Leader of the porkBy Conrado Banal
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Our dear leader, Benigno Simeon (aka BS), apparently changed his mind, as he announced last Friday he would abolish one form of pork, the so-called PDAF, the Priority Development Assistance Fund, which only a few days before he announced as merely suspended.
That should be one less pork. Now we should deal with the other forms of pork in Congress—such as the so-called VILP, or the Various Infrastructure Including Local Projects, which actually was much bigger in amount than the PDAF.
Based on his pronouncements, as translated by the Inquirer word for word into English, it seems that the Aquino (Part II) administration did not intend to do away with the pork system totally.
According to our dear leader, BS, the administration would still allow our beloved lawmakers to identify various projects for implementation by the executive department in their districts, adding that it would also put safeguards in the new system.
If the entire country elects our senators, do they have their own districts in which to identify projects under the new pork system under the Aquino (Part II) administration?
To the guys down here in my barangay, even with the most stringent safeguards ever invented by mankind against stealing public funds, the new system would still be nothing but pork.
How would our lawmakers, for instance, choose the projects in their districts that would be funded in the national budget? Even with all the safeguards that our dear leader, BS, promised to put in the new system, how would the government prevent collusion between the lawmakers and the project contractors, which has been going on from the beginning of time, even in the non-pork projects of the LGUs and the national government? How would the administration choose which projects of what lawmakers should qualify for funding?
Let us face it: the pork barrel system has been and will always be the most powerful way for Malacañang to keep the lawmakers toeing the administration line. Nothing, no amount of re-engineering what is basically a flawed concept like pork, to start with, can change that.
The 89-year-old Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile had this to say about the whole business of pork: “The system confers upon the Executive the power and discretion to either deprive or bless any legislator, to slash his pork barrel, delay its release or to deprive him altogether, or to grant amounts over and above the budgeted amounts for each member of Congress.”
That is why I pray that our dear leader, BS, would succeed in running after the lawmakers who abused the PDAF, because the guys down here in my barangay would really need to see somebody go to jail for stealing their hard-earned tax payments.
It would be one strong way, or maybe the only way, for us to minimize corruption in the pork system—in whatever new form and shape that it would take under the Aquino (Part II) administration.
If it is not too much to ask, perhaps the investigation—supposedly to be conducted by the DOF, the Ombudsman and the NBI— may include even lawmakers who are known to be close allies of the administration.
For example, JPE recently revealed that, in the special audit of the pork releases by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), the Commission on Audit (COA) limited itself to the period 2007-2009.
Does it mean that the DBM did not release pork from 2010 to 2013, which happened to be the years of the Aquino (Part II) administration?
Moreover, JPE noted that the COA could only account for some P47 billion of the pork releases from 2007 to 2009, which was less than 40 percent of the total releases in those years, meaning that the COA did not look into some P60 billion in pork releases.
Thus JPE wondered: “What kind of projects did this huge amount go to, and were these legitimate expenditures?”
JPE said that if the pork must be scrapped, it must be scrapped totally, not only the PDAF of legislators, but also the other pork of all other government entities, including those of the executive department.
In the 2014 budget proposed by Malacañang, the pork would amount to P27 billion for both the Senate and the House of Representatives, or 24 senators and 289 congressmen.
The executive pork—i.e. Office of the President—would amount to P25 billion.
Based on the memo of NBI director Nonnatus Caesar Rojas to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, the NBI stopped its investigation of the alleged $40-million payoff done by a Japanese group to Philippine government officials during the cute administration of Gloriaetta.
Reason: Those who witnessed the payoff were not willing to testify, because being the subject of the NBI investigation for taking part in the deal, they would not want to incriminate themselves in any testimony.
The payoff actually had something to do with the $2-billion casino and hotel project of the group of Japanese national Kazuo Okada on a 30-hectare property at the Entertainment City project of state-owned casino operator Pagcor.
It seems that De Lima ordered the NBI to investigate possible “graft and corrupt acts” in the deal between Pagcor and the Okada company called Universal Entertainment, which supposedly happened in early 2010 as the cute administration was on the way out.
Now, the NBI believes the $40-million payoff indeed happened. The thing is that the NBI could not verify the “real purpose” of the payment, owing to the lack of evidence and witness. The NBI suspended the investigation.
There you have it, ladies and gentlemen: The NBI already knew that the payoff actually happened, and yet it decided to drop its investigation, because it chose to rely on the testimony of those involved in the deal—of all people on this planet?
In a press conference, De Lima herself said the alleged payoff, which she called “bribery” at that time, happened after November 2009, and so this time frame should be important in the NBI investigation.
You see, sometime in November 2009, a group of Pagcor officials went to Las Vegas for one of the fights of Filipino boxing hero Manny Pacquiao. Based on information obtained by the DOJ, the payoff (from the Okada group to the Pagcor officials) took place in January 2010. The following month in February, the cute administration officially allowed the Okada group, through an executive ordered signed by Gloriaetta, to own 100 percent of the casino-hotel project at the Entertainment City.
Based on the DOJ info, that payoff involving the entire $40 million therefore took place in the early part of 2010, while the NBI investigation focused on the period before 2010. What the….
Anyway, the NBI reported to De Lima that the bureau gathered enough evidence to charge the Okada group and its law firm here for violation of the anti-dummy law.
With the help of the local law firm, the Okada group formed three companies here. According to the NBI, the capital structure of those companies revealed interlocking ownership, apparently designed to hide the nationalities of stockholders.
By the way, the Summit group of taipan John Gokongwei Jr. has distanced itself from the Okada casino-hotel project, although the Empire East group of taipan Andrew Tan is pursuing the housing component in the 30-hectare Okada property.