In the Philippines each member of the Congress is granted a lump-sum discretionary fund for spending on priority development projects, mostly at the local level. This money is called the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). In July the Philippine Daily Inquirer published an exposé of a scam masterminded by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, whose companies specialize in trading agricultural products. The scam involved members of both the House of Representatives—commonly referred to as Congress—and the Senate and was estimated to have cost the country 10 billion pesos. In the widespread outrage the PDAF has generally been referred to as “the pork barrel.” Several large demonstrations have called for scrapping it.
On October 31, I attended a meeting of the Scrap Pork Network, a coalition of media experts and artists wanting to do something about this. I talked to Von Ramiro “Bombi” Blaka and Patricia “Peachy” Tan, the official spokesperson, and took pictures of the Power Point presentation done by Inday Verona.
Basically, Scrap Pork Network is a group of people who recognize that there is an economic and financial crisis going on in the country and also cultural corruption, which is predominant in the political system. I visualize it as a monster that has grown throughout the years because of the people’s indifference to it. There’s this belief that corruption doesn’t really affect the day-to-day grind because people think they can’t really feel it, especially for the upper class and the middle class. There’s this misconception that leads people to turn a blind eye to it, this monster which has sucked the country dry for years. Somehow I see it as a blessing that it’s finally been exposed.
The problem is the message has not yet reached the grassroots level. There’s no strong message. It’s too vague for the regular working man to understand, so he doesn’t realize that he’s getting robbed. The pork barrel is basically legalized theft. Money is being taken just because those in power can do it.
From what I read it didn’t seem all that legal.
Last night the president asked for fifteen minutes of prime time in all major networks, and that’s exactly what he said. He’s saying the pork barrel is illegal and he’s with the people in fighting it, but he’s also justifying it. Our group believes all forms of pork, all kinds of patronage politics, in whatever name or whatever form, should be avoided. We should root out the cause of corruption.
I am basically a filmmaker. I’m a musician and a father and a Christian Catholic. But I volunteered for Scrap Pork Network as an individual, a concerned citizen. I believe that people in the media have been given a lot of power to influence people, to create perceptions. I work in the advertising industry.
Then you know how to do it.
We have ideas, but I need people like the ones I invited here to come up with short-term and long-term solutions. We need to figure out how to approach this problem. I am hopeful. The fact that the president had to beg for prime time certainly shows we’ve been gaining some ground. He talked to the general public because the demonstrations in Luneta and Ayala and EDSA are beginning to scare him. That’s why he’s desperate to address it the way he wants to. His popularity rating is sinking. It’s been in the headlines.
I feel kind of sorry for him. I like him.
I voted for him. I am volunteering now because he said I am his boss. It’s my right to ask for the things that I’m asking for, right? I’m just doing my job. I was looking for a group of media practitioners and artists. As it turned out, there hadn’t been any initiative yet to unite the artists. A few months ago, I started a text brigade, and I was overwhelmed by the response of friends and coworkers from the media, who’re saying, “Ok, Bombi, what do we do now?” I said, “I have no idea. I just asked you people what you feel about it. I just feel we should get together and plan something.” So this is what’s going to happen tonight.
(Please read the text of Peachy’s interview first, then the PowerPoint slides by Inday Verona. Click any picture to enlarge.)
This will be my own narrative in terms of how it happened.
The PDAF is a pork barrel fund that individual legislators control. They get to name their projects, and they also choose the implementing agencies within the executive branch and the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) which will get the funds. So Janet Napoles set up these bogus NGOs and conspired with certain legislators to select the fake NGOs for their projects, since the legislator names the project and the implementing agency which chooses the NGO.
Phony NGOs were set up, they received the funds, the money was turned over to Janet Napoles and she divided it. Let’s say you’re a Congressman, and you’re allotted ten million pesos for a project. Five million goes back to the NGO, and after the NGO has laundered it, the money goes back to Janet Napoles. She gives half of it to you and keeps half of it. None of it goes to the project. It’s not a small kickback for a project that gets implemented. They get the whole caboodle, they get the whole pie.
In the States we use the term “pork barrel” to mean something that’s not really necessary that a Congressperson does in her or his district in order to get reelected, not to not to take all the money and keep it.
That’s the way it actually started. Some legislators would allot some of the funds for projects that would get them elected, but usually the funds were used to get reelected—as campaign funds or to buy votes.
So they may say, “Okay I’m going to upgrade this road.” Instead of upgrading the road, they take the money and they use it for their political campaign and go around handing out 1000-peso bills to people to vote for them.
