Pork

26 | MEDIA TIMES 2013 • Center for Media Freedom & Responsibility PHOTO BY LITO OCAMPO

& P

& Plunder
MEDIA IN AID OF PUBLIC OUTRAGE
BY YK KATHRYN ATHRYN YN ROJ ROJA OJA G OJ G. R RAYMUNDO AYMU UND NDO O
Center for Media Freedom & Responsibility • 2013 MEDIA TIMES | 27

T

HE PROBLEM IS NOT NEW, BUT HAS RESISTED REFORM FOR DECADES. THE CORRUPTION SURROUNDING THE PORK BARREL SYSTEM DID NOT START WITH THE ALLEGATION VIA THE MEDIA IN JULY 2013 THAT THE PRIORITY DEVELOPMENT ASSISTANCE FUND (PDAF) HAD BEEN “GROSSLY MISUSED,” THIS TIME BY BUSINESSWOMAN JANET LIM-NAPOLES AND SOME MEMBERS OF CONGRESS. THE HISTORY OF THE DISCRETIONARY, LUMP SUM APPROPRIATIONS IN THE BUDGET DATES BACK TO THE 1920S. THE PRESS HAS SINCE BEEN REPORTING ON THE SYSTEM’S VULNERABILITY TO PATRONAGE AND CORRUPTION.
Recalling the system’s long history, the online news site VERA Files republished an excerpt from the 2004 book “The Rulemakers: How the Wealthy and Well-Born Dominate Congress” which contains a section on the pork barrel system in the Philippines and its abuse. The VERA ϐiles report found that since its beginnings during the period of US colonization, the pork barrel system has been deϐined as “appropriations and favors obtained by a representative for his or her district” and “items inserted into the budget of a government agency through negotiations” among public ofϐicials. Since its American occupation origins, the pork barrel system in the Philippines has evolved only in name, among them Support for Local Development Projects (SLDP), Countrywide Development Fund (CDF), Congressional Initiative Allocation (CIA). PDAF is only one of its many names, and it has largely stayed the same. Pork barrel fund disbursements are usually in the form of public works (infrastructure), social services (education, health), and special projects (livelihood programs, community development) funds. Although the purpose is supposedly for “equitable distribution,” its existence has remained for “purely political” reasons. (“Pork by any name,” August 23, http://veraϐiles.org/ pork-by-any-name/) A series of Philippine Daily Inquirer articles in 1996 found that “the funds (have) had little impact on the life of the poor and that the quality of the projects suffered because much of the money was lost through irregularities, including kickbacks.” The Presidential Commission Against Graft and Corruption accused some legislators of “’criminal waste of hard-earned taxpayers’ money’ through pork barrel appropriations amounting to P20 billion the past eight years.” The comprehensive reports detailed the abuse of power in Congress and how ingrained corruption is in the pork barrel system. (“Ex- COA chair says solons wasted P20B;” July 22, 1996) Just a year ago, the GMA News and Public Affairs, Special Assignments Team and News Research as well as the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) had reported on how the pork barrel system remains vulnerable to abuse and corruption. GMA reported that pork barrel projects do not respond to the needs of communities and discovered such anomalies as some representatives’ diverting funds to areas not covered by their jurisdiction. PCIJ for its part reported that “instead of primarily being a means of helping more people gain access to basic services that the government should have provided them in the ϐirst place, PDAF remains a political tool wielded by those in the

