Questions about the pork barrel

Calling A Spade
Solita Collas-Monsod

Posted on September 05, 2013

THE FOLLOWING questions come to mind after reading both the CoA Special Audits Office Report No. 2012-03, subtitled “Government-wide Performance Audit” (CoA Report) and the almost frenzied spate of reports in the media on the Napoles case. Perhaps the Reader may add some more. But they certainly are crying for answers.

First, with regard to the CoA Report:

1. Why were the pork barrel appropriations in 2009 -- pork barrel is here defined as the sum of the PDAF or “soft” pork plus the VILP or “hard” pork (Priority Development Assistance Fund + Various Infrastructures Including Local Projects) -- 40% more than the average of the pork barrel appropriations for 2007 and 2008 (32.9 billion vs. 23.5 billion)? Or put differently, how come the pork barrel for 2009 got the lion’s share of the total appropriations for the three year period 2007-2009, the former accounting for more than 40% of the total while the latter accounted for less than 30% each? 2009 being the run-up to an election year, isn’t such a pattern proof positive that the pork barrel is used for (re)election purposes? The figures come from Table 1 of the CoA Report.

2. Why were the records of the DBM regarding the releases of the pork barrel so incomplete? Of the 29 billion in soft pork appropriated for the period, only 12 billion in releases seemed to have been properly recorded. And of the 51 billion of hard pork appropriated, only 32 billion in releases could be audited. Who is responsible for such shoddy accounting? Shouldn’t they be made to answer for their shortcomings?

3. While the appropriations for hard pork were 51 billion for the period, 101 billion was released, which is very obviously illegal, as well, apparently as unconstitutional. So who is responsible for such releases, and are any plans being made to make them answer for their crimes?

Moreover, since 102 billion was released, and only 32 billion could be audited for (see 2, above), one of the implications is that the accounting/monitoring for hard pork is even more shoddy than that for soft pork. Thus, 69 billion (101 minus 32), or more than twice the amount of audited releases went to “unidentified solons” (see bottom of Table 4). Is that shoddiness deliberate, or can DBM be ordered to take a harder look at their records, so that the true extent of any graft or corruption can be determined, and the list of culprits can be completed?

4. From the audited releases, six legislators (one used a relative) were identified as having created their own NGOs and then releasing pork to them. While these amounts are not as large as, say, the excess pork released to some legislators, the brazenness of giving themselves some of the pork (instead of say, getting a commission indirectly from contractors) is still breathtaking. What has been done about this by the respective houses of congress since the report was released almost a month ago?

5. Why are the legislators named in the CoA report so quiet -- at least relative to how they otherwise behave when placed under the limelight?

The CoA Report is as exhaustive as one can get, given the data constraints. It was a two-year effort, followed by a year of “vetting” the findings, receiving the “management” and/or legislators’ comments. It is to be hoped that this report, unlike some of the studies funded by the pork barrel, will be used to bring the erring members of the legislative and executive branch to book.

Now for the Napoles reports. At the risk of going against the tide and the seeming blood lust for the woman, I will ask:

1. Eighty-two NGOs were found by the CoA to have questionable origins of which seven were, per the CoA, associated with Napoles from the Philippine Daily Inquirer original investigative reports. This has now gone up to (per the new “whistle-blowers” up to 19. Even using the larger figure, that still constitutes less than 25% of the questionable NGOs. Why is Napoles being treated as if she was the mastermind of all the 82 erring NGOs? Because that is what the public seems to think.

2. Again, as reported in the newspapers, the modus vivendi between Napoles and the legislators was a 30-70 sharing (30% to Napoles and 70% to the legislator) of the diverted pork funds. Why isn’t there as much enthusiasm, or even as much leakage to the press about what is being done regarding the erring solons, considering that they allegedly get the much larger share? And why aren’t the other erring NGOs not even in the equation, when, at least in number, they constitute 75% of the culprits?

3. Can anyone explain why, if Napoles was supposed to have an “in” with the NBI (which is why there is an ongoing shake-up of the agency), she absolutely refused to surrender to them?

4. Twenty-eight properties (presumably other than the three that she admitted that she owned) were identified as belonging to Napoles. The BIR has been investigating, and again from news reports, have been unable to find any connection between these properties and Napoles, or members of her family and other relatives, or officers and members of the NGOs supposedly associated with her. Napoles is also quoted as saying that the government is welcome to all those 28 properties. What does this imply as to the credibility of some of the whistle-blower reports?

5. I had the opportunity to ask questions of two of the latest alleged whistle-blowers -- identified as a bookkeeper, the other a finance officer. In answer to my questions, they said that the size of their NGO-creating operations was a complement of 10, including drivers and presumably, janitors (as well as Luy and Sunas). How could such a small staff create 19 NGOs, and why could they not -- or at least the so-called finance officer -- come up with an order of magnitude as to the amounts that came under their purview? What does this say about how these whistle-blowers will stand up to cross-examination?

6. How is it that the charges of kidnapping (of Luy) by Napoles were dismissed, and then two months later, the decision was reversed, with charges of serious illegal detention being filed? And if he was supposed to have been kept against his will in a retreat house, why weren’t the owners of the retreat house charged?

Just asking. But there is an encouraging sign: I also read that Rep. Evardone in Congress is now circulating a resolution that essentially asks for an abolition of the pork barrel -- the only non-party list Congress person who has made the effort. If the report is accurate, he, and I hope the Liberal Party of which he is a reported member, is to be congratulated. Maybe that means that PNoy is coming around.