Special Report: The Beef with Pork (Part I)

By Henni Espinosa, ABS-CBN North America Bureau

Sept. 12, 2013

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. – Surviving poverty continues to be the most pressing problem in the Philippines. More than a fourth of the Philippines’ population of 97 million are poor, earning only a little over $380 a month.

“Basta, huwag lang manghihingi sa amin ang mga tao. (Just as long as people don’t ask us for money.): This was what actress Lani Mercado, now Cavite Congresswoman reportedly told an entertainment website as a reaction to the proposal to remove the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel of lawmakers.

Ted Laguatan, legal counsel of the U.S. Pinoys for Good Governance said Mercado should not shift the blame from politicians and their alleged misuse of funds…to the people who are desperate to get assistance, simply because they are poor.

Laguatan said, keeping their struggling constituents dependent on them, is how Philippine politicians stay in power, and stay rich.

“Money needs to be spend for different localities and municipalities. The lawmakers are supposed to identify their needs and how the money could be spent. But they need to be able to answer how much money is spent, where is it being spent on,” pointed out Laguatan.

At least six senators and 26 members of the House of Representatives are now being linked to an alleged pork barrel scheme worth $228 million. The alleged mastermind is wealthy businesswomen Janet Lim Napoles, who reportedly set up dummy organizations receiving pork barrel funds.

“I’m almost sure that there are other non-existent non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that were not set up by Napoles who benefit from the pork barrel. These NGOs make deals with congressmen and senators, who pocket the money that’s supposed to go to the people,” said Laguatan.

So how is pork distributed in the Philippines? Every year, each senator gets $4.5 million, while $1.6 million go to each congressman. The lawmakers are expected to spend half of their budget on hard projects like roads and bridges. The other half, they are tasked to use on soft projects like education and health care.

The lawmakers submit their suggested beneficiaries to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) for approval. The DBM then reviews the items and releases the money to the implementing agency, which will then forward the funds to the government controlled corporations or GOCC. The GOCC then chooses the NGOs who can benefit, as recommended by the lawmakers. The NGOs should then submit a report to the implementing agency and lawmakers to show how the funds were used for their projects.

But does the system work? Laguatan said — certainly not.

“If there are checks and balances, they are not effective. Those who are supposed to implement it look the other way around when they see corruption happen,” he maintained.

Laguatan said the flawed system allowed Napoles and corrupt lawmakers to get rich from 2009 to 2012. Napoles reportedly got a 30% cut and the politicians she was in cahoots with got the bulk of it. Even the aides of the lawmakers allegedly got kickbacks as well.

President Benigno Aquino III assured Filipinos that those who are guilty in this scam will be held accountable. He said the plunder case against Napoles will be filed no later than Monday.

For more information, you may contact Henni Espinosa at henni_espinosa@abs-cbn.com.

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  • jorge buesa
    13 September 2013 at 10:28 pm - Reply

    Not only six senators and 26 members of the, House of Representatives, Knew what was going on with Pork Barrel Funds ? The whole philippines government knew what was Happening ? That’s why philippines is a very poor country ! Very Sad for the people of philippines !