“The pork barrel scam and the pork barrel itself is perpetuating social inequities in the Philippines.” – UP Faculty Against Pork Barrel
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – The Aquino administration has concocted and implemented what it calls as a Disbursement Acceleration Program, yet, why can’t it accelerate the probe on how public funds are being distributed and spent?
This was just one of the questions aired by professors from the University of the Philippines in a press conference yesterday June 9. Presenting their “UP list”, a timeline tracing the development (or lack of it) in the investigation and filing of charges since the pork barrel scam was exposed under President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, they concluded that the Aquino administration “proves to be reactive and inefficient in handling the pork barrel scam.” Not even the recent filing of charges against three senators could mitigate the assessment of the UP faculty of the Aquino administration’s foot dragging, or worse, coverup, on the pork barrel scam case.
The UP faculty members who took the time to trace and write down this timeline identify themselves as the UP Faculty Against Pork Barrel (UP FacPork). They held their first press conference last year, shortly before the first explosion of public anger over the massive pork barrel scam involving businesswoman and suspected pork launderer Janet Lim-Napoles. Since then it has almost been a year, and it is only now that charges against Napoles and against a few politicians are being filed. Meanwhile, Napoles, President Aquino and his so-called rehabilitation chief Panfilo Ping Lacson have talked about different versions of the list of involved politicians.
Aside from the lists, the Commission on Audit (COA) has also issued a report containing lists of officials worth questioning about their handling or mishandling of public funds. Joyce Cuaresma, associate professor for over 20 years and fiscal expert of UP-NCPAG (National College of Public Administration and Governance), said there are already information with paper trail, coming from the government itself, that should have set off investigations earlier.
She told Bulatlat.com that the COA should have issued notices of disallowances to all of the more than a hundred public officials listed in its special audit report of pork barrel disbursements covering the period 2007 to 2009. She said the COA has also issued a report on the audit of the Malampaya and PSF (President’s Social Fund) under Aquino. The UP faculty members said attention should be given to these reports and to the officials named in the audit reports, but, they asked, why is the attention focused only on Napoles’ lists?
Cuaresma said in the press conference that the COA reports listed people “who committed irregular, exceptional, extravagant, unconscionable acts.”
The summary of the said report read: “The Audit disclosed that PDAF and VILP were not properly released by the DBM and not appropriately, efficiently and effectively utilized by the Implementing Agencies.”
Both PDAF and VILP (Priority Development Assistance Fund and Various Infrastructures including Local Projects) are pork barrel funds as they are lump sum allocations to projects chosen or vetted and proposed by individual officials, and supposedly coursed through implementing agencies such as the Department of Public Works and Highways for ‘hard’ projects like construction of classrooms, waiting shed, etc., and certain NGOs and government agencies for “soft projects” such as health, livelihood, small infrastructure, peace and order and other activity-related projects.
The total appropriations included in the COA special audit covering these hard and soft pork for legislators in 2007 to 2009 under General Appropriations Act amounted to P79.878 billion ($1.83 B) or eight times as large as the pork allegedly scammed through Napoles ghost projects.
“It’s not just the three senators; the (COA) list is very long. It includes officials from all levels of government, and some NGOs (non-government organizations) and partylist organizations. We should not focus on just three persons,” Cuaresma said.
She urged the public to pressure the officials of the Aquino administration to look into the COA special audit report, and to push COA to issue notices of disallowances. Although she was quick to add that she is not a lawyer, she said issuing notices of disallowances would put pressure on the concerned officials and they would be recorded as not yet cleared. She said these actions are needed for the Ombudsman and the Sandiganbayan to act on it and file cases.
A timeline showing Aquino’s inaction, coverup
Based on the “UP list” or timeline, the pork barrel scam, which began to hog the headlines in July last year, remains largely unresolved today due to the Aquino administration’s “inaction.” But by the end of the UP FacPork’s press conference, “inaction” has also become synonymous to coverup.
Noting that a month after the initial exposé of the pork barrel scam, President Benigno Aquino III made a public declaration, Aug. 2013, that it is high time to abolish the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). The UP PacPork said President Aquino’s declaration was “mainly to placate growing unrest.” In terms of necessary political reforms, they said, Aquino’s actions had little impact.
The PDAF was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court on November 2013. What remained of PDAF funds for 2013 were allocated for disaster response. But ACT Rep. Antonio Tinio said, in two separate occasions, that the funds remained as pork, only the power over it was transferred to another’s hand, namely to the president.