Yes. It could happen that way. It could also happen that they just pocket the money, since legislators have used the money differently. People got very angry. We did acknowledge that in certain cases corruption does exist, but all of us thought it was just a certain percentage of the funds. But in this case Napoles and the legislators took all of the money, and none of it went back to the beneficiaries. After that came out, there was an investigation and the Commission on Audit (COA) came out with a separate report. They audited pork barrel funds from 2007 to 2009, and part of that report actually confirms the existence of the Napoles scam. Other scams that were also revealed in that report. So now it’s not just Napoles. Some legislators actually set up their own NGOs, some bogus NGOs and some used for patronage politics as well. So you as a legislator have an NGO that’s under your name, you channel funds there. You say it’s for training purposes, but the NGO implementing the project is using your name. So that’s how you get reelected. You can use the money for patronage, and then you pocket some of it. I was personally very angry after I saw the report, just reading the summary and looking at the amounts of money listed in the tables.
Like for example?
In the summary a person named Luis Abalos got 20 million pesos. He’s not even a Congressman.We can’t even figure out who he is.
So that might not be a real name.
There were so many discrepancies and so many findings in the audit report that people got riled up. On top of the Napoles scam there was the COA report, and then came a call on Facebook for a million people march to Luneta.
I responded to that. I volunteered as a coordinator. We had to coordinate for the sake of security and logistics and cleaning up Luneta after the march. We had three major demands. First, to scrap the pork barrel system, meaning an end to all pork barrel funds. Second, to account for all pork barrel funds that have been spent over the years. Third, to prosecute and punish all those who misused funds. It should not matter whether you are allied with the former president or the current president. If you misused funds you should be prosecuted.
When did all this start?
Based on what the whistle-blowers are saying, it started in 2004. But the COA report only covers 2007-2009, during the presidency of GMA [Gloria Macapagal Arroyo]. She was president from 2000 to 2010. Now we’re disappointed with the current administration. President Aquino keeps pointing to the previous administration as the only ones who stole the people’s money, but the whistle-blowers said it was still ongoing at the time it came out in the newspapers.
We formed Scrap Pork Network to make sure that the three demands made at Luneta would really be implemented. In the president’s address last night, he was saying what his first allocation program was doing and what his Department of Budget and Management was doing was not pork. But immediately after that he said from 2011 to 2012 nine percent went to projects for legislators. The legislators actually pinpointed what the projects would be. That’s what the pork barrel is. It may be just nine percent, but that equals twelve billion pesos—not a small amount. The money was supposed to speed up the economy, and yet you’re still asking legislators to name projects under the program. So how are you speeding up economic growth?
One of the allegations was that part of the PDAF funds were given as incentives to Senators to impeach former Chief Justice Corona. Those are allegations that of course no one is owning up to. It gets very complicated. If you look at the list of Senators who took funds, all of them voted for Corona’s impeachment. None of those who did not vote for his impeachment got funds. Even though they are denying that the funds were used as an incentive, it’s quite difficult to defend.
Congress has already passed the budget and approved it. It still gives seventy million pesos to each Congressman, and they will still nominate their own projects. That’s still pork. But Congress and the President are saying there’s no more pork because they’re not calling it PDAF. The budget is now at the Senate, where hearings are going on. The President has said that he has made a resolution that the Congress will not get their pork funds, just the Senate. They are not touching the funds that were allocated for Congress.
We’re asking for all pork barrel funds to be removed from the budget. Members of Congress and the Senate should not have sole discretion in naming the projects. We’ll see how the Senate responds. Then there will be a bicameral meeting when the Senate version of the budget and the Congress version will have to marry.
In the Philippines the bicameral budget meeting is closed to the public. They do it in secret. We’re asking them to open it to the public. These are public funds. The committee and the plenary hearings are covered by media, and you can watch. If those are open to the public, why is the bicameral meeting closed? We want it to be transparent without any Congressional insertions into the budget.
We support the Freedom of Information Bill, which we don’t have yet. That would give us access to those records. If we want transparency, of course citizens have to do their part. We’re calling on citizens: if you want a government that’s accountable for the public funds, you have to be able to audit and you have to participate. Even without the FOI bill we’re still planning a citizens’ audit team, but FOI would be a big, big help so we could look for the documents and find out who stole our money. We have other initiatives. The current Chief Justice Puno—not the one who was impeached—has called for a people’s initiative to pass legislation that would abolish the pork barrel. Right now I think two other groups are also planning on coming up with legislation. One is the Cebu Coalition, there’s Ipirma, and then there’s Scrap Pork Network. We’re still discussing how to go about it, whether by passing a law or by amending the constitution. We want to take the better avenue to be sure the pork barrel is no longer included in any future budgets.
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