legislature and the executive to serve their own interests.” PCIJ exposed the practice of some lawmakers of moving pork barrel funds to bogus or favored non-government organizations (NGOs) and foundations — which lacked the capacity to implement the programs and in many cases failed to account for the grants they received. (“Understanding pork barrel politics”, October 2012, http://www.cmfr-phil.org/2012/10/04/understandingpork-barrel-politics/, http://www.cmfr-phil.org/2012/10/04/ understanding-pork-barrel-politics-2/) Despite the passage of time, the reports have proven relevant. What these reports exposed then now seem very familiar as the system and its abuse returned to the front pages and the six o’clock news. THE FALLING OUT LEADS TO A SCOOP While it was the Inquirer which broke the news on the “P10-billion pork barrel scam,” it was the National Bureau of Investigation’s (NBI) search for the “missing” Benhur K. Luy that led to the discovery that public money from PDAF allocations have been and probably are being misspent. Luy was Janet Lim Napoles’ distant cousin and personal assistant. tant. Both Luy and Napoles said they had a “falling out.” On March 22, the NBI special task force “rescued” Luy, who would turn out to be the principal witness to the scam. Luy’s lawyer Levito Baligod wrote Justice Secretary Leila de Lima seeking the department’s assistance: “This case initially appeared to me as a simple case of serious illegal detention. However, a d further interview of witnesses revealed o that the victim was being detained to ensure that nobody could directly implicate te the above persons with the ongoing issues ues on the fertilizer scam, Malampaya Fund, and anomalies in the implementation of several everal PDAF-funded projects.” (“Napoles: We control gov’t,” Inquirer, July 17) The Inquirer’s six-part investigative series es was based on interviews with, and the sworn afϐidavits ts submitted to the NBI by, six whistleblowers. The other ϐive e whistleblowers also worked in JLN Corp. od, prepared and The whistleblowers, assisted by Baligod, submitted to the NBI sworn afϐidavits stating that JLN f billions of pesos Corp. “had defrauded the government of f at least 20 bogus in ghost projects involving the creation of nongovernment organizations.” In an interview with the Inquirer, Luy said id 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 beneϐiciary.” iary.” (“NBI probes P10-B scam,” July 12) The investigative series uncovered how w the “syndicate” allegedly “converted billions of pesos in government vernment funds into kickbacks.” According to the Inquirer report, Napoles established dummy NGOs to “serve as recipients cipients of the uding a nanny, funds and named her own employees, including as presidents of these outϐits.”

28 | MEDIA TIMES 2013 • Center for Media Freedom & Responsibility

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 ofϐicial of the state agency involved.” (“How P10-B racket works,” July 14) The Inquirer named ϐive senators and 23 members of the House of Representatives who were allegedly involved in the scam. Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. topped the list of senators; he reportedly “gave the syndicate access to his pork barrel to dummy NGOs in 22 instances; followed by Senators Juan PonceEnrile on 21 occasions; Jinggoy Estrada, 18 times; Ferdinand Marcos Jr., four; and Gringo Honasan, once with a small amount.” The Inquirer also identiϐied the top four members of the 23 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,” scam, July 15)

For background, the Inquirer reminded the readers of Napoles’ alleged connection to the PHP728-million 2004 fertilizer fund scam and the misuse of the PHP1.782-billion Malampaya fund. According to the report, “(a)t least P900 million from royalties in the operation of the Malampaya gas project off Palawan province intended for agrarian reform beneϐiciaries has gone into a dummy nongovernment organization.” The report identiϐied the 12 dummy NGOs that were made recipients of the Malampaya funds. (“Malampaya fund lost P900M in JLN racket,” July 16) As informative as it was, the investigative series fell short of providing an in-depth look into pork barrel politics and how the system actually works, in contrast to how it is supposed to work. INCONSISTENCIES AND CONTRADICTIONS The ensuing spate of news reports gave space and time to publish and air the side of Napoles and other personalities implicated in the pork barrel scam. The Inquirer quoted Napoles as declaring 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) A week after the Inquirer reports came out, Napoles and her family — her husband and two children — denied their involvement in the pork barrel scam, claimed that their money came from legitimate t sources and declared that the NBI had harassed so them. them Napoles pointed the ϐinger at Luy and a certain certai Maya Santos. (TV Patrol, July 23-25) According to news reports based on the testimony Accor of another witness, Santos was an aide and a conduit for Senators Loren Legarda and Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos. Both senators acknowledged knowing a Catherine se Mae “Maya” Santos, Santo but denied giving her authorization to transact on their behalf and endorsing funds to Napoles or NGOs. be In the same TV Patrol exclusive, Korina Sanchez described the Napoleses as “kilalang may pera (known to be rich)” and that according to them “maganda ang takbo ng negosyo nila ng th pagkalakal ng uling o coal sa mga bansang China, India, Pakistan at iba pa (their co coal business in China, India, Pakistan, etc. is making money).” interview Napoles’ business partner in Indonesia, Sanchez interviewed Sya a certain Engr. Syafrullah Ismail, who attested to the legitimacy and success of JLN dealings. Asked if her w wealth was gotten illegaly, Napoles answered: “‘Yan ay pawan pawang kasinungalingan dahil kung ano man ang kayamanan na meron na napundar namin para sa aming pamilya ay ‘yan ay talagang pinag-ipunan naming sa lehitimo (ng paraan). Marami po kaming hanapbuhay na wala po sa M gobyerno at ‘yan ‘ya ay mapapatunayan ng aming mga business partner na nandito nand ngayon (All of those are lies because the wealth that the family has now came from hard work and legitimate sourc sources. We have many businesses that are not governm with the government and that can be proven by our business partners who are here).”

