By Perry Diaz
All it took was one whistleblower to expose what a lot of people knew but were afraid to talk about because of the magnitude of the scam involving “ghost projects.” This scam has been going on for 10 years, costing the government P10 billion, and involving 28 senators and congressmen. Indeed, it is so big that there is only one way to describe it – it’s the mother of all scams!
But this could only be the tip of the iceberg. It could have been running for decades under different operators and involving hundreds of senators and congressmen.
But make no mistake; nobody is insinuating that every member of Congress was involved in the scam. There are members of Congress who are using their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel solely for the benefit of their constituents.
Recently, it’s reported in the news that a certain Merlina Pablo Sunas had submitted an affidavit to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) linking five senators and 23 congressmen to a scam ran by a certain Janet Lim Napoles of JLN Group of Companies. The lawmakers allegedly released their pork barrel funds to bogus non-government organizations (NGOs). In return, these NGOs would kick back a percentage of the funds to the lawmakers and keep the rest of the money.
Sunas was a trusted employee of Napoles whom Napoles appointed as president of one of Napoles’ bogus NGOs -- the People’s Organization for Progress and Development Foundation Inc. (POPDFI).
The five senators who were linked to the scam are the following:
Ramon Revilla, Jr. - P 1.017 billion
Juan Ponce Enrile - P 641.65 million
Jinggoy Estrada - P 585 million
Ferdinand Marcos Jr. - P 100 million
Gregorio Honasan - P 15 million
The exposure of the scam was an offshoot of a certain Benhur Luy’s alleged kidnapping by Napoles, his employer. The NBI was tipped of the alleged kidnapping and NBI agents rescued Luy last March 22. Consequently, kidnapping charges were filed against Napoles. However, the Department of Justice (DOJ) dismissed the charges for lack of probable cause.
Luy then executed an affidavit accusing Napoles of setting up five bogus NGOs that Napoles used to pull off the scam, which included the fertilizer fund scam, Malampaya scam, and the pork barrel scam. The NGOs were supposed to use the funds to procure or provide supplies and services; however, no deliveries were ever made. To cover these “ghost projects,” the implementing agencies submitted fake “liquidation papers” to show that the supplies or services were delivered or performed. After kickbacks were made to the ones authorizing the release of the funds to the NGOs, the funds eventually made their way to Napoles’ personal bank accounts.
The question is: Would the DOJ succeed in prosecuting Napoles? Evidently, Napoles is a very powerful and influential businesswoman who knows what money can buy. But first, the DOJ has to find her and her brother, Reynald Lim, who was also implicated in the scam. As of today, the siblings are nowhere to be found. Makes one wonder who are protecting them?
Abolish the pork
Once again, pork barrel is at the forefront of national debate. As a result of the scandal, Sen. Frank Drilon proposed limiting the use of PDAF. However, Sen. Chiz Escudero had been advocating for abolition of the pork barrel system for many years.
In my article, “Power of the ‘Pork’” (February 3, 2010), I wrote: “In 2009, Sen. Francis ‘Chiz’ Escudero introduced Resolution No. 900 ‘urging the Senate committee on Finance to cause the immediate review and accordingly propose the repeal or amendment of Presidential Decree No. 1177 and Book VI of Executive Order No. 292, specifically all provisions pertinent to budget preparation, disposition and management, with the end in view of reverting to Congress the power of the purse as prescribed by the Constitution.’
“A few weeks ago, Escudero — a proponent of the abolition of the pork barrel system — said that Gloria ‘has been exercising her power to impound pork not because of any lofty purpose but to give out or withhold political favor to help her allies and to strangle her political opponents.’ ”
P-Noy doubles pork barrel
But instead of abolishing the pork barrel system, President Benigno “P-Noy” Aquino III, who succeeded Gloria in June 2010, doubled the pork barrel allocations for the legislators. On top of each of the 278 congressmen’s P70-million “pork barrel,” they were given an extra P75 million each to be used for infrastructure projects in their districts. The extra pork barrel for each congressman consisted of P50 million from the budget of the Department of Public Work and Highways (DPWH) and another P25 million from the Road User’s Tax.
The decision to provide additional pork barrel to the congressmen was seemingly made to placate a number of them who threatened to block the passage of the national budget on grounds of “unequal budgetary allocations,” due mainly to former president and now Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s humongous DPWH “pork barrel.”
Mother of all pork
In my article, “Pigging out on Barrels of Pork” (October 27, 2010), I wrote: “But the biggest recipient of pork barrel in Congress is no other than Gloria who for some mysterious reason is going to get a P2.2-billion lump sum pork barrel from the DPWH budget. This is in addition to her P70-million PDAF pork, the P50-million extra infrastructure pork, another P28 million on top of that, and the P25-million windfall from the Road User’s Tax.
“The ‘mystery’ was solved when Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello revealed that Gloria used her influence when she was president to make sure that her district would get a lot of projects funded by ‘multilateral lending agencies’ from Japan and South Korea. ‘What we discovered is while she was president, she [Arroyo] had contracted with foreign aid agencies to be able to funnel over the next few years billions of pesos into the 2nd district of Pampanga. Sinabi ni [Public Works Secretary Rogelio] Singson kahapon, he’s helpless kasi his hands are tied, kasi these were committed by foreign aid agencies like the Japan International Cooperation Agency and the Korea Development and Cooperation Fund,’ Bello said.”
Reforming the system
With the exposé that implicated 28 lawmakers in the pork barrel scam, there is a need for instituting reforms on how pork barrel is doled out. The magnitude of the pork barrel scam has set back P-Noy’s reform agenda and scandalized the nation.
Mr. President, pork barrel germinates corruption. You abolish pork barrel and corruption withers. And if you want to leave a lasting legacy for the Filipino people, abolition of pork barrel would be the hallmark of your presidency. Then and only then can you say that you’ve achieved your campaign promise, “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap.” Indeed, for as long as there is corruption, there is poverty, Mr. President.