It has been three months and yet the enmity felt by the public towards the immorality of the Priority Development Assistance Fund, informally called the ‘pork barrel’, has not abated. The rage against the misuse of the ‘pork’ as well as the disgraced politicos and private individuals involved in the so-called ‘mother of all scams’ continues, in fact it has not even waned.
It seems that every fortnight, new protests against the PDAF as well as calls for several politicians to come clean are being made. Rightly so, I might add; this case demands our full attention and the public has all the right to be antagonistic towards any misuse of their tax funds. However, we are being simplistic if we focus solely on the part of the scandal being magnified by our media.
When any mention of the infamous ‘Pork Barrel Scam’ is being made, the scope of people’s knowledge limit to only that of Janet Napoles, her extravagant daughter Jeanne and the names of the three prominent politicians involved: Revilla, Estrada and Enrile. It’s not surprising, considering that most of the major news outlets only allude to that part of the scam. Little do they know, the breadth of the controversy covers more private individuals, more prominent names in politics and certainly a lot more money than the Php10B involved.
However, it seems that Janet Lim Napoles took the full brunt of the punishment for the scam. The media and critics of the pork barrel are portraying her as the poster girl of the entire scam, but is she really deserving of that tag? Before we jump into any conclusions, it is good to know what her role was in the modus operandi: she acted as the ‘middle (wo)man’. Obviously, it follows that she was not alone in the process.
What exactly was Napoles’ role in the entire system? Well, first we need to understand how the PDAF works. Contrary to popular belief, the lawmakers allocated with the amount do not have the cash in their bank accounts but simply an allocation. From their allocation, they can nominate development projects in the country. Example, a congressman from a rural constituency may nominate for a road to be cemented in his area. He sends a letter to the DPWH, asking them to facilitate the project with a note that the funds come from his PDAF allocation. So the DPWH undertakes the project using funds from a lawmaker’s PDAF, but in order to do that they need to send a request to the DBM, the agency which facilitates all budget allocations and only they can authorize any fund release.
This is where Napoles comes into play. The DBM makes use of red tape and bureaucracy to stall the release as long as they can, understandably the congressman becomes impatient and his constituents frustrated. He has to follow-up the agency for the release and make a lot of paperwork to check on its’ status, in addition to his main duty of attending plenary sessions in the Congress and crafting laws. Since the congressman or senator is a very busy person, people like Janet Napoles make use of this situation and negotiate to do the follow-ups on behalf of that lawmaker.
This comes at a price, of course. In return for a speedy release of funds these brokers order that a percentage be paid as a commission to them, this is usually in the region of 40-50%. However big that percentage seem to be, only a measly 10-15% end up in the broker’s pockets. This is because a portion of that end up being paid to the DBM officials as ‘grease money’, a bribe that would entice them to prioritize the release of the broker’s client. Also, COA auditors are also given hush money to play blind to the anomalies. The officials of the implementing agency, in our example’s case the DPWH, who are involved in the project also get a cut as well as the contractor of the project.
That example, however, is what we call a ‘hard project’. Other projects under this criteria include bridges, new roads and new classrooms. These hard projects are more difficult to corrupt since a post-implementation evaluation follows, which means someone checks the project after it is completed to see if the money is well-spent. The lawmakers looking to profit out of taxpayer money avoid these kind of projects, which is why the corruption usually happens with fertilizers, medicines, textbooks, scholarships and the like which fall under the ‘soft project’ category.
These projects are harder to evaluate, since they are consumables and disappear shortly after they are delivered. Janet Napoles and her clientele focus on these rackets, a proof for this is how most of the bogus NGOs she created were involved with agriculture or farming, since fertilizers and farm inputs are the favorite options for corruption. Now, taking a cut from the funds allotted and delivering substandard equipment instead may seem bad, but that is actually the better than the norm. Usually, no delivery is made and the funds end in the pockets of the corroborators.
Reading the previous paragraphs, it’s common sense that Napoles is not alone in the scam. In fact, it’s even unfair to say she is the most guilty in the case. I believe that the blame should evenly rest between the lawmaker and the DBM, the former for being seduced into a corrupt practice and the latter for being the catalyst in the the whole process. If you look at the system through that perspective, you realize the middlemen are only doing what these government-run, supposedly public-serving entities are mandated to do. Though that does not make them innocent, nor am I arguing that they are. But the way these critics are portraying the Napoles saga is almost like they have decapitated the dragon when they have only sliced the tail. Napoles and the senators are just steps in the process, why are they ignoring the DBM or COA officials?
In fact, even if Napoles had three senators and dozens of congressmen in her clientele that still constituted to only a minority of the total elected members of Congress. There are 24 senators and 250 lower house members at any given time, it’s hard to believe only a few dozen are into the racketeering business.
They aren’t and that was proven just a few days after the Napoles revelation. A similar trader, who operated as a broker and had transactions with several legislators as well, was made known to public. Marivic Sevilla Tolentino owned a trading company named Innsbruck International Trading, which dealt with the PDAF of senators Tito Sotto and Lito Lapid. That was only during the initial investigation, in August the COA released more documents to the public and it became clear that this was a rampant practice in the legislative branch. More bogus NGOs emerged connected to more middlemen and involved a lot more congress members.
There were other players in the game, if one were to look at the bigger picture in this pork barrel scam you will meet more disgraceful lawmakers, more brokers, more conniving government agency officials and contractors who are guilty of bribery. It isn’t just Janet Napoles, not just Revilla, Enrile, Sotto, Estrada in fact not just the Upper House. The Lower House are in it, so too are several LGUs and of course there’s the DBM. Isn’t it suspicious how quickly members of Congress jumped into the issue when the scam was exposed and began denying that they know Janet Napoles personally? Very defensive if you ask me.
This essay is in no way a defense of Napoles or an argument for her innocence, but simply to let people know that she is being used as a scapegoat while others who are either just as guilty or more guilty than her are being able to flee the country scot free. Did you know that half a dozen individuals the NBI invited for questioning have left the country? Not to forget, Napoles once admitted that the supposed ‘mastermind’ behind the entire system had escaped our borders too. It’s a pity how underrated these other ‘pork personalities’ are compared to Napoles, when in reality they are just as much to blame as her.
It’s time people open their eyes and see the bigger picture, and not merely condemn the sacrificial lamb.