LITO OCAMPO

Center for Media Freedom & Responsibility • 2013 MEDIA TIMES | 29 C

Sanchez also interviewed the other employees of Napoles, who, predictably, impugned Luy’s character. The Inquirer decided to hold a roundtable discussion between its editors, columnists and reporters and Napoles on August 8. The Inquirer published a verbatim transcript of the meeting and aired the video footage on YouTube. (http://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=Vei5hIUTqUE) Napoles said her money came from her inheritance and coal trading. She added that at the proper time, she would prove that all the allegations against her and her family are false. (August 11 to 15) Napoles stood ϐirm on her claim that she is not aware of any scam and did not steal from the public coffers. Initial news reports quoted her as asking: “Why are they blaming this on me when there is Patricia Gay Tan?” (“Napoles: Ochoa nothing to do with this case,” Inquirer, July 13) Napoles never mentioned the name again or provided any detail, and the press has yet to do a follow-up on this lead. As expected, she shared little information during her November 7 appearance at the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee Hearing. Napoles invoked her right against self-incrimination several times, and in other instances simply declared that the allegations against her were “Hindi totoo (Not true),” “Hindi ko alam (I don’t know)” and “Hindi ko matandaan (I can’t remember).” To which the whistleblowers replied “Sinungaling siya (She’s lying).” The media interviews and reports on the Senate hearing allowed the public to get a glimpse of the personality of Napoles, including her family members. The live broadcast of, and press updates on the committee hearing also allowed the public to assess on their own the credibility of the conϐlicting testimonies of Napoles and the whistleblowers, particularly Luy. Napoles described her lifestyle as “tama lang (just right),” “middle class” and “swerte lang (lucky).” But the investigative and in-depth reports on the assets of Napoles painted a different picture. Apart from the statements of the whistleblowers, the press found documents that tended to portray the Napoleses’ lifestyle as “lavish”— they owned a number of high-end real estate properties, ϐleets of luxury cars and dozens of bank accounts. They frequently hosted lavish parties. According to the reports, the ϐinancial statements of Napoles and JLN Corp. also showed that she and her family were living beyond their legal means. From the beginning, Napoles could not explain or did not want to elaborate on her business dealings. “Nagmamakaawa po sana ako na huwag n’yo kami bastabasta husgahan (I beg you, please don’t judge us quickly),” said Jo Christine, Napoles’ daughter, over the television program Investigative Documentaries. When confronted if they were ready to face charges on the pork barrel scandal, Napoles said: “Mas mabuti pa nga ho may ganun eh, investigation, kaysa trial by publicity. Kawawa naman kami

(It’s better, if there’s an investigation, instead of trial by publicity. Take pity on us).” (GMA News TV, August 15) PRONE TO ABUSE AND CORRUPTION The follow-up media reports and analyses revealed that the pork barrel scam was not just the result of a “systems failure” but of a “complete breakdown of controls” as described aptly by Commission on Audit (COA) chairperson Grace Pulido-Tan. PCIJ explained why the system is open to abuse: “Under the pork system, the known tasks of lawmakers are only to identify what projects they want funded at the start and to 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 abuse and corruption because the disbursement details are seldom disclosed to the public and the funds rarely accounted for. The report also noted that such funds are distributed to voterich areas, contrary to their declared purpose of assuring “equity” among communities in access to public funds. PCIJ observed that allies of the current administration and some political dynasties have been getting most of PDAF. In a previous PCIJ interview, former senator Panϐilo 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 only 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 ‘maϐia’ of executive & legislature,” July 21, http://pcij.org/stories/scamno-pdaf-a-maϐia-of-executive-legislature/) Another follow-up report by Rappler.com linked “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 and four members of Congress who have long been with the LP. Rappler also scrutinized PDAF releases to other agencies and government corporations as well as COA reports, and found that “the allegations made by Luy in the afϐidavit he recently submitted to the justice department make up but a small part of a larger

The pork barrel scam was not just the result of a ‘systems failure’ but of a ‘complete breakdown of controls’

