PDAF probe: Aquino’s most lethal weapon that pinned down opposition

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Once in a while, but very rarely, we still get a gem of journalism work in TV news, which has degenerated into tabloid crime and celebrity reportage and thus, explains the Filipinos’ shallow political discourse and culture.

ABS-CBN TV’s 6:30 p.m. news the other night had a short, but very meaty, piece entitled, “What happened to the PDAF scam 3 years later?” Another version with a more self-explanatory title in Filipino: “200 mambabatas nadawit sa PDAF scam, di pa naiimbestigahan.” (“200 legislators involved in PDAF scam, not yet investigated.”)

(See the link: https://www.abs-cbnnews.com/video/nation/ v2/12/09/15/3-years-later-what-happened-to-the-pdaf-scam).

Screen shot of TV report
Screen shot of TV report

In case you’ve forgotten, PDAF refers to the so-called Priority Development Assistance Fund, a discretionary pork barrel fund available to members of Congress to support projects in their respective jurisdictions but was exposed by a Commission on Audit (COA) special investigation to have been abused for personal gain by individual legislators from 2007 to 2009.

The special audit was ordered undertaken in May 2010 by the agency’s chair, Reynaldo Villar, appointed during President Gloria Arroyo’s term but fired by President Benigno Aquino 3rd and later even charged with corruption. (After two years in jail, his case was dismissed.)

His successor, Grace Pulido-Tan, whom Aquino appointed, kept on saying that another report to cover 2010 to 2012 was being finalized. No such report has so far been released, however. Tan stepped down last February, and has since been reportedly asking Aquino to assign her to the last vacant slot in the Supreme Court this President still needs to fill.
The release of that COA report came a few weeks after the National Bureau of Investigation leaked information to the Philippine Daily Inquirer about its huge operation against the purported brains behind the pork barrel racket – Janet Lim-Napoles (remember her?) and how she made pay-offs to legislators.

The NBI also provided the newspaper with raw data in handwritten notes and computer hard drives of Napoles’ main operator who later turned whistleblower, Benhur Luy. The NBI, however, has not made those data available to other newspapers.

The ABS-CBN report asked: So what happened after three years? It’s answer: 18 legislators have been charged at the Sandiganbayan, including Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon “Bong Revilla” – giving occasion for President Aquino to boast by using the incident as ‘Exhibit A’ for his anti-corruption drive.

246 legislators not yet investigated

Very laudable, indeed. However, the TV feature also reported: Some 16 senators and 240 congressmen identified in the COA report as having been involved in the theft of P10 billion in pork barrel funding for “soft projects” (i.e. non-infrastructure projects through which it was easier to rechannel funds) remained uninvestigated. Eighty others pinpointed by whistleblower Luy haven’t been charged.

Among the more well known legislators who appear to have been given immunity from the PDAF indictments, as ABS-CBN reported, are two vice presidential candidates Francis Escudero and Alan Peter Cayetano, senators Koko Pimentel and Manny Villar, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and Liberal Party stalwarts Joel Villanueva, Reynaldo Umali and Bangsamoro Basic Law champion Rufus Rodriguez.

“Those who were charged and imprisoned were all opposition senators,” Estelito Mendoza said in a TV feature interview as Enrile’s lawyer. “The process has certainly not been fair. The charges were plunder, which is “non-bailable,” so they were immediately imprisoned,” Mendoza said.

This anomalous situation has even alarmed the Sandiganbayan, which has been hearing the cases of the three senators. “But according to the state witness, there are more than three senators, and of course, more than five congressmen, and yet their cases are still sleeping,” the TV report quoted Justice Alex Quiros, a member of the Sandiganbayan branch hearing the three senators’ case, as saying.

This all means one thing: The pork-barrel episode, portrayed as one of Aquino’s centerpiece tuwid na daan reform program achievements, turned in a laudable COA special report, but which Aquino hijacked and converted into a weapon for his demolition job and blackmail operation against the opposition and those who refused to lick his boots.

This regime, in fact, hindered the COA investigation in order to protect members of its camp. Aquino, represented by his Budget secretary, Abad, withheld information about his supporters and allies from the COA auditors.

This is based on a really revealing paragraph (page 5) in the COA report itself (Report NO. 2012-03 by its Special Audits Office): “The DBM could not provide the Team, despite repeated requests, with complete schedule of releases per legislator from PDAF for soft projects…”

This means that not all senators and legislators were actually audited, since the DBM did not provide data for everyone. Guess which of the legislators had all the data provided by the COA?

Their identities can be extracted from the report’s Table 4, entitled “Releases from PDAF. . . from CYs 2007 to 2009 Per Legislator as Provided by the DBM and Gathered by the Team.” Should we be surprised that the DBM did not provide COA documents on the pork-barrel uses of senators who had been Aquino’s supporters and allies?

(Table showing the pork barrel funds by legislators audited or skipped by COA)

**Nowhere mentioned in the COA report, as though they were not senators Source: COA Special Audits Office Report No. 2012-03, Table 4, pages 13 to 14, and only for “soft” PDAF releases.
**Nowhere mentioned in the COA report, as though they were not senators Source: COA Special Audits Office Report No. 2012-03, Table 4, pages 13 to 14, and only for “soft” PDAF releases.

The table accompanying this column lists the amount of pork barrel funds the COA audited per senator, and the percentages these represent for each senator’s P600 million total PDAF allocations. The percentages, in effect, represent the audited portion of each senator’s pork barrel funds.

Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, Ramon Revilla and Edgardo Angara were the most audited senators.

There was, in effect, a 100 percent audit of Enrile’s use of his pork barrel funds. If the use of the funds was audited in detail, it is no wonder at all that the COA report found so many anomalies in their use.

The pork barrel of the senators allied to Aquino, the Cayetano siblings, Ralph Recto, Loren Legarda, Antonio Trillianes – were hardly audited, with the amounts that were checked representing less than 10 percent of their allocations. This was obviously because the DBM refused to provide the COA with the documents on their pork barrel use. Because of this, the COA audited only P8.4 billion or just 29 percent of the total P29.4 billion pork barrel funds it was ordered to audit.

No wonder, the COA report didn’t have any findings on whether these senators properly or improperly used their pork barrel.

Surprisingly or not, the COA appears to have been unable to get any documents on the pork barrel use of then senator Aquino and senator Mar Roxas.

Equally surprising, the COA report had no data at all on the pork barrel use of Francis Escudero and Jamby Madrigal, with not a single reference to them, as though they were not senators from 2007 to 2009, the period covered by the audit.

The inescapable conclusion is that the COA audit started off as a legitimate investigation. It was hijacked, though, to become a demolition job against opposition senators, and the opposition in general, for the 2016 elections.

The hijacking has the hallmark of a tuwid-na-daan operation by a self-righteous cabal purportedly to rid the country of corruption, but which, however, is selective, targeting only its enemies and demolishing them by any means necessary, in order to hold on to power.