• Reading time:8 mins read

Drilon, Abad, Roxas, Aquino – most voracious pork-lovers in our history

Second of Two Parts

One would think that for all their righteous, chest-beating slogans, and with the Supreme Court ruling in 2013 that pork-barrel is unconstitutional, these Liberal Party leaders would have some delicadeza in distancing themselves from such kind of funds.

In fact, the biggest case of corruption – in terms of money involved – filed in the Sandiganbayan ever, even eclipsing the plunder case against former President Joseph Estrada, involved pork-barrel funds. The Court even waxed dramatic in condemning the pork-barrel scheme:

“For as long as this nation adheres to the rule of law, any of the multifarious unconstitutional methods and mechanisms (of the pork-barrel system) the Court has herein pointed out should never again be adopted in any system of governance, by any name or form, by any semblance or similarity, by any influence or effect.”

The Supreme Court rallied the nation in its decision declaring pork-barrel unconstitutional: “At a time of great civic unrest and vociferous public debate, the Court fervently hopes that its Decision today, while it may not purge all the wrongs of society nor bring back what has been lost, guides this nation to the path forged by the Constitution so that no one may heretofore detract from its cause nor stray from its course.”

“Supreme Court, what Supreme Court?” I can imagine President Aquino and his budget secretary Florencio Abad arrogantly saying. Maybe Aquino even mumbled, “Tinanggal ko nga Chief niyan, e.” I was told that the wily Abad, who fancies himself to be the brains of the daang-matuwid farce telling his boss: “Madali lusutan iyang Court decision.”

The hubris of Aquino and his Liberal Party stalwarts is just mind-boggling. They acted as though the country had no Supreme Court at all, that it did not rule on the pork-barrel system. As if to brandish before the High Court a defiant dirty finger, they even increased the pork-barrel fund from P20.9 billion in 2015 to P24.7 billion under the 2016 Budget.
pork-lover20160106They merely renamed it, from its old Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to “Grassroots Budgeting” in 2014 and then Bottom-Up Budgeting before that year was over, until 2015.

Instead of allocating the pork-barrel funds in lump sum per congressional district, they did some pencil pushing and asked the congressmen to list their pork-barrel projects, which didn’t – couldn’t – contain sufficient detail. The congressmen would provide the details needed to implement these projects, such as the sites where they were to be undertaken and which contractor would build them.

One would have to be a fool to believe that the congressmen wouldn’t tell the implementing departments such details, especially that the “bottom-up projects” were described in the budget law only in broad terms such as “local government support for local road projects,” “skills training” and “protective services” (what the heck is that?)

But this is exactly why the Court struck down the pork-barrel system as unconstitutional, since it “empowers Congress or any of its members to play a role in the implementation… of the (budget) law, and therefore, violates the principle of separation of powers and is, thus, unconstitutional.”

But everyone knows that the pork-barrel system, as practiced in the Philippines, is scandalous not just because it uses national government funds (raised through our sweat, the taxpayers’ sweat) to strengthen the legislators’ local support, as they will point out in the next election season that these pork-barrel projects are “their accomplishments.”

Worse, really, is the fact that the pork-barrel system has been one of the easiest sources of graft for congressmen.

The horror stories surrounding the Janet Napoles scam are extreme cases of pork-barrel corruption, in which non-existent entities “received” the funds that eventually ended up in large part in the hands of legislators.

The more common type of corruption using pork-barrel funds involves the congressman’s designation of the contractor or implementor of the project, who then pays him grease money of as much as 40 percent of the project’s cost. This is so easy in the provincial setting where the political and economic elite move in the same small circles.

Do some arithmetic: If even just 20 percent of the P24.7 billion pork-barrel funds this year end up that way through such a mechanism, some P5 billion would go to our 200 district representatives, with each getting an average of P25 million yearly. Not bad for them, right?

The Abads’ Batanes: Beautiful but desolate, yet the biggest recipient of pork-barrel funds per capita.
The Abads’ Batanes: Beautiful but desolate, yet the biggest recipient of pork-barrel funds per capita.

Could this be the explanation for why Aquino, Roxas and Drilon’s home provinces have been getting huge pork-barrel funds since this yellow regime assumed office?

How else could you explain why their provinces have been given allocations of huge pork-barrel funds from 2011 to 2016 as shown below? Neither the population nor the economic levels of those provinces can explain it:

* Franklin Drilon’s home province Iloilo: P2 billion;
* Aquino’s Tarlac: P995 million;
* Manuel Roxas’ Capiz: P818 million.
* Abad’s Batanes: P336 million

The scheme became so scandalous really, and I am astonished at how people who claim to be proponents of good government have no qualms about appropriating as much pork-barrel funds they can get.

Take the case of Budget Secretary Florencio Abad’s home province of Batanes, with a population of just 18,000 (2015 estimate), or about 4,000 households, smaller than a barangay in Quezon City. (But that’s the official count: I was told that half of the people registered as residents of Basilan don’t really live there.)

In representing Batanes in Congress, Abad has been taking turns with his wife, Henedina, who had been dean of Ateneo de Manila University’s School of Government, claiming to be a font of knowledge for good government. I don’t know what kind of “governance” is taught there. Jesuitic?

Guess how much in pork-barrel funds this Lilliputian province of 18,000 people has been getting since the husband Florencio became budget secretary?

An allocation of P70 to P90 million yearly, as much as or bigger than that for the much poorer provinces as Quirino (200,000 people), Marinduque (257,000), Siquijor (100,000), Guimaras (183,800) and even Camiguin (95,000).

Batanes, in fact, has had by far the largest pork-barrel per capita: For 2016, its P90 million allocation means P5,000 pork per person, with Abra being a far second with only P1,500.

Please don’t tell me this doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that Henedina’s husband is the budget secretary, and her daughter, Julia, the head of the Presidential Management Staff. Pork-barrel funds under her predecessor and political rival, Dr. Carlo Oliver D. Diasnes, amounted to only P13 million in 2009 and P17 million in 2010.

Would you believe that from 2011 to 2016, pork barrel allocations to Batanes have reached P336 million, three times the P105 million allocation to Apayao, the third poorest province in the country, with a population ten times that of Batanes?

Had that P336 million been actually distributed to the 4,000 households in Batanes, they would have been a lot happier with a per capita allocation of about P80,000.

But where did the money go? What the heck have the Abads been using pork-barrel money for? Provide air-conditioners and LED TV to each household? Build concrete houses for each cow? Didn’t it cross Henedina’s mind to just allocate part of Batanes’ pork barrel to setting up soup kitchens to feed the poor in slums near her Ateneo office?

No wonder, for all their power in Batanes and national prestige, and for all the pork the Abads are supposed to have brought to the island, Henedina only won by a meager 137 votes in the 2013 elections. The Ivatans certainly have more integrity than other people in this country.

And you still believe those proponents of the daang-matuwid hogwash?