30 | MEDIA TIMES 2013 • Center for Media Freedom & Responsibility

LITO OCAMPO

anomaly.” (“Admin solons linked to pork barrel scam,” July 22) On August 16, the COA released a special report declaring that “PDAF and VILP (Various Infrastructure including Local Projects) were not properly released by the DBM (Department of Budget and Management) and not appropriately, efϐiciently and effectively utilized by the IAs (implementing agencies).” The audit covered 2007 to 2009 appropriations and took two years to complete. (http://www.gov.ph/2013/08/16/specialaudits-ofϐice-report-no-2012-03-pdaf-and-vilp/) COA checked PHP12-billion of pork barrel by 12 senators and about 180 representatives, of which PHP6.156 billion funded 82 questionable NGOs. Ten of these NGOs received PHP2.157 billion and are linked to Napoles. The scheme supposedly used by Napoles is not unusual, said GMA News Research that found “a network of individuals seemingly using a string of foundations to illicitly obtain funds from the government. This dubious group is composed of 10 NGOs, eight of which were found questionable by COA.” (“COA report: 11 people behind web of dubious NGOs in pork scam,” August 19, http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/322720/ news/specialreports/coa-report-11-people-behind-web-ofdubious-ngos-in-pork-scam) GMA News and Public Affairs visited local communities in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao where the pork barrel funds

purportedly went to verify the accuracy of the COA report. The team found incomplete highways, roads to nowhere, unimplemented projects and overpriced agriculture kits. Checking with implementing agencies and local government ofϐicials, the team proved that taxpayers’ money indeed had been misused. One supposed “beneϐiciary” farmer quipped, “Naloko po kami. Naloko po ang sambayanang Pilipino (We were deceived. The Filipino people were deceived).” (GMA-7, Imbestigador: Bantay Kaban ng Bayan, September 15) TO APPORTION BLAME While the public and the media were focusing on the wrongdoing and demanding that responsible government ofϐicials and private individuals who took part in the scheme be held accountable, Sen. Jinggoy Ejercito Estrada gave a privilege speech on September 25 to air his grievances: “We (the senators and House representatives implicated) have yet to be afforded the opportunity to confront the evidence thrown against us but sadly, in the eyes of the Filipino people, we have already been marked and portrayed as the worst thieves and scoundrels of the government.” Estrada particularly hit the media: “(H)indi pa man nagpapasiya ang mga naatasan ng Pangulo na suriin ang mga testimonya at

Center for Media Freedom & Responsibility • 2013 MEDIA TIMES | 31

magsampa ng kaukulang kaso base sa ebidensiya, nahusgahan na kami nang walang kalaban-laban lalo na ng makapangyarihang mga alagad ng media (Those tasked by the President have yet to evaluate testimonies and ϐile appropriate cases based on evidence, but we have been condemned by powerful media practitioners).” He added: “(T)he media frenzy, the cry for blood and for heads to roll has reached (such an) intensity that it seems impossible now for those implicated to be given any just and fair treatment.” He concluded his speech by declaring that “We all here are victims of a ϐlawed system which is so ingrained that it has been institutionalized.” But most media organizations were including in their reports the reactions and rebuttals of other government ofϐicials and private individuals connected to the pork barrel scam. All of them were quoted as saying that they would explain their side of the story at the proper time and demanding to have their day in court. To the credit of the news organizations, most of them also reported the statement of Estrada acknowledging that while Napoles was an acquaintance, he was denying participation in the scheme. They also aired his entire privilege speech and published the full transcript after. The senator was not able to clear his involvement in the pork barrel scam. But he did manage to shift public attention and apportion blame. Estrada accused the Aquino administration of “selective justice” and questioned the integrity of the COA chairperson and COA’s reports. There was no lack of attempt to present the side of Estrada and company by both domestic and foreign media, for example: “(T)he allegations have drawn closer to the presidency, suggesting Aquino has failed to convincingly tackle a culture of political patronage that centres on the $586 million Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), widely known as the ‘pork barrel’. His popularity rating plunged by 15 points in a recent opinion survey to 49 percent…. The focus has now shifted to a separate development fund set up quietly in 2011 by Aquino’s administration, the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). Among its disbursements were transfers totalling 1.1 billion pesos ($25.5 million) to 18 senators last year after they voted to impeach

