Pork-barrel scam: a billion per year for ten years

CHEERS TO the Philippine Daily Inquirer for a six-part investigative series that revived public interest in and widespread discussion on the pork barrel, which for years has been the object of claims that it is a major source of corruption. The subject of the report was the alleged P10-billion development funds scam by a syndicate using bogus non-government organizations (NGOs) to obtain funds for ghost projects.

The Inquirer reported that a Janet Lim Napoles, with her brother Reynald “Jojo” Lim, who run the trading company JLN Corp., siphoned into their private accounts public money from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), or pork barrel, of five senators and 23 members of the House of Representatives.

The Inquirer based its story on interviews with, and the sworn affidavits submitted to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) by,  six whistleblowers. The issue came to light when an NBI special task force rescued alleged kidnap victim and principal witness to the scam Benhur K. Luy, who was supposedly being detained by Napoles and Lim. Luy was Napoles’ distant cousin and personal assistant. The other five whistleblowers also worked in JLN Corp.

The first part of the series focused on the statement of the whistleblowers and allegations against JLN Corp. The whistleblowers, assisted by their lawyer Levito Baligod, prepared and submitted to the NBI sworn affidavits stating that JLN Corp. “had defrauded the government of billions of pesos in ghost projects involving the creation of at least 20 bogus nongovernment organizations.”

In an interview with the Inquirer, Luy said that “JLN offered to lawmakers commissions equivalent to 40 to 60 percent of the amount of PDAF in exchange for the right to determine the implementing agency and fund beneficiary.” (“NBI probes P10-B scam“, July 12)

The second part of the series presented Napoles’ side. Napoles declared that “the charges against her and her family were false, fabricated, and a mere product of lies perpetrated by business competitors conspiring with corrupt agents of the National Bureau of Investigation with the ulterior motive of besmirching our reputation.” (“‘I am not involved in any scam’“, July 13)

The third part looked at how the “syndicate” allegedly “converted billions of pesos in government funds into kickbacks.” According to the Inquirer report, Napoles established dummy NGOs to “serve as recipients of the funds and named her own employees, including a nanny, as presidents of these outfits.”

The report added that “(t)he funds, which were deposited in the foundations’ bank accounts, were eventually remitted to her to be split between her and the lawmaker whose PDAF allotment was used, or the official of the state agency involved.” (“How P10-B racket works“, July 14)

The fourth part named the five senators and 23 House representatives who were allegedly involved in the scam. Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. topped the list of senators and reportedly “gave the syndicate access to his pork barrel to dummy NGOs in 22 instances; followed by Senators Juan Ponce-Enrile on 21 occasions; Jinggoy Estrada, 18 times; Ferdinand Marcos Jr., four; and Gringo Honasan, once with a small amount.”

The Inquirer also identified the top four of the 23 House representatives linked to the pork barrel scam: “Topping the list of 23 House representatives is Rizalina Seachon-Lanete of Masbate’s third district, who allowed her pork to be used 13 times; followed by Conrado Estrella III of Pangasinan’s 6th district and Rodolfo Plaza of Agusan del Sur, both nine occasions; and Samuel Dangwa, of Benguet, eight.” Also in the report are the banks accounts of the bogus NGOs and of Napoles as well as properties acquired in the course of the scheme. (“28 solons linked to scam“, July 15)

The fifth part revealed that “(a)t least P900 million from royalties in the operation of the Malampaya gas project off Palawan province intended for agrarian reform beneficiaries has gone into a dummy nongovernment organization (NGO).” The report identified the 12 dummy NGOs that were made recipients of the Malampaya funds. (“Malampaya fund lost P900M in JLN racket“, July 16)

In the last part, the Inquirer published Luy’s own account of his “kidnapping”. The paper also published the letter of Luy’s lawyer to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima saying: “This case initially appeared to me as simple case of serious illegal detention. However, a further interview of witnesses revealed that the victim was being detained to ensure that nobody could directly implicate the above persons with the ongoing issues on the fertilizer scam, Malampaya Fund, and anomalies in the implementation of several PDAF-funded projects.” (“Napoles: We control gov’t“, July 17)

For background, the Inquirer reminded the readers of Napoles’ connection to the P728-million fertilizer fund scam and the misuse of the P1.782-billion Malampaya fund.

As informative as it was, the investigative series fell short of providing an in-depth discussion of  pork barrel politics.

However, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) did a follow-up report on the vulnerability of the pork barrel to abuse and to corruption.

The PCIJ report noted that allies of the current administration and some political dynasties get most of the PDAF. The funds are distributed to vote-rich areas contrary to the purpose of the fund to assure “equity” in access to public funds.

The report noted the lack of transparency and accountability in the system:

“Under the pork system, the known tasks of lawmakers are only to identify what projects they want funded at the start and monitor and sign on to project completion, at the end. Of course, in between they get to plaster their names and faces on project tarps or propaganda, to make sure voters remember them come election time. Whatever else lawmakers do, or how they exact commissions from pork funds, are secret, typically paperless transactions.”

There are also “pork-like” funds in the national budget that are prone to corruption because the disbursement details are seldom disclosed to the public and the funds seldom accounted for.

In a previous PCIJ interview, then Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who has refused to accept pork barrel funds, said the standard commission and/or kickback of a legislator ranges from 20 to 50 percent from every PDAF-funded project, and that around 50 percent of all pork funds are “what might be called the good pork that translates into some service to the citizens.” (“Pork, lump-sums, and President PNoy: Scam, no! PDAF a ‘mafia’ of executive & legislature“, July 21)

Another follow-up report by Rappler.com released the first part of a series linking “prominent administration allies” to the pork barrel scam, among them:

  • a former senator whose son ran under the administration’s Team PNoy last May
  • eight turncoats who are now with the President’s Liberal Party (LP)
  • two party-list representatives who are with the administration
  • four members of Congress who have long been with the LP

Rappler scrutinized PDAF releases to other agencies and government corporations as well as Commission on Audit reports, and found that “the allegations made by Luy in the affidavit he recently submitted to the justice department make up but a small part of a larger anomaly.” (“Admin solons linked to pork barrel scam“, July 22)

PJR Reports previously cited PCIJ and GMA News and Public Affairs, Special Assignments Team, and News Research for their comprehensive reports on the pork barrel system. (“Understanding pork barrel politics”, October 2012)