• Bad habits die hard

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    The Aquino administration is about to propose a P27 billion worth of Priority Development Assistance Fund in next year’s national budget.

    We will grant that President Benigno Aquino 3rd would rather not include the item in response to the cry for the PDAF abolition. It’s just that he is held hostage by the legislature.

    You can be sure the amount wasn’t just plucked out of thin air. It was arrived at in consultation with Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte and the members of both chambers, the majority of whom are PNoy’s allies. The support is not coming solely from the President’s allies, either. The so-called opposition is part of the conspiracy. And that doesn’t bode well for the welfare of the people.

    When legislators sit together to arrive at a consensus, whether they are of the administration or the opposition, the last thing they have in mind is the welfare of the people. That’s why it’s called horse trading, and it involves only two parties. A third party, the general public in this case is never consulted. Nor will they consider the sentiments of the public if they even condescend to go through the motion of consulting them.

    There can be no doubt of the outrage that arises from a recent PDAF expose.

    The public thought they knew enough of graft in the system. Although they were right about the thievery, they were dead wrong about its extent.

    As we have observed the last time, the people were scandalized by reports of senators and congressmen inflating the cost of projects funded by their pork barrel allocation. But that’s the way the legislators exacted their pound of flesh, usually 30 percent of the cost, an arrangement that still leaves enough for the contractor to get a fair return for his investment.

    Not in the scheme Janet Lim Napoles has cooked up. There is no project to speak of. The senators and congressmen have dropped all pretense of coming up with a project from which they can squeeze a commission. Since the project exists only on paper, the whole cost, usually in the tens of millions of pesos, is divided between the legislator and the supposed contractor, The sharing is 60-40 in favor of the legislator.

    According to the whistle blower, Ms. Napoles, proprietor of JLN Group of Companies, conspired with five senators and 28 congressmen in an elaborate scheme to rob an already impoverished nation of a mind-boggling P10 billion in the past ten years.

    Clearly, the thieves, if Mr. Luy is to be believed, have overreached themselves.

    The scheme is admirable in its simplicity. The senators and congressmen sign over their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel allocations to fake non-governmental organizations (NGOs) Ms. Napoles has set up.

    The NGOs then deposits the fund to one of Mrs. Napoles’s many bank accounts. She withdraws the money and delivers 60 percent to the legislator, while keeping 40 percent as her share of the loot.

    Thus, the outrage over the great shakedown. But did that faze PNoy? Not on your life, as shown by the inclusion of the pork barrel in the P2.268 trillion national budget proposal.

    The administration has made only one concession, which is that henceforth only authentic non-government organizations are to be entrusted with government funds, but even that is no guarantee that the money is not to be dissipated.

    What DWSD Secretary Dinky Soliman says is that her agency “is still in the process of determining whether will be limited only to NGO registration or expanded to include accreditation and licensing.”

    In other words DWSD only intends to go back to the old system, in which legislators make money from commission, not from appropriating the whole cost of the project. And we suspect the she is voicing out the President’s stand on the matter.

    Party-List Congressman Neri Comenares of Bayan Muna earlier filed a bill seeking the abolition of the pork barrel system.

    Nobody’s taking him seriously though. The legislator knows full well that just won’t happen. The President is a hostage of the system as much as everyone else. A budget that does not include a PDAF allocation will not be acted upon by Congress. The President himself has his own pork barrel, subject to his disposal, just like that of the the legislators.

    Each senator usually gets P200 million in PDAF every year, while members of the House of Representatives receive P70 million each.

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