“The current system of political patronage through budgetary allocations remains,” the UP FacPork said in a statement. Aquino merely replaced a new mechanism over PDAF. The UP FacPork said Aquino himself has admitted to doing that in his speech last year where he said his administration will craft a “new mechanism.” In this new mechanism, the lawmakers still “suggest” projects to fund, and these funds are then released to implementing agencies.
Five to six government agencies thus received additional budgets. In a separate forum held last February also in UP Diliman, ACT Rep. Tinio disclosed that House pork for 2014 goes to six departments as “suggested” or recommended by lawmakers: Department of Health (P3.55 billion or $81.3 M); Department of Labor and Employment (P1.022 billion or $23.4 M); TESDA (P1.026 billion or $23.5 M); Department of Social Welfare and Development (P4.428 billion or $101.4 M); Department of Public Works and Highways (P6.4 billion or $146.6 M); CHED (P4.12 billion or $94.35 M). Senators also reportedly realigned their pork as calamity funds, etc.
The UP FacPork said the Filipino people have to search for these fund allocations through the DBM (Department of Budget Management). These funds, they said, evidently remain as pork.
“It is not the role of congressmen to allocate funds for scholarships, health services, etc. – we have line agencies for that,” said UP Associate Professor Sarah Raymundo, as she facilitated the FacPork’s press conference.
‘No asset distribution in a setting with political dynasties’
The pork barrel scam and the pork barrel itself is perpetuating social inequities in the Philippines, said members of UP FacPork.
Why are there no adequate funds for social services, for education and the needed wage hike of teachers, but there are billions for pork? Members of UP FacPork, which include the All-UP Academic Workers’ Alliance, CONTEND, an urban poor community in UP, and some professors, point to structural problems in Philippine society that continuously remain unaddressed. And will not likely be addressed by government leaders through their own volition because they are benefitting from the structural setup, the UP faculty members said.
UP Cebu Professor Phoebe Zoe Maria “Bebot” Sanchez, who teaches History, Political Science and Sociology, described Philippine political dynamics as one where politicians like “to give personalistic benefits to friends, allies, to gain favours and votes in order to ensure that they would remain in their positions, and so they entrench themselves.”
Sanchez said this is not public service articulation. The country’s political leaders are from political dynasties, thus, the same patronage politics happen repeatedly in this country.
“Politicians don’t want to deliver public interest goods. Wage hike? They would make it lower, so that the people become mendicants, and they would all the more approach and ask help from politicians who then appear like saviours,” Sanchez said.
The UP Cebu professor who has taught History and Political Science for over three decades now said “Asset redistribution will never take place in a setting with political dynasties.”
Pork barrel scams are related to low wages and structural problems in Philippine society. According to Prof. Joyce Cuaresma of UP-NCPAG, if you raise the people’s income, you need not have PDAF, scholarships, etc., from legislators and politicians.
If you raise the people’s income, they will have savings and increased resilience in the face of economic shocks. “But the business sector says the minimum wage in the Philippines is high. It is not,” said Prof. Cuaresma.
And this, the UP professors said, is the impact of the pork barrel scam on the people.
They added that the Aquino administration, which claims that it is for “good governance” and the “righteous path,” seems to have been purposely containing the pork scam issue to just the P10 billion ($229 M) stolen by Napoles and her co-conspirators in government. In contrast, the COA special audit report revealed a loss of P80 billion ($1.83 B) in irregularities involving pork barrel funds from 2007 to 2009 alone. Likewise, the Aquino administration’s moves to focus the filing of charges, related to the scam, on only three senators reveal that it is containing the issue and not running after all those involved.
Why is it not acting upon its own COA reports and lists? Why is it not directing the COA to investigate the disbursements beyond 2009?
The UP FacPork is encouraging the public to raise these questions and more to the Aquino administration, as it accused Aquino of protecting his officials and allies who are being implicated in the pork barrel scam, especially Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, and Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala.
“It would be advisable for the officials currently in hot water to resign,” the group said, citing the need for delicadeza or common decency. Urging for a full-blown and impartial investigation to determine the extent of involvement of all parties, allied or not to the Aquino administration, the UP FacPork members vowed to perform their “duty-bound role” to join mass actions in the months and years to come, including the one on June 12 Independence Day.