By Amando Doronila
In the sordid saga of corruption in the Philippine government since the overthrow of Ferdinand Marcos' kleptocratic dictatorship in the 1986 "People Power Revolution", no scandal has appalled the Filipino people more than the diversion of 10 billion pesos
These massive money transfers from the treasury are sourced from the “pork barrel” (Priority Development Assistance Fund) annually allocated in the budget to members of Congress – 200 million pesos to each senator and 70 million pesos to each House member.
This scandal is being investigated by the Department of Justice to determine the criminal responsibility of those behind the racket.
To be sure, and ironically, the administration, which has bannered transparency, is not on the carpet for this astronomical leakage of public funds. President Benigno Aquino has given the Department of Justice the green light to get to the bottom of the scandal, which, in terms of the staggering sum involved, overshadows the fertiliser fund scandal during Gloria Arroyo’s administration. In that scandal, the then agriculture under-secretary Jocelyn Bolante was accused of diverting 728 million pesos in fertiliser funds to the 2004 re-election campaign of Arroyo.
The Aquino administration is not under threat of being toppled by another revolution like the one that unseated Joseph Estrada in 2001. In that case, former Ilocos Sur governor Luis Singson blew the whistle on Estrada’s receiving payoffs and bribes, which led to the then president’s impeachment trial in the Senate.
The current inquiry of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) into the pork barrel scandal, which is mainly focused on its criminal aspects, has unveiled an octopus-like network of corruption whose tentacles have sucked out from public coffers enormous amounts of money that found their way into the bank accounts of private individuals and foundations.
More than revealing the supposed modus operandi of the JLN Group of Companies headed by fugitive businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, the NBI inquiry has uncovered a number of unsettling flaws and vulnerabilities in the system of financing public works via the pork barrel.
After reading closely most of the media reports on the racket, I found that the most glaring findings of the media investigations and that of the NBI were that:
Government watchdogs and oversight mechanisms/institutions guarding against the leakage of public funds were extensively penetrated on several levels (from congressional to bureaucratic) through the manipulations of the persons behind the fake-NGO syndicate.
Some members of the Senate and the House of Representatives were complicit with the syndicate in giving it access to their pork barrel allocations.
According to media reports based on the affidavits of whistleblowers who were on the staff of Napoles, the president of one of Napoles’ foundations said more than 600 million pesos was received by the foundation from the legislators and not a single centavo went to farmers. A whistleblower claimed that Napoles set up more than 20 NGOs and foundations, and in a span of 10 years received billions of pesos from lawmakers, who were allegedly offered 40-50 per cent of the project costs.
The alleged complicity of lawmakers in these kickback arrangements amounts to the abandonment of their responsibility as custodians of the pork barrel. By allegedly giving Napoles access to the pork barrel, they also allowed her to designate the projects to which the funds were directed, thus giving her the power of life and death over the projects.
Members of Congress are hesitant to open their own investigation into the racket, fully aware that in such hearings they would be ratting on one another. The NBI inquiry has shown that the gates guarding the pork barrel from looting have collapsed.