(From the Manila Standard Today.com column of Atty. H. Harry L. Roque, Jr. posted on August 1, 2013) http://manilastandardtoday.com/2013/08/01/how-baboy-the-pig/
I’m hoping that the Napoles affair would create sufficient public outrage to warrant the outright abolition of the pork barrel system. In fairness to other media groups such as the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, the public already knew as early as the 1990s how the pork barrel works. During those days though, the fat in the pork only had to do with infrastructure projects. We knew, courtesy of PCIJ, that our congressmen and senators would make anywhere from 20 percent to 50 percent of the total cost of infrastructure projects funded through their Priority Development Assistance Fund. It was unheard of then to launder taxpayers’ money through Non-Governmental Organizations. It was only later, through the fertilizer and the swine scams, that we knew how taxpayer’s money landed in private pockets using non-government organizations as conduits.
I guess what makes the Napoles affair even more reprehensible is the fact that unlike before when the public would somehow benefit from infrastructure projects that made the SOP kickbacks possible, the public no longer derives any benefit when the PDAF is laundered through NGOs. This is because, as the whistleblowers testified, many of these NGOs were either inactive or non-existent. Their reason for being is only their separate legal personality on the basis of which they are able to open bank accounts used to launder public money. Under this scheme, it is only third parties like Napoles and the legislators who benefit from the PDAF. What gall!
The PDAF is of fairly recent origin. It was implemented during the presidency of Cory Aquino. The official justification for it was that it puts all legislative districts, regardless of their size and income, on equal footing as far as congressional projects are concerned. This is because since its inception, all members of Congress get the same amount of budget for the PDAF. Today, it is P70 million per annum for every Congressman and P200 million for every senator.
They say too that the PDAF is intended to equalize the playing field for all politicians. Again, the justification is where the governor and the congressman are politically at odds, without the PDAF, the congressman is bound to die a political death since the local budget will never fund projects that would benefit the Congressman. But because of the PDAF, Mr. Congressman, despite his relationship with his mayor and/or his governor, will have projects to his credit.
The Supreme Court upheld the legitimacy of the PDAF but only because petitioners did not offer evidence that the PDAF was in fact misused. Said the Court in LAMP vs. Secretary of DBM and the National Treasurer: “No convincing proof was presented showing that, indeed, there were direct releases of funds to the Members of Congress, who actually spend them according to their sole discretion. Not even a documentation of the disbursement of funds by the DBM in favor of the Members of Congress was presented by the petitioner to convince the Court to probe into the truth of their claims. Devoid of any pertinent evidentiary support that illegal misuse of PDAF in the form of kickbacks has become a common exercise of unscrupulous Members of Congress, the Court cannot indulge the petitioner’s request for rejection of a law, which is outwardly legal and capable of lawful enforcement.”
But with the minority in the House promising the nation a full-blown investigation of the Napoles affair, we can be sure that the evidence that the Court was demanding should be forthcoming soon. In this regard, I have no doubts that the integrity and legal brilliance of House Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora would unearth the necessary evidence.
Meanwhile, let’s hope that even before the investigation, that Congress on its own would heed the demand of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines to put an end to this practice of the PDAF. Legislators are elected by the people to craft policies in the form of laws. They were not elected to bring projects into their districts. Their involvement should be limited to passing the annual budget law. Project identification and implementation are properly within the realm of the executive, which is tasked by our constitution to implement the law. It is only in this manner that we can break the cycle of vote buying in elections and corruption while in office.
If legislators now will be elected for the reason provided in our Constitution, even normal mortals could aspire to be elected in the August halls of Congress. Without the expected gains from the PDAF, it is unlikely for any congressional aspirant to buy votes to be elected. And when a candidate can win without having to buy votes, there would be need in turn for him to be corrupt while in office. The reality is that congressional candidates are willing to spend up to P50 million in buying votes during elections because that they expect to earn that sum once they are elected. Do the math: 20 percent to 50 percent of 70 million annually is P14 million to P35 million annually in kickbacks. That’s why they are willing to spend up to P50 million, knowing that the return could be up to P105 million after three years. That’s not the kind of interest that anyone could make in any time deposit!
Meanwhile, let us continue to be indignant about the pork barrel. Politicians, being who they are, know only too well that they cannot be oblivious to public indignation all the time. As a colegiala once said: How baboy the pig!