When agents of the National Bureau of Investigation rescued an abducted man inside a posh condominium in Taguig they must have thought they were facing a crime syndicate or a business deal gone wrong. They had no idea they were going to expose a network of corruption the media would dub ‘the mother of all scams’.
Way back in 2003, Senator Panfilo Lacson made a privilege speech that surprised most of his colleagues in the 12th Congress. In a piece titled, ‘ Living Without Pork’, Lacson spoke out against the rampant graft and corruption members of the Congress resort to using their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or known simply as the ‘pork barrel’. According to the senator, of the allocation intended to facilitate development in their constituency, only a mere 20% of the funds are used in the actual project while the rest are split between the legislator, different politicians, department officials and even the contractors themselves.
It seemed too outrageous to be fact, but the following years we would hear stories of public infrastructure collapsing due to lackluster materials being used and the acquisition of bottles of water passed off as fertilizer. It was then did we know Senator Lacson had not lost his sanity after all. Fast forward ten years later, we realize that Ping was telling the truth as well.
Imelda Marcos once made a cringe-worthy statement during the height of her husband’s regime. She proclaimed: “the Philippines is a rich country pretending to be poor.” Naturally, this caused the ire of the Filipino people, millions of who were struggling to live during the Martial Law era. It seemed like with that remark, Imelda was referring to her family’s lavish lifestyle rather than the general condition of her people.
It has been a constant enigma in the Philippines how politicians augment their wealth so rapidly while in office, whereas their constituents prosper at a snail’s pace. At the same time, the development of their districts is lethargic as well. This is why despite the significant economic gains the Aquino administration boasts of, Filipino satisfaction is still at a minimum.
Indeed, the extravagance of politicians is a favorite for activists to target. Hence, it must have caused a near heart-attack to the critics when news of an alleged Php10B scam in the government was unfolded.
The issue did not surround a politician nor a relative of one this time, unlike the case of the fertilizer fund scam or the jueteng scandal. Instead, it was a private businesswoman named Janet Napoles who allegedly has been making bogus deals with the government for a near decade. The scope of the controversy included members of Congress, the Commission on Audit as well as former politicians.
The modus operandi was genius, of the PDAF allocated per lawmaker, Napoles would set-up phony NGOs for these politicians to donate their funds to, because in all honesty no one would scrutinize an NGO. Of the fund allocation, 70% would be given back to the politician’s personal bank account while Napoles keeps a 30% fee for conniving. It was such a clever scheme that Napoles would only be exposed after ten years, of which she had accumulated over Php10B in public funds.
The scandal was too difficult for one to fully take in. How could such a substantial amount of public funds be plundered without anyone knowing for so long? Surely the cliche, “it takes two to tango”, applies here. There was a cover-up among government departments and obviously, public funds would not be disbursed without the approval of the legislator. Napoles could not have done it alone.
A viral internet campaign encouraged the public to take a stand against the process of ‘pork barrel’, calling for the lawmakers’ allocation to be scrapped. People are asking how such a practice became allowed in the first place. But one needs to remember, the practice would not exist if people do not condone it. They need to understand that despite the dodgy nature of the PDAF, it does have its’ uses such as the ability of LGUs to immediately allocate funds especially for soft projects such as scholarships, healthcare vouchers and funeral assistance.
The pork barrel can be abolished, but as many political analysts predict it will reemerge under a different name and even if it is completely eradicated, the most savvy will be able to find a new method of siphoning public funds. Corrupt practices cannot be erased if the corrupt still exists. Therefore this problem is not only political but cultural as well.
As Ping Lacson disclosed in 2003, PDAF is very vulnerable to abuse and its’ benefits can no longer compensate for its’ errors. It is almost certain that majority of Filipinos would now agree with this stand. As expected, lawmakers are throwing everything but the kitchen sink to justify the PDAF, with Jinggoy Estrada making a very laughable claim that lawmakers are not required to ensure the legitimacy of the NGOs they allocate funds for. With that remark, he is virtually implying that it is his right to access such funds and it is in his personal discretion how it should be spent. This is another error in the Filipino thinking, when public servants voted to serve the public develop a mentality of messiahs who the people owe their lives to.
That thinking is inaccurate, it is this culture that needs to be modified if the country wants change. Janet Napoles could be guilty of connivance to commit plunder, but she only appears the most guilty because she is the one who got caught. There will certainly be politicians whose heads will be rolling as the investigation is pursued, and it won’t come as a surprise if the alleged plundered amount balloons as well.
It would also be possible if politicians did not only plunder from the pork barrel, their resourcefulness could have also led them to siphon from other sources of funding. Abolishing the pork barrel would pose as a big blow to their corrupt schemes, but it would do little to curb plunder in the country. As long as corrupt personas are elected into power and other government organizations turn a blind eye on their practices, the common Filipino will always be a loser.