The real score (Part 1)
A lot has been said and written about the pork barrel scam, but it seems that not one has sufficiently informed the public in general what they are supposed to know.
This lack of information is the reason why there are still those who take the line of Malacañang and Congress justifying the existence of the PDAF and the DAP.
Despite the harsh criticism that I received from a soul brother that this column wander at times from sports and used to express my thoughts on other things, I beg your leave, as I will try to present a short primer on what the pork barrel is all about, so that the people will know.
First of all, the system is itself the main culprit, because it is tailor-made for corruption.
Even without Janet Lim-Napoles, the misappropriation, plunder and unconstitutional exercise of discretion has been going on.
That is why, at the beginning of the controversy, Malacañang and the Senate strongly came out in defense of the pork barrel. They only backed off when it became apparent that the public anger was not short lived and localized.
The first truth is that the pork barrel is actually intended to put money into the pockets of our legislators.
The Constitution is very restrictive about the power of the members of Congress to increase what they get as compensation for rendering public service.
So, while they can increase the salaries of the members Congress, the increase cannot be enjoyed by the Senator or Congressman during their current term of office.
So very few Congresses even bother to increase salaries because it might only benefit their opponents, if they lose in the next election. Or the amount is just so puny, so why bother?
So where do the members of Congress go to reward themselves?
They increase the budget for office expenses, staff salaries, maintenance and operating expenses where they have full discretion to appropriate and limited only by how much delicadeza is left. The info is that this amounts to about half a million a month at present.
Even the party list representatives who proffer themselves as alternatives to the status quo do not raise a howl when this is done and receive their share of the loot just like the others.
Then of course, the beloved pork barrel.
The entire amount could actually go the individual legislators. It’s just a matter of how much they can liquidate upon audit.
I therefore assume that in places where auditors fail to tread, the take home is 100%. Pundits say that in these places, if you ask an elected official what is his business, the answer is “gobiyerno.”
Does this make all senators and congressmen plunderers?
In provinces, cities and districts where the law is still supreme, the take is from as low as 10% to as high as 40%.
Beyond this, the remaining money can only produce a ghost, like a road which allegedly consumed hundreds of millions, but looks worse than a carabao trail.
That is why the services of “I invoke my right” Napoles became very convenient for those who conspired with her.
If we believe the testimony of whistle-blower Benhur Luy, the take was as high as 50%, without the sweat of looking for a friendly contractor, choosing a project and hurdling the auditor.
What made the l’affair Napoles regurgitating to our stomachs is that when absolute greed took over, the taxpayer ended up with zero, because the projects were non-existent and nowhere to be found.
But the more brazen act happened much earlier when the pork barrel was increased from 8 million per congressman and 18 million for senators to 70 million and 200 million.
Even if the entire amount went to their pockets when the pork was leaner, it would still be much less the take when the fat was increased.
It is true that some laudable projects have resulted from pork—flyovers, skywalks, medical subsidies and scholarships.
By all means these projects should continue because they directly benefit the people. And the beneficiaries will increase several million fold, if a system is devised in order to see to it that all amounts budgeted goes to the project and no public funds end up in a public servant’s pocket.
Or better still, lump this amounts to fund big ticket projects prioritized according to their potential contribution to the economy. This way more people will benefit in the long run.
For example, my nephew who moves around the financial circles on Wall St. told me that he has received queries from possible investors to the country, only to get stymied by the lack of infrastructure—buildings, roads, telecommunications, power and the like.
The entry of these investors mean more jobs, more taxes and eventually, a better quality of life for the Filipino.
The legislators should continue to have a say in selecting these projects, otherwise most, if not all of them, will end up in Metro Manila, like how it is today. The additional task is to have an honest to goodness screening body which would see to it that real priorities are followed, and not a result of horse trading in the floors of Congress.
Putting the money directly in the hands of the implementing agency, will not be a solution. A contractor friend refuses to deal with a government agency because the officials there are as greedy as the clients of Napoles.
I believe that with all the technocrats around, an honest to goodness solution to the waste of public money could easily be devised.
(More on the Malacañang pork in the second installment)
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