The use of non-government organizations (NGOs) for the implementation of pork-funded projects is now being questioned because a number of them were allegedly fictitious. The harnessing of NGOss as conduits for the pork barrel of legislators actually became institutionalized during the administration of the late President Cory who was suspicious of politicians. Well, it looks like what started with good intentions has been converted into money-making ventures by some unscrupulous individuals.
“Pork” was non-existent during the first years of the Eighth Congress. Many congressmen then had to go to the offices of Cabinet members hat in hand for the funding of projects in their respective districts. The late Speaker Ramon V. Mitra thought of resurrecting the pork barrel after one congressman was made to wait for about an hour before he was received by the Cabinet member. This so incensed the late Speaker who lambasted the “unelected and unelectable officials” who were mistreating the people’s representatives.
He believed that only by providing for funds in the budget for the pet projects of congressmen could prevent a repetition of that incident.
President Cory agreed to the return of the controversial “pork” after much pleas from congressional leaders. In the end, she acceded but with a proviso that NGOs should be harnessed. She wasn’t enamored with traditional politicians and she wanted no politics and no chicanery in the use of pork barrel. I heard many congressmen worrying that their political rivals who considered themselves non-trapos would corner the funding. Many were saying that the only ones who were not trapos were the losers in the election. They also made fun of NGOs, calling them NGO-NGOs.
They couldn’t fight Malacañang, however, so in the end they acquiesced but not without a subterfuge—some established their own NGOs thru dummies. Initially, the amount of the pork was only equal to that being given to Mindanao congressmen from areas in conflict.
Then, it became P35 million until it doubled, into P70 million a year.
Looking back, I wonder if President Cory’s faith and confidence in NGOs was misplaced. One of the biggest beneficiaries of funding from her administration was a cooperative headed by Kumander Dante. This was not funded by “pork” from congressmen or senators. However, the multi-million peso cooperative managed by the former head of the New People’s Army later went bankrupt.
This big NGO was not supported by any fund from government. It was headed by a former rebel who got a lot of funding from foreign governments to help thousands of victims of a natural calamity. Well, this NGO went into a buying binge of cars while the refugees wouldn’t even eat the rice provided them because they were fit only for ducks. Had that NGO been a government office, its head would have been hailed before the Sandiganbayan for graft and corruption.
Of course, most of the NGOs did well, financially that is. There was the NGO headed by a former Cabinet member of Cory who cornered most of the projects for reforestation. Some congressmen who later entered into “reforestation projects” got the idea on how to make money from that former official. Don’t look for the trees or forests, though. Most of them were destroyed by kaingineros or by flashfloods, as many of the congressmen would say.
This became possible with the easing of the requirement on the use of NGOs. This easing also enabled many to establish their own construction company, thru dummies, of course, that invariably won public biddings for projects in their districts.
During the early years of the “pork,” it was very easy to pinpoint the legislators who were out to make money. Purchases of encyclopedias and medicines were the most common.
One lobbyist even used a former bold star in convincing congressmen to buy medicines or encyclopedia from his company. Of course, they were overpriced. Fiscal managers of the government later tightened their reins on such use. Now, you would rarely see pork being used to buy encyclopedias.
A seminar for congressmen prepared by the Development Academy of the Philippines several years ago included interviews and surveys on the expectations of the ordinary people of their representatives. Many said that their congressmen would be effective only if they could bring projects to their locality. Now, how could this be possible if they’re not given pork? I wrote in a previous column that a “porkless politician is a dead politician.”
It’s needed for the political survival of congressmen and even of senators.
To be fair, I have seen congressmen and senators use their “pork” properly. The small projects they identified would have been ignored by desk-bound government officials in Manila, who are re mostly interested in multi-million projects.