MIND DA NEWS: Daang Matuwid Ignored

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GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 8 Sept) – From the mounting reports on the PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund