ACT Rep. Antonio Tinio said the list of so-called “focal persons,” consisting of names and contact numbers of government employees of CHED, DoH, and DOLE, was distributed to House members April 22 this year. He called the list “another proof that President Aquino is secretly and illegally distributing pork to legislators despite the Supreme Court ruling declaring pork as unconstitutional.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
LUNETA, MANILA — Following up on his earlier revelations about the secret mechanisms for legislators to enjoy their pork, ACT Teachers’ Rep. Antonio Tinio released a list of government employees in three national government agencies tasked to facilitate the funding requests of members of the House of Representatives for scholarships, medical assistance, and emergency employment. These are just some of the purported projects recommended for funding by some solons.
Tinio said the list of so-called “focal persons,” consisting of names and contact numbers of government employees of the Commission on Higher Education, Department of Health, and Department of Labor and Employment, was distributed to House members on April 22, 2014. He called the list “another proof that President Aquino is secretly and illegally distributing pork to legislators despite the Supreme Court ruling declaring pork as unconstitutional.”
Collusion for pork by executive and legislative?
Last February at a forum on Congress-approved 2014 budget, ACT Rep. Tinio showed a copy of a blank form in which he said the members of Congress had filled in the blanks their preferred government agencies for implementing projects in their name. This was the first year following the Supreme Court’s declaration that the legislators’ pork, the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), is unconstitutional.
During the initial budget deliberation in Congress nearly two weeks ago, Tinio found additional proof pointing to this new “illegal” and “secretive” mechanism for legislators to continue enjoying their pork, with the seeming complicity of the executive branch of the government.
Some P20.7 billion ($472 M) funds in the 2014 General Appropriations Act were realigned to six national government agencies. Of these, CHED got P4.1 billion ($93.5 M) for its scholarship program, DOH got P3 billion ($68.4 M) for medical assistance to indigent patients, and DOLE got P1 billion ($22.8 M) for its emergency employment programs (known as TUPAD and GIP). The Department of Social Welfare got P4 billion ($91.2 M) for its Crisis Intervention Program while TESDA got P1 billion ($22.8 M) for its skills training program. The Department of Public Works and Highways got P7.3 billion ($166.44 M) for various local infrastructure projects.
Officially, Tinio said, these agencies maintain that legislators have no say in the use of these funds.
“But in actual practice, the Aquino administration secretly allows these funds to be used as personal discretionary funds of members of the House of Representatives, a practice declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court,” Tinio said.
The teachers’ representative disclosed that the funds in CHED, DOH, DOLE, TESDA, and DSWD are further subdivided into individual lump sums for House members, with P14 million (more than $319 thousand) each from CHED, P10.5 million ($239,400) from DOH, P3.5 million ($79,800) from DOLE and from TESDA, and P14 million (more than $319 thousand) from DSWD. These personal lump sums are to be disbursed at the discretion of each House member, who alone decides to whom and how much of the funds will go.
At the “Sign UP, Stand Up, Abolish Pork” kickoff in Luneta, Most Rev. Bishop Teodoro Bacani said a congressman (Atienza) also told him about the legislator’s pork barrel. At a media briefing on 2015 proposed national budget a week before, former National Treasurer Leonor Briones said she personally witnessed congressmen rushing to fill up forms recommending their pork to certain government agencies. She said the congressmen even told her that their pork has increased in the 2015 budget.
Using government personnel to break law?
Because pork funds among lawmakers has been declared as illegal by the Supreme Court, allowing members of Congress to access pork is not officially acknowledged.
Tinio said there are no written policies, guidelines, memoranda, or orders admitting that it (legislators’ pork) goes on despite the SC ruling against it. Cabinet officials also have been forced to hold face-to-face meetings with House members to explain that they can access their personal discretionary lump sums through so-called focal persons.
“These focal persons are government employees or middle level executives who, in their respective agencies, can facilitate the funding requests of congressmen and congresswomen,” said Tinio.
Tinio said their list included CHED’s focal persons, Director for Student Development and Services Isabel Inlayo, three of her staff, and its 16 regional directors. Also assigned as contact persons are DOLE’s regional directors (for district representatives) and Nenita Garcia, the Director of Financial Management Service (for party-list representatives).
As for DOH, hospital staff are assigned to accommodate solons’ referred beneficiaries for each of the 136 DOH-retained and specialty hospitals covered by the MAP. “These hospital personnel report to DOH Undersecretary Janette Garin, who is in charge of the medical assistance pork, officially known as the Medical Health Care Assistance Program (MCAP), and later renamed as the Medical Assistance Program (MAP).”
Aquino hand in discreetly porking
Tinio denounced President Aquino for forcing these civil servants to take part in unconstitutional and illegal acts. “For the sake of maintaining the system of political patronage, Aquino is suborning these employees to commit acts already declared illegal by the Supreme Court.”
The list is one of the pieces of evidence attached to the fourth impeachment complaint which Tinio filed against Aquino on August 11 along with 15 other complainants including Kabataan Patylist Rep. Terry Ridon, National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera and leaders of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers. The House leadership refused to refer it to the Justice Committee along with three other valid complaints on the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) and Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.
Also included as evidence is the audio recording of a closed-door meeting held by the House Committee on Appropriations where CHED Chairperson Patricia Licuanan said “I know it [referral of scholars by solons] was supposed to be illegal, dapat wala na but actually meron pa” and “I am also dealing and accepting the political reality that this is PDAF.”
Given the seeming connivance between the executive and its trusted allies in Congress in the matter of continuing the lawmaker’s pork, Tinio concluded that “it is obvious both the President and Congress cannot be trusted to respect and obey the law against pork barrel.”
As we speak, Congress and Malacañang are busy going around the Supreme Court decisions assailing PDAF and DAP, said Monet Silvestre, spokesman of #abolish pork movement, in another statement.
“The Supreme Court already declared as illegal pork the PDAF and any scheme like it where the President dangles funds as a carrot and stick to control Congress. President Aquino is lying to the people and committing illegal acts,” Tinio concluded.
Because of these acts by the president and his allies in Congress, the people’s initiative to abolish pork, by enacting a law against pork, came to being.
“It is now up to the people to themselves enact a law that will criminalize the inclusion and approval of discretionary lump sum funds like PDAF and DAP in the national budget. This is the very reason why thousands of Filipinos converged at Luneta this Aug 25—to sign up for the genuine abolition of the pork barrel system,” Tinio said.
The people who gathered at Luneta said they want to put an end to a system that allows public funds to be used as though they were the personal funds of public officials. Even the rock bands who made the audience sing their hit songs said they abhor such a system, and so, they are happy to share their time and talent to people’s initiative.