One of the best-kept secrets of the Inquirer may now be told.
The “Deep Throat” behind the newspaper’s 1996 award-winning exposé on the graft-ridden pork barrel, then called the Countrywide Development Fund (CDF), was Marikina Rep. Romeo “Ome” Candazo.
Candazo, who served as a member of the House of Representatives from 1992 to 2001, died of a heart attack on Aug. 19. He was 61. His wake will be held at El Capitan Funeral Homes on Bautista Street, Concepcion 1, Marikina City.
At a time when the public hardly knew anything about the pork barrel, he blew the lid on the huge sums of government money that regularly went into the pockets of legislators in the form of kickbacks. He was the original whistle-blower on the pork scam.
Through a series of meetings with three Inquirer editors in August 1996 at a beerhouse in Quezon City, Candazo disclosed how his congressional colleagues would systematically allot funds in the national budget for their pet projects and ensure that these were awarded to their favored contractors.
On a paper napkin, Candazo illustrated exactly how much, in the form of “standard” amounts, members of Congress and other officials got from government projects funded with the pork barrel.
He said the kickbacks were “SOP” (standard operating procedure) among legislators and ranged from a low 19 percent to a high 52 percent of the cost of each project, which could be anything from dredging, rip rapping, asphalting, concreting and construction of school buildings.
Looking back 17 years ago, it would seem that lawmakers then moderated their greed.
Other sources of kickbacks that Candazo identified were public funds intended for medicines and textbooks.
A few days later, the tale of the money trail became the banner story of the Inquirer issue of Aug. 13, 1996, accompanied by an illustration of a roasted pig.
The drawing showed which choice portions of the pig went to a member of the House, a senator, the head of the prequalification bidding and awards committee, and the resident auditor.
Public outrage, reforms
The publication of the stories, including those about congressional initiative allocations of certain lawmakers, including P3.6 billion for a congressman, sparked public outrage.
The Inquirer series prompted Malacañang and Congress to promise reforms on the pork barrel system.
For one, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) issued a memorandum circular in 2001 disallowing projects like basketball courts and waiting sheds. The DBM also started posting on its website the list of projects that House members and senators had identified for funding.
During the 12th Congress that year, the pork barrel was renamed the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), which was limited to funding “hard projects” like roads, bridges, hospitals and daycare centers, and “soft” projects like support for the Department of Social Welfare and Development and procurement of seeds.
From bad to worse
Did the kickbacks stop because of the Inquirer series and the reforms in the pork barrel system? It did not and it only got worse.
The P10 billion in the pork barrel scam involving the PDAF of 28 lawmakers over the past decade and bogus nongovernment organizations (NGOs) set up by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles showed that the kickbacks that a congressman or senator got rose to 60 percent. The rest went to Napoles and her gang. Nothing reached the supposed beneficiaries, be they farmers or Tropical Storm “Ondoy” victims.
A Commission on Audit study involving P116 billion that went to projects identified by lawmakers from 2007 to 2009 found that the problem was bigger than the Napoles scam. For instance, P188.6 million in PDAF allocated to six lawmakers were funneled directly into NGOs that they or a relative had set up.
Born on June 18, 1952, Candazo graduated valedictorian from Concepcion Elementary School in 1966. He went to UP High School, during which time he became a member of Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan.
He was also an activist during his student days at the University of the Philippines, where he obtained an AB History degree in 1975. He finished law at UP in 1986 and passed the bar in 1987.
Before his election as Marikina representative, he served as vice consul at the Department of Foreign Affairs from 1990 to 1992, director for public affairs at the Department of Agrarian Reform (1989), consultant at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (1988) and professor at Maryknoll College (1975 to 1986).
During his stint as a lawmaker, Candazo was cited for his concern for the common folk and for his efforts to provide livelihood opportunities and skills training to his poor constituents.
Causes of the poor
He was also known to champion causes of the poor and the oppressed, especially human rights victims like himself.
Candazo established Kalungsod Manpower Development Center in Marikina, which has been cited by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority as “Most Outstanding Manpower Training Center.”
In Congress, he served on the House committees on local government, foreign affairs, justice, good government, higher education, housing and urban development, labor and employment, public order and security, veteran affairs and subcommittee on migrant workers and other Filipinos overseas, among others.
Candazo also wrote “Manggagawa, Noon at Ngayon (Kasaysayang ng Kilusang Paggawa sa Pilipinas)” published in 1983, and “Nagbabagang Lupa (Kasaysayan ng Kilusang Magsasaka sa Pilipinas).”
He was also known for hosting a radio program on dzFE where he assisted overseas Filipino workers.
Detained three times
An activist during the martial law years, Candazo was imprisoned thrice—in 1973, 1975 and 1979. He was also a president of the association of activist veterans—the First Quarter Storm Foundation.
He was one of the signatories to the impeachment complaint against then President Joseph Estrada and was an active leader in Edsa II.
Before he died, he was preparing the publication of his book, titled “A Time of Heroes: Activism during the Martial Law Years.”
The book includes more than 350 unpublished photos, dossiers and reports from the martial law intelligence agencies.
Candazo was among the nominees of Selda (Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto) to the Human Rights Victims Claims Board, which will handle the compensation of martial law victims under the newly signed Human Rights Violation Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013.
President Aquino has yet to constitute the board.—With reports from Inquirer Research and Leila Salaverria