By Karol Anne M. Ilagan
Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism
Second of Five Parts
THE OFFICIAL name of the pork barrel – Priority Development Assistance Fund or PDAF – should already make it obvious what it is truly intended for.
Yet instead of primarily being a means of helping more people gain access to basic services that the government should have provided them in the first place, PDAF remains a political tool wielded by those in the legislature and the executive to serve their own interests.
For the executive, whom and when to give pork seem to be based partly on exacting what one high-level official calls “historical justice” on its critics, and partly on its own need to ensure cooperation from members of Congress to achieve its political goals.
For lawmakers, ensuring their lock on power by consolidating and expanding their constituencies guides much of their decisions on how to use their PDAF.
For some, this has meant funneling most of their pork into their own bailiwicks, and local government units and foundations usually led and controlled by their relatives and allies, even though there may be other areas in their districts that are more in need.
Indeed, in far too many cases, the congressmen’s craving to secure maximum “projection” and “visibility” through pork overshadows, and even negates cost-wise, the goal of public service in most areas.
Many have adopted various ingenious methods to put their personal stamp on their pork-funded projects that now include not just the usual tarpaulins, billboards, and stickers plastered at construction sites, but also multicabs, school bags, computers, relief goods, and most any other product dole-outs they distribute.
Other supposed acts of charity also become tainted with politics; some congressmen, for instance, for some reason specifically require applicants for scholarships to submit voter’s registration cards when other means of identification would presumably be acceptable.
Additionally, for “hard” or infrastructure projects, lawmakers seek pork for numerous projects that sound all too similar or slight variations of what could be the same things. Year on year, for instance, many use their PDAF for the repair, rehabilitation, reconstruction, regravelling, concreting, retrofitting, upgrade, improvement, maintenance, and completion of roads. Pork-funded work on the pavement of some of the same roads follow the year after.
Multi-purpose buildings – usually roof-covered courts used for drying palay or for playing basketball – are a favorite among many congressmen. Thousands rise across the country every year, built on pork money with cost variance so wide – from P100,000 to P10 million per pop – or much more than the standard cost for such a project set by the Public Works department.
This is probably happening, according to Public Works and Highways Secretary Rogelio Singson, so lawmakers could enroll more projects for funding with PDAF.
Allies get more
These are among the findings gleaned by PCIJ from its survey of records on 45,353 PDAF releases to House members made by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) since President Benigno Simeon ‘Noynoy’ C. Aquino III assumed office on June 30, 2010.
(The PCIJ also reviewed an additional 3,000 PDAF release records covering the pork projects of the senators and Vice President Jejomar C. Binay.)
These data, which are culled from Special Allocation Release Orders or SAROs issued by the DBM upon approval of a congressman’s list of projects, are uploaded on the “e-Fund Releases” pages of the DBM website.
PDAF released to House of Representatives
June 30, 2010 – June 8, 2012
The PCIJ also conducted interviews with some lawmakers and pork beneficiaries themselves, as well as members of the Cabinet.
At first glance, it had seemed that the Aquino administration has been meeting its policy to spread the fat around so that no congressional district would have to do without pork.
For example: of the total P34.9 billion worth of pork released since June 30, 2010, the opposition Lakas-Kampi received 37 percent, the biggest share among the parties (including party-list groups). Lakas also came out with a decent average of P120 million of pork per member.
Some House members who ran under the Lakas-Kampi slate in May 2010 have since moved to other parties and joined the Liberal Party-led coalition majoriy.
Vice President Jejomar ‘Jojo’ C. Binay’s PDP-Laban party, meanwhile, shared the distinction of having the highest average of PDAF release per member – P140 million – with Kabaca and party-list groups COOP NATCCO, An Waray, Senior Citizens, ALAGAD and AGAP.
They were followed by the opposition Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino, which averaged P134 million per member.
By comparison, the ruling Liberal Party (LP) had an average of P124 million of pork per member.
At the same time, though, the total received by some 101 members of the House or 36 percent have been between P70 million and P121 million each.
There also those like Negros Occidental Rep. Alejandro M. Mirasol, who replaced the late Rep. Ignacio ‘Iggy’ T. Arroyo and has yet to receive any PDAF, and seven others who have received less than P70 million of PDAF so far and are therefore at the bottom of the pork barrel.
Former President and current Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo leads the seven, who include her sons Camarines Sur Rep. Diosdado ‘Dato’ M. Arroyo and Ang Galing Pinoy Party-List Rep. Juan Miguel ‘Mikey’ M. Arroyo, and known allies Zambales Reps. Jun Omar C. Ebdane and Ma. Milagros ‘Mitos’ H. Magsaysay, Pangasinan Rep. Ma. Rachel J. Arenas, and Iloilo Rep. Augusto L. Syjuco Jr.
Records also show that both Dato Arroyo and Magsaysay last received pork money in 2010 – with the younger Arroyo receiving P35.5 million and Magsaysay a flat P35 million. This is probably why Gloria Arroyo later decided to share her PDAF with son Dato and Magsaysay in 2011.
Budget Secretary Florencio ‘Butch’ Abad says this is allowed, with both lawmakers agreeing to the sharing of pork bounty between their congressional districts.
For sure, the reasons why some House members have been receiving much less pork than others is because they may have submitted a shorter list of projects. It could also be that the approval for their projects is pending or the issuance of the SARO for these is still under way.
Yet Abad himself says the situation is “part of politics” and refers to “historical justice” at play.
He says that “there were some that really got a lot before” while others did not get any PDAF “so of course you need to help them catch up.” But he also refers to Magsaysay, a strident critic of President Aquino, as a “special case.”
“She says a lot of things,” Abad remarks.
A political tool
But this may not be the only example of how the executive has used pork as political tool.
According to some legislators, pork has been dangled by the Aquino administration in the last two years to rush the approval of the national budget, to deflect criticism of the P23-billion increase in the 2011 budget for the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, as well as to move the impeachment complaints against then Ombudsman Ma. Merceditas N. Gutierrez and then Chief Justice Renato C. Corona.
At the very least, in the last two years, bigger PDAF releases were made on dates that coincided with of the impeachment votes in the House (Corona) and the approval of the General Appropriations Act.
Records show that the PDAF releases of the DBM flowed more abundantly on certain dates, in particular, May 2012, April 2011, October 2010, December 2011, and November 2011. More than half or P18.9-billion of the total PDAF released in the last two years had these “notice of release” dates.
For the House prosecution team, the biggest amounts of PDAF were released on Dec. 6, 2010, Nov. 9, 2011, Nov. 24, 2011, and Dec. 12 and 13, 2011. The House of Representatives impeached Corona on Dec. 12, 2011.
Asked why the House prosecutors got the bulk of their PDAF on Dec. 12 and 13, 2011, Abad says it may have been possible that House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. had requested him to allow the prosecutors quick release of their pork because they would be busy in the succeeding months.
(The PCIJ tried to verify Abad’s explanation with Belmonte but the Speaker has not responded to PCIJ’s request for interview and comments.)
Abad says that on a typical year, the bulk of the SAROs are usually issued in March to April for the first semester, and in September to October for the second semester.
He says that the Aquino administration does not have to control the release of pork since it gets the cooperation it needs. According to budget secretary, there may be lawmakers who still believe that their pork could be held hostage by the executive based on past experience when those who voted for the impeachment of then President Arroyo received no PDAF.
But Abad says, “In our case, we don’t have to do it… like in the case of Mercy, like in the case of the Chief Justice.”
Some congressmen who voted against the impeachment of Gutierrez and Corona are in fact in the top rung of pork recipients with more than P140 million each, among them Albay Rep. Al Francis C. Bichara of the Nacionalista Party, Alagad Party-List Rep. Rodante R. Marcoleta, and Siquijor Rep. Orlando B. Fua of Lakas-Kampi.
Abad says that what matters the most to congressmen are domestic events like Christmas in December and the school opening in June when financial dole-outs from congressmen would be most sought after, and best remembered by their constituents.
And just to make sure the beneficiaries do not forget where the dole-outs come from, some legislators have taken to putting their pictures on mock checks or cash vouchers that act as guarantee letters.
A less noticeable yet apparently politically savvy use of pork, though, has been to invest slabs of it in one’s bailiwick, and preferably where a relative is an incumbent local official.
Abad says this is just plain “political logic.” He points out, “Ideally, while you’re able to help the most needy in your community, you’re also able to improve your political stock in the place. So, naturally, you would favor the incumbent in your districts who are your allies.”
Then again, this only means that the allocation is not driven by pressing needs but by partisanship. With such a practice, even those pinpointed by the government as priority beneficiaries of pork can be overlooked.
For instance, lawmakers are advised to prioritize the 4th – and 6th-class municipalities in their districts and then the sectors (quintiles 1 and 2) that have been identified by the National Household Targeting Survey (NHTS). Yet it seems to be an advice that has gone unheeded.
Of the 11 towns in the 5th district of Iloilo, which is represented in the House by Niel Tupas Jr., one belongs to the 5th class (Batad) and two (Lemery and San Dionisio) to the 4th class. Tupas, however, chose to release more than a third or P41.7 million of Rep. Niel Tupas Jr.’s pork has been released to the local government of Barotac Viejo as the implementing unit of various programs and projects in the fifth district of Iloilo.
Barotac Viejo’s incumbent mayor is the congressman’s brother Niel C. Tupas III. It is a 3rd-class municipality, according to the National Statistical Coordination Board.
Up north, in the 1st district of Ilocos Norte, nearly all of the LGUs have received a share of the PDAF of Rep. Rodolfo C. Farinas, including five 4th- and 5th-class municipalities in the last two years. But the biggest chunk of projects – worth P18 million in all – went to Laoag as the implementing unit, a 3rd –class city whose mayor happens to be the congressman’s nephew, Michael V. Fariñas.
Fariñas has yet to respond to PCIJ’s requests for comment relayed in letters sent on July 12, 2012. Citing prior engagements, Tupas has declined PCIJ’s request for an interview.
For his part, Cavite Rep. Joseph Emilio A. Abaya assigned more than half or P43.7 million of the PDAF released to him to his hometown Kawit, Cavite, as the implementing unit of various social service programs in the first district of Cavite. Kawit’s incumbent mayor is Reynaldo ‘Tik’ Aguinaldo, Abaya’s uncle and Liberal Party co-member.
No projects were assigned to the local government units of Cavite City, Rosario, and Noveleta, the other three LGUs in Abaya’s district. The three towns in the first district of Cavite do not belong among the 4th- to 6th-class municipalities. Kawit and Rosario are both 1st-class municipalities, and Noveleta, 3rd class. Cavite City, meanwhile, is a 4th-class city.
Abaya’s chief of staff, Bernard Odron, says there are no restrictions as to where the PDAF can be coursed through when it comes to LGUs. A lawyer, Oldron adds that Abaya selected Kawit for “expediency” and because the third-term congressman has developed a working relationship with Kawit, where he has also located his district office.
Odron also says Abaya has had difficulties working with other LGUs who are “not friendly” and “not cooperative,” but the congressman supposedly tries to find ways to go directly to the people through the barangays or homeowners’ associations.
Odron said the projects implemented in Kawit are not just for Kawit, but for the entire district. He conceded, however, that those who live in other towns would need to go to Kawit to apply for assistance.
It’s hard to strike a balance between pork as a political and development tool, Odron agrees, but says Abaya does not distinguish between those who voted for him and those who did not, in his selection of scholars and PDAF assistance beneficiaries.
In time, according to Odron, those who did not vote for Abaya are even “converted” to his side because of the “goodwill” that the latter’s pork projects have created. – With additional research by Jessa Mae B. Jarilla, PCIJ, July 2012