LGUs ride piggyback on pork

By Malou Mangahas
Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

A NUMBER of local government units (LGUs) have joined the pork-barrel bandwagon and launched slush funds for their councilors.

The funds usually come from the Local Development Fund (LDF) that is equivalent to 20 percent of the internal revenue allotment (IRA) that all LGUs collect from national government, based on their population size and capacity to collect taxes.

But some LGUs wallowing in revenues have sourced pork shares for their councilors from local budgets. The practice continues despite a recent stern warning from the Commission on Audit (COA) for the LGUs, among them the Quezon City government, to quit being hung-up on pork.

In its 2010 audit report on Quezon City that came out in August 2011, the COA declared as “prohibited in law” the decision of the city council members to grant themselves P326.65 million for their “Community Infrastructure Program” or CIP, for civil-works projects in their respective districts.

The amount comes up to P13 million a year for each of the 25 members of Quezon City’s Sangguniang Panlungsod. It is, in fact, much smaller than the P40-million CIP, which each councilor got before 2010, or under the watch of then Mayor Feliciano Belmonte Jr., who is now Speaker of the House of Representatives.

COA noted two irregular features of the CIP:

  • Implementing infrastructure projects “is not among the functions of the Sangguniang Panlungsod” under the Local Government Code; and
  • “Despite the absence of specific project/activity in the lump-sum CIP

budget, the required approval or authorization of the Sangguniang Panlungsod was not sought prior to the implementation of each project.”

But the problem did not end there. Apparently because they have access to CIP funds, COA also found the councilors liable for hiring up to 120 personnel each for six months, on “job-order” basis, without any projects to work on.

For the 25 councilors, that means 3,000 people hired and paid for doing nothing for half a year. These hires drew wages remitted to their automated teller machine accounts, by simply flashing to the city treasurer “mere authorization from the city councilor.” This folly cost the taxpayers of Quezon City P170.82 million in all.

In this case, COA cited the following “deficiencies” of the Quezon City government:

  • “Each city councilor hired more or less one hundred twenty (120) personnel on a job-order basis for a period of six (6) months even without authorized project(s) to be undertaken;
  • “Monthly payrolls were not supported with accomplishment reports and time records, hence, actual services rendered could not be established; and
  • “Wages of these job-order personnel were released to and duly acknowledged by representatives authorized by the city councilors.”

But the councilors of Quezon City seem unperturbed by COA’s stinging admonitions. Until July 2 this year, notices of bids and contracts awarded posted on the LGU’s official website enroll a good number of pork-like deals for goods and services, care of several councilors.

These include, for instance, contracts for the purchase of motor vehicles, computers, volleyball and basketball uniforms, sports supplies and stop-watch trophies and medals, eyeglasses, school bags, livelihood training materials (for dishwashing, soap-making, hair-cutting, etc), worth over a million pesos each or more, as well as for the construction of multi-purpose buildings and the repair or rehabilitation or completion of roads and barangay halls – bidded out separately in the names and to the credit of the councilors.

And yet this is also a city where monies from pork or officially the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) have lain idle, in the bank, and earning interest, reveals COA’s 2010 report.

Even though it is the nation’s wealthiest city government, by total revenue collection, Quezon City has also obtained big portions of the pork barrel of the congressmen from the city’s four congressional districts. (In May 2013, the city will have two more congressmen, thanks to a law recently passed by the House of Representatives creating two new congressional districts.)

The COA found that the city government, by end of 2010, had “trust funds totaling P382.63 million, consisting of withheld taxes/fees, receipts from the operation of three economic enterprises, and Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF) for distribution to various NGOs/POs, were placed in time deposit accounts.” This was in clear violation of the rules of the COA and the Department of Finance.

The COA also said that the city treasurer failed “to specify the amounts taken from each trust account,” making it “difficult for the city accountant to distribute the interests earned by each.”

In any case, it seems Quezon City council is not alone in its predilection for local pork-like funds.

In many other LGUs of the country, members of city, town, and provincial councils have gifted themselves with big and small slush-funds carved out of the Local Development Fund or the LDF portion of their IRA.

The abuse of the LDF has prompted Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and Interior and Local Government Secretary Jessie Robredo to issue Joint Memorandum Circular No. 2011-1 on the appropriate use of the LDF.

The four-page guidelines sent to all LGUs on April 13, 2011 spelled out the purposes for which the LDF may be used, according to law. But its most telling section also spelled out the “expenditure items not covered” for LDF support. It lists all the bad practices of many LGUs in dipping their hands on the LDF to their heart’s content, or for their political career’s advance.

The LDF, the guidelines said, may not be used for the following:

  • Administrative expenses such as cash gifts, bonuses, food allowance, medical assistance, uniforms, supplies, meetings, communication, water and light, petroleum products and the like;
  • Salaries, wages or overtime pay;
  • Travelling expenses, whether domestic or foreign;
  • Registration or participation fees in training, seminars, conferences or conventions;
  • Construction, repair or refinishing of administrative offices;
  • Purchase of administrative office furniture, fixtures, equipment or appliances; and
  • Purchase, maintenance or repair of motor vehicles or motorcycles.

Using the LDF for Christmas parties, party gifts and prizes, “lakbay-aral” junkets in the country or overseas, and for allowances and cash gifts to barangay officials are also banned, Robredo said. – PCIJ, July 2012