The Eerie Silence of Legislators
Over the Pork Barrel Issue
By Apolinario Villalobos
When before, legislators would scramble over each other to get media mileage, now they shy away from the cameras and reporters who cover the pork barrel issue at the Senate and Congress. They are afraid to be asked questions about the issue. Sign of guilt?
Not only one senator or congressman said on TV that they were approached by “brokers” or “buyers” of PDAF , but they did not bite the offer. Could it be because of the small SOP (commission), hence, they wait for better offers to come by? At the Discovery, it is an open secret that some of these guys converge in a coffee shop, purportedly to discuss business or projects. Janet Lim Napoles occupies a whole floor of that building according to the whistle blowers. Coincidence?
If these elected officials knew long long time ago yet, about the “buying” of these funds by brokers, why did not one of them mention such in a privilege speech? In a “heroic” defensive speech of Jinggoy Estrada, lately, that boomeranged, one of the colors he gave to his material was the adage that if a person points an accusing finger at others, only the forefinger does such, while the four fingers point at himself. (His speech writer erred in this, because only three fingers point to the accuser…try the gesture). What was funny was that while he was right all along, he himself is guilty as his “confessions” would show, while ranting on his supposedly exposė. The best thing that he could have done was keep a low profile and not put up a stance of innocence. Unfortunately for him, because of what he did, those who were mentioned in his speech are now using all means to dig up his records of transactions that include acquisitions. Worse for Jinggoy, one by one, those whom he accused, release statements that seem to justify themselves. He has practically committed a self-destruction, ruining his bid for the next presidential election.
But one worth discussing in Jinggoy’s material is the so called Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) that he alleged to have been given by the President to those who vote for the conviction of Corona, months after the procedure was completed. While Malacanang is alleging that it is not a pork barrel, still others insist that as the money was given out based on the President’s “discretion”, it is a pork barrel that assumed a different name. As a last effort to bail itself out from this scandalous issue, the DBM explains that the money came from the savings of the national government. If so, why must the DBM release the money to the legislators who still allow implementing agencies to handle it when the COA is supposed to have already come out with their findings on the anomalous spending on questionable projects? Why was there no effort to stop it and what agency is supposed to stop it? It is sad that it needs an exposition by media before anomalies could reach Sandiganbayan or the Ombudsman, but still, acted on only when a formal complaint is filed by an “interested party”.
Again, if the DAP that involves an amount to the tune of more than a billion pesos constitutes the savings of the national government and given out with discretion by the President, why did he not think of the poor government employees whose hazard pays are not yet given them in view of the lack of savings by their respective agencies? Why did the President not think of the far-flung provinces that are in dire need of school rooms in view of the lack of DEPEd fund? Why did he not think of filling up the rank and file vacancies in government agencies that are now sacrificing the quality of their services due to manpower shortage? Why did he not think of the relocation areas where skeletons of row houses stand without piped water system and electric power installations? Why did the President not distribute the DAP among the government agencies in need of additional funds, instead of requiring the senators to submit a list of their “projects” to the DBM as a basis for allotment? There are many questions that now put the President in limbo. His credibility as a leader who espouses the “tuwid na daan” (straight path) is now doubtful. And to think that he is supposed to be surrounded by technocrats as advisers! His spokespersons are even making a fool of the whole nation with their nonsensical mumblings of hollow defensive statements to protect the image of the President.
When the lawyer of Enrile came out in public and released statements that put the former Chief of Staff of the legislator in a bad light to cover the latter, the lady concerned from where she is now, posted a biting retort via the social network – Facebook. It was a very great professional stumble that the lawyer has committed. Imagine presuming that the lady will not react as she is out of the country already! Now, they must be pulling their hair for such mistake, as the Department of Justice is contemplating on getting the support of the lady as a state witness against Enrile.
The popular joke now is that during the time of Marcos, the SOP (read: commission) is 30% for him, while the 70% goes to the project. But now, it is different, it is 70%-30%, the bigger share going to the legislator, and the smaller chunk going to the broker who either pockets the entire amount or allot a very insignificant share for the project resulting to underdelivery or delivery of substandard materials. But the big difference is that while during the time Marcos there were clear evidences of project implementation, today, the projects are only on papers. I would reiterate that this is a joke, a typical outpouring of Filipino humor to cool off varied boiling emotions. A friend who works now as an auditor of COA somewhere in the far south told me about his discoveries, such as, a multi-purpose building project that required a consultant and for almost one year now, the project is still a project – still going on! He also mentioned about threshers (kuliglig) that shine in their bright colors as if newly delivered, but gives out a loud almost explosive noise when the engine is turned on. He discovered that while the body is new, the engines are second hand from China!
I know of a friend who conducts research on the “needs” of government agencies. As soon as he came up with one or several, he would approach a concerned agency and convince the latter about the necessity of the project or projects. My friend does the solicitation for funds by approaching implementing agencies or go straight to legislators whom he know. Of course, he gets a significant chunk of the fund.
For the legislators to say that it is not their job to check on the projects is unacceptable. Common sense dictates that copies of all pertinent papers about the projects including completion or liquidation reports should be furnished them to “close” the projects which they funded. These papers should be on top of the earlier disbursement papers that they signed. That is the reason why they have staff – people who are paid by the peoples’ tax. Their staff are supposed to be checking on these projects if indeed, they were properly implemented. That is the only way that they can justify their disbursements. Most especially, as a way of protecting themselves later on. Now that the bomb has exploded on their faces, they are fumbling for supporting papers and blaming agencies and LGUs for loopholes.
What is clear now is that there are no standard operations procedure manuals that should guide all the government agencies to ensure that there is harmonious co-operation among them. I remember Senator Miriam Defensor asking the head of the National Penitentiary for their operating manual when an investigation was conducted on their negligence resulting to the “escape” of a big time convict. Also, in an interview on TV the new lady Chief Justice said that among her priorities is to manualize their procedure. It is unfortunate to note that there is even no coordinative protocol among agencies. Interviews on TV show some officials saying that they came to know about certain decisions by this and that office from papers! What happened to the telephones, cabled and cellulared, as well as, fax machines? For any activity in the government, concerned agencies are supposed to be “furnished” with copies of papers involved. The flow of activity should point to agencies along the way that are involved and their expected actions to be taken. Is there a written procedure on this? How sad that most often, mediamen get the ire of officials who claim that they were misquoted if something gets wrong along the way.
It is no surprise, therefore, that the check and balance within the government system is very very weak …..or, perhaps, not existing at all? For how can a simple businesswoman who started her business by supplying government offices with ballpens and other office items could gyp the government manned by so called economists, managers, accountants, lawyers, Ph. D. holders from state universities, Harvard graduates – all so called technocrats? She has practically bloomed into a big time manipulator of government fund, so they say, or is she? Is she not just being used as a scapegoat? For, where did she get the idea of systematic manipulation if she was not “told” of the loopholes in the way government funds are allocated? Who told her or who practically gave her instructions?
It is only in the Philippines that millions of pesos can be withdrawn from a commercial bank so easily, stashed in a box or bag and brought home by the driver, received by the maid, then stacked in a bath tub! All done under the very noses of the so-called government “gurdians”! These allegations are supposed to be under investigation, yet, the evidences are as clear as day. Of late, the Senate President, Franklin Drilon adamantly refuses to issue a subpoena to Janet Lim Napoles for her appear in Senate. Why?
Meanwhile, the silence that pervades the halls of the Senate and Congress is eerie, sickening…but, for how long? When shall the guilt be melted by remorse? Can the Filipinos still hope for justice?