Pork barrel up for grabs by fake NGOs
In the sordid saga of corruption in the Philippine government since the overthrow of Ferdinand Marcos’ kleptocratic dictatorship in the 1986 People Power Revolution, no scandal has appalled the Filipino people more than the diversion of P10 billion in state funds earmarked for livelihood and public works projects, through the intervention of a private syndicate of nongovernment organizations, to dummy NGOs for alleged ghost projects during the past 10 years.
These massive money transfers from the national treasury are sourced from the pork barrel (Priority Development Assistance Fund) annually allocated in the national budget to members of Congress—P200 million to each senator and P70 million to each House member. This scandal is currently being investigated under the direction of the Department of Justice to determine the criminal responsibility of those behind the racket.
To be sure, and ironically, President Aquino’s administration, which has bannered transparency as an obsessive creed, is not on the carpet for this astronomical leakage of public funds. Mr. Aquino has given the Department of Justice the green light to get to the bottom of the scandal, which, in terms of the staggering sum involved, overshadows the fertilizer fund scandal during Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s administration. In that scandal, the then Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn Bolante was accused of diverting P728 million in fertilizer funds to the 2004 reelection campaign of Arroyo.
The Aquino administration is not under threat of being toppled by another People Power revolution, like the one that unseated President Joseph Estrada in 2001. In that case, former Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis Singson blew the whistle on Estrada’s receiving payoffs and bribes, which led to the then president’s impeachment trial in the Senate.
The current inquiry of the National Bureau of Investigation into the pork barrel scandal, which is mainly focused on its criminal aspects, has unveiled an octopus-like network of corruption whose tentacles have supposedly sucked out from public coffers enormous amounts of money that found their way into the bank accounts of private individuals and foundations—enriching them at the expense of public projects for which the pork barrel is intended by law.
More than revealing the supposed modus operandi of the JLN Group of Companies headed by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, the NBI inquiry has uncovered a number of unsettling flaws and vulnerabilities in the system of financing public works with the pork barrel. There’s no need to recapitulate the details of this modus operandi, which have been more than amply described in a series of reports by this newspaper and other media that threw a scorching spotlight on the matter.
After reading closely most of the media reports on the racket, I found that the most glaring
findings of the media investigations and that of the NBI were that:
• Government watchdogs and oversight mechanisms/institutions guarding against the leakage of public funds were extensively penetrated on several levels (from congressional to bureaucratic levels) through the manipulations of the persons behind the fake-NGO syndicate.
• Some members of the Senate and the House of Representatives were complicit with the syndicate in giving it access to their pork barrel allocations.
According to media reports based on the affidavits of whistle-blowers who were on the staff of Napoles, the president of one of Napoles’ foundations said more than P600 million was received by the foundation from the legislators and not a single centavo went to farmers. A whistle-blower claimed that Napoles set up more than 20 NGOs and foundations, and in a span of 10 years received billions of pesos from the lawmakers, who were allegedly offered 40-50 percent of the project costs.
The alleged complicity of lawmakers in these kickback arrangements amounts to the abandonment of their responsibility as custodians of the pork barrel. By allegedly giving Napoles access to the pork barrel, they also allowed her to designate the projects to which the funds will be directed, thus giving her the power of life and death over the projects.
Members of Congress are hesitant to open their own investigation into the racket, fully aware that in such hearings, they would be ratting on one another. The NBI inquiry has shown that the gates guarding the pork barrel from looting have collapsed.