funds,
    calamity funds and unprogrammed funds. About P1 billion pesos was given to
    President Aquino for contingent funds.

    Pamalakaya said the contingent fund was
    administered by the Office of the President and used exclusively to fund the
    requirements of new and/or urgent projects and activities that need to be
    implemented during the year. This fund may be used to augment the existing
    appropriations for local and foreign travels of the President, but in no case
    shall it be used for the purchase of motor vehicles.”

    The group said the Office of the President also
    received P14.2 billion for disaster management use, apart from entry from the
    calamity fund, which went up to P7.5 billion in 2012 from P5 billion in 2011.

  • JosengSisiw1

    “milking” means you are taking whatever is in the udder only, the right title word should then be “slaughtering”, as this is what our politicos doing in our government.

  • TGM_ERICK

    Ibalik bitay. ten billion pinag-uusapan. Dapat may masampulang civilian.

    • Eustaquio Joven

      Sino? Si Enrile… Si Marcos?

      • TGM_ERICK

        Hindi ba sabi ko civilian? iyong di humahawak ng tungkulin sa gobyerno.

      • Eustaquio Joven

        Hahaha. Just as I suspected… You have your own concept of a civilian. Kung hindi sila civilian, ano ang tawag mo sa mga senador. Saan papasok ang prinsipyo ng supremacy of the civilian authority over that of the military?

      • TGM_ERICK

        i JOIN YOU IN MY KATANGAHAN, WHAT I MEAN ARE THOSE NON-GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES.

      • Eustaquio Joven

        Hindi ba mas dapat na papanagutin at unahin ang mga opisyales at empleyado ng gobiyerno kaysa mga “civilian”?

      • TGM_ERICK

        Opo, dapat.

  • Iya So

    Just wondering, how can we now move forward? How do we actually go about abolishing the pork barrel? By law? By presidential decree? By people’s petition? Next steps please.

    • batangpaslit

      No decree could correct the ills if the fund managers are sakim, the lawmakers are themselves the law breakers, if the top honcho of the land is not endued with political will to do what is right, what is true, and what is honest

      • Iya So

        True but you win the war one battle at a time. You “fight” for every inch, ‘ika nga, it’s not a race, it’s a contest. So we do what can be done/what is feasible in the meantime and not just raise our hands in frustration and give up.

      • batangpaslit

        Laurence, radical change is doable. Read my riposte to WearyBat. I had been doing consulting work on organizational change and management in North America. It can be done.

      • Iya So

        Must have misconstrued your previous statement because it sounded like you felt it’s a hopeless case. While this is a comments section, I believe it’s best that we post constructive/progressive comments that can contribute towards a solution instead of the usual rants and trolling other people do. The government needs people like you who can give concrete and doable advice, not generalizations.

      • batangpaslit

        I have done my part Laurence many times over.
        Let others do their share.
        I have one general dismissed. I have one judge dismissed. I have one Customs Commission dismissed, etcetera.
        My posts are not theoretical.
        My response to the news are all gleaned from my experience in the past.
        I even worked out before to bring in South Korean shipbuilding firms to build shipyard in Subic. I worked out to build the manufacturing base for arms production and many more.
        The latest I did was the erection of distillery plant to process cassava into fuel (biofuel). My goal is to save $2BILLION DOLLARS of annual importation of fossil fuel.
        It was done.
        But, I am unable to expand. I have no cassava to procure locally. We have to import from Thailand and Vietnam. Filipino Farmers were not helped by our government lending institutions.
        But, there are billions of money to stuff the pockets of those who are greedy and abusers of delegated power.
        I did my share. I don’t speak from my lips. I need some rest too to fight for another day until I cross the bar.
        G’nite…

  • Eustaquio Joven

    Is the 10-billion PDAF scam the only scheme by which our pork is apportioned by our lawmakers? What about ghost or emaciated infrastructure projects; and, undelivered, under-delivered or substandard materials? What about the almost limitless allowances they collect “in the performance of their duties”? Isn’t it possible that, taken as a whole, they constitute a much larger scam? I think our best weapon against such impunity is an honest to goodness FOI law. Or, does lawmaking need to be that costly? Do our “honorables” earn their keep? Shall we stop calling them honorable?

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