Pork barrel scandal – Part III

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Rick Ramos

Rick Ramos

The shocking P10 billion pork barrel scandal has occupied the public attention in the past two months since it first exploded in mid-July. The news has been covered in both print and broadcast media, as well as in social media via the Internet. It is interesting to look back at what have happened in the past and relate them with the present as the events unfold.

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Let us use the Million People March held at the Luneta (Rizal Park) held on Aug. 26, 2013 as a reference date. The protest rally was timed on a national holiday, Araw ng Bayani (National Heroes Day), calling for the abolition of the pork barrel or the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). It was attended by over 150,000 people and the ANC cable TV station estimated the crowd to have reached 400,000 protestors.

Exactly a week before the Million People March on Aug. 19, 2013, President Benigno S. Aquino 3rd rebuffed mounting calls for the abolition of the PDAF from church leaders and civil society groups who were outraged by the scale of the misuse and abuse of PDAF over the years. It was the first time that President Aquino addressed the pork barrel issue where the legislators pocketed the public funds intended for the target beneficiaries. He declared: “As in everything else, there are good uses and bad uses.”

P-Noy said that “perhaps the right thing to do is to apply the appropriate punishment for the misuse, but support its good use especially in communities outside the National Capital Region.” He recounted that as a congressman, he requested his pork barrel allocation be given for the repair of Manila North Road (MacArthur Highway) in his district in Tarlac province.

“If we scrap it, then we presume that the national government knows all our needs and attends to these all the time, and I believe that’s a little farfetched,” the president claimed. The presumption that Mr. Aquino made is a wrong assumption to start with.

The national government agencies can receive recommendations from senators and congressmen of what are needed by their constituencies. Then these needs can be evaluated and later included in the line item budget of the national agencies based on their merits.

Almost four weeks ago on 19 August 2013, the President announced he had instructed Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to file “a strong case” in court against Janet Lim- Napoles, the alleged mastermind behind a P10 billion embezzlement scheme. P-Noy promised: “Maybe the first of two to three cases will be filed at the soonest possible time,”

However, four weeks have lapsed and no “strong case” has been filed by the Department of Justice (DoJ). Last Tuesday, Sept. 10, President Aquino said that the plunder case will be filed on Monday, Sept. 19. So let us see what happens next week.

One thing for sure is that it is taking a long time. The only significant development this week was the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee investigation on the P10.0 Billion pork barrel scam. According to the testimony of whistleblower star witness, Benhur Luy, the senators got as much as 50 percent of their PDAF in advance from Mrs. Napoles. No wonder they are so happy with her, including the congressmen, too.

Going back to the timeline of Aug. 19, 2013 (Monday), President Aquino made it to the front-page headline of The Philippine Daily Inquirer the day after: “P-Noy Won’t Junk Pork!” He sounded adamant and sure of himself that the PDAF, which are given to members of Congress as a direct bribe to ensure the passage of the national budget, is here to stay whether the Filipino people like it or not.

Yet four days later on Friday, Aug. 23, 2013, President Aquino made the surprise announcement in Malacañang, in the presence of Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, that he is abolishing the pork barrel. The move was made ostensibly to placate the Filipino people who would demonstrate their outrage with the Million People March in Luneta on Monday, Aug. 26. However, it was just a change in name, with the allotments to senators and congressmen to remain in 2014.

It was only later last week when the leadership of the House of Representatives took the initiative of scrapping their P27 billion in PDAF for 2014. Amazing how the figure increased from P25.2 Billion to P27.0 Billion. Truly amazing how the Department of Budget & Management (DBM) and the House of Representatives work in tandem!

Another positive development happened last Tuesday this week was when the Supreme Court issued an order stopping further release this year of the funds for 2013 pork barrel and the Malampaya gas field. The Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) was in response to the petition filed with the High Tribunal questioning the constitutionality of the allotments (lump sum) in the PDAF and the Malampaya funds.
The expose on the P10 billion pork barrel scam first came out in The Inquirer on July 12, 2013. However, it was not even mentioned by President Aquino in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 22, 2013. But the continuous coverage of the news in mass media and the initiative taken by netizens in the Internet eventually pressured Malacañang to move together with the House of Representatives where the Government Appropriations Act (GAA) or national budget originates.

Thus, we can see P-Noy and his allies in Congress never really wanted to scrap the evil pork barrel system until they were forced to by the snowballing clamor for its abolition. Perhaps P-Noy would like to account for the P630 million in pork barrel funds that he received when he was congressman of Tarlac for three terms (1998-2007).

Rick B. Ramos at rbrpilipinas@gmail.com

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