32 | MEDIA TIMES 2013 • Center for Media Freedom & Responsibility

PAUL FORMARAN

The people were expressing their “collective disgust and outrage” over the corruption in the pork barrel system

the Supreme Court chief justice, who was seen as an Aquino rival.” (“Analysis - Aquino’s Mr Clean image skewered by Philippine pork barrel politics,” http://uk.reuters.com/article/2013/10/31/ukphilippines-corruption-analysis-idUKBRE99U1B920131031) EXACTING ACCOUNTABILITY The people meanwhile, were expressing their “collective disgust and outrage” over the corruption in the pork barrel system, and attempts to describe the DAP as apart from the system did not temper the anger. President Benigno S. Aquino III himself went on national television to reiterate the statements of his spokespersons on DAP, and to rechannel public discussion on PDAF: “Linawin na rin po natin: Hindi pork barrel ang Disbursement Acceleration Program…. Pagnanakaw ang isyu dito. Hindi ako nagnakaw. Pero ang mga diumano’y nagnakaw ay siyang nagpapasimuno ng kalituhan; gustong kaladkarin pababa ang lahat ng ating pinaghirapang maabot dito sa tuwid na daan (Let me make it clear: The Disbursement Allocation Program is not pork barrel…. I repeat: The issue here is theft. I did not steal. Those who have been accused of stealing are the ones who are sowing confusion; they want to dismantle all that we have worked so hard to achieve on the straight path).” (October 30, http://www.gov.ph/2013/10/30/pambansang-pahayag-nipangulong-aquino-noong-ika-30-ng-oktubre-2013/) Despite initial resistance, just days before the Million People March on August 26, President Aquino had made the following announcements on the abolition of the PDAF and the initiation of budgetary reforms: “The shocking revelations of this misuse—the latest being the COA Special Audit Report on the 2007-2009 PDAF, which was released this past week—are truly scandalous, and so the time has come to do two things. First, to exact accountability from those who have abused the system…. Our second goal: To ϐind a better way to ensure that the public coffers will be spent with only the public’s beneϐit in mind.” (“Pahayag ni Pangulong Aquino ukol sa abolisyon ng PDAF, ika-23 ng Agosto 2013;” http://www.gov.ph/2013/08/23/pahayag-ni-pangulongaquino-ukol-sa-abolisyon-ng-pdaf-ika-23-ng-agosto-2013/)

PAUL FORMARAN

The Million People March gathered as many as 400,000 people according to the organizers; between 80,000 to 100,000 people according to police estimates. (Please see page 76 for “‘Digital Revolution’ in the Philippines: Ready for Take Off” story.) CONCLUSIONS: A HARD CASE The media coverage of the pork barrel scam showed that it is difϐicult to sift through all the information and conϐlicting opinions. The best news reports and commentaries connected the dots and provided context. But journalists and media practitioners still need to lessen the noise and offer more insight and help sustain the public focus on the issue, since exacting accountability in this country often takes too long. Groups and individuals ϐiled petitions before the Supreme Court (SC) challenging the constitutionality of the PDAF and DAP. On November 19, the SC voting 14-0-1 declared the PDAF unconstitutional. Meanwhile, the DAP issue is still pending before the High Court. (http://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/microsite/pdaf/ ; http://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/microsite/dap/) On September 16, NBI ϐiled before the Ofϐice of the Ombudsman complaints for plunder, malversation and corruption of public ofϐicials against 38 individuals including Enrile, Revilla, Estrada and “mastermind of the PDAF scam operations” Napoles. The

Justice secretary will ϐile another set of charges against individuals implicated in the issue. On September 26, the Bureau of Internal Revenue filed a tax evasion complaint against Napoles and her husband Jaime, with total liability of PHP44.68 million and of PHP16.43 million respectively. The youngest Napoles, Jeane Catherine, also faces a tax evasion case for failure to file income tax returns for two years. Former Supreme Court Justice Reynato Puno has proposed the launch of a people’s initiative to draft a national law that will abolish the pork barrel. Unrelenting media coverage has sparked renewed and hopefully sustained interest in the pork barrel system, along with the public discussion that explains the corruption that goes with the system. This high awareness is now demanding transparency and accountability on the part of government about how it spends taxpayers’ money. Whether recent developments will lead to change depends on sustaining public attention, prosecuting the wrongdoers, and increasing public participation in governance, particularly in the planning and management of the country’s ϐinancial resources. To help achieve these goals, the press and the media will be among the most crucial factors in deciding the outcome of public concern over the pork barrel system.

Center for Media Freedom & Responsibility • 2013 MEDIA TIMES | 33