From pork barrel to double barrel, no program is safe from impunity

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Marlen V. Ronquillo

THE pork barrel system, under its various iterations (CDF or PDAF or simply congressional pork), was conceived with noble ideals in mind. Senators and congressmen would list down their priority projects under “soft” and “hard” categories to make sure the vital investments missed by the committee preparing the national budget were funded.

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Remote and not-so-remote communities under the investment radar were to get their share of government investments, the most vital of which were roads, school buildings and bridges. These were the “hard” of straight-up infrastructure component of the pork barrel system.

The “soft” components of the pork barrel were just as important, from funding school feeding programs at the public schools to funding scholarships instate colleges and universities.

Corruption on a scale that boggled the mind was never part of the pork barrel equation, which was conceived with plugging the investment leaks in mind.

Yet, corruption on a scale and at a level that was without precedent in the history of Congress, indeed, came to pass. A SARO-for-Cash exchange which was estimated to have drained the state coffers of around P10 billion took place, a shameless act of corruption which appalled even some of the most jaded lawmakers.

The SOP before the SARO-for-Cash happened was benign and ran along the lines of this script. Ten percent should go to the lawmaker under whose name the SARO/NCA were prepared and released by the budget department. A cut of more than 10 percent of the total funding was frowned upon because this would impair the funded project irreparably. In 1987, the start of the resurrected Congress, the 10 percent tongpats was practiced by a few.

The impunity of the SARO-for-Cash exchange, under which state money was just split between the lawmaker-funder and the ghost implementing entity led to the scrapping of the pork barrel system. A grand ideal that was laid to waste by corruption.

Today, lawmakers are limited to listing down project proposals vetted on the ground (LGUs or field offices of state agencies). If the DPWH or the other implanting agencies says “No,” the lawmakers are reduced to sulking and whining. Their discretion over funded projects was killed by the Napoles scam. To the detriment of the communities under the investment radar of government. For all its faults, the pork barrel used to be a great equalizer in plugging the investment gaps.

The Oplan Tokhang and the complementary Oplan Double Barrel were likewise conceived with the public good in mind.

Tokhang was supposed to be the vehicle that would rid the country of the drug menace. Police officers armed with extraordinary authority would search every nook and cranny of the drug-infested lairs to arrest the pushers and the users. Who would not agree with that? The drug menace is for real.

Drug pushers mostly operating in a syndicated manner have elaborate systems, from the prodigious production labs manned mostly by chemists from China and Taiwan to the mules on the streets. They have coddlers from the politicians and the police and their legal defense system was part of the apparatus. They have muscle men and enforcers, all ruthless killers.

The drug menace is really close to the apocalyptic description made by Mr. Duterte, whose war on drugs birthed the Tokhang.

But what happened?

Exhibit A is Jee Ick-joo, the South Korean businessman abducted in Angeles City where he was based and doing legal business and strangled inside Camp Crame, by rogue cops and an alleged group of NBI agents. Later, the kidnap group withdrew money from Jee’s ATM.

The cover was Tokhang, which was taken advantage of by officers of the law, which turned Tokhang into a sideshow and made kidnap-for-ransom the real objective. Had Jee been an ordinary Filipino businessman, and not a citizen of South Korea, that gruesome murder would have been whitewashed.

Jee’s murder in the very hands of the people who were supposed to enforce the law and protect the public, led to a Senate inquiry that showed more of the same–-rogue cops planting meth on the innocent to extort money. The Lacson videos, which were shown at a Senate hearing, told a chilling narrative of police extortion that used Tokhang as the legal cover.

Rogue cops bang on the door of an office, rob the office of the equivalent of P7 million, plant shabu to fake the evidence, then extort money from the target. Intrude, plunder, extort. The Chinese-Filipino community had many sad stories that they relayed to Senator Lacson.

The daring of the rogue police officers was often interspersed with operational clumsiness that reminded us of the phrase “the banality of evil” but there was definitely nothing banal in strangling a man just a few meters from the office of PNP Chief General Bato after that victim’s ATM was swiped clean.

Like the pork barrel system, the Tokhang was sullied by rogue cops and unbelievable corruption. All good intentions with very bad endings.

The Jack Lam episode started with the very best of intentions—immigration people cracking down on foreign nationals working illegally in the country. That is the sworn mandate of the Bureau of Immigration.

But what was the sad ending? CCTV cameras caught BI officials, all fraternity brothers of the justice secretary, clutching bags weighed down by too much cash. The public mandate turned into a front for a shakedown operation.

The exasperated public wants to ask this question: Is there no state program safe from moral black sows and impunity?

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2 Comments

  1. You are quite mistaken, the PDAF like all scams always advertise some great benefit or noble intention at first.

    But in reality the true purpose of the PDAF was to divert money not earmarked as part of the approved national budget for say implementing gov’t agencies operation services, to be redistributed to those not deliberated or screened and finally approved by the finance and other concerned committees. A very irregular and questionable circumvention of safety checks and balances in the gov’t appropriations process, and that’s how the money ended up in the hands of the likes of Napoles.

  2. High quality world class public education from pre-k of 4 year old children to state colleges & universities free of tuition & all other fees to all students are expensive, but the alternative is graft & corruption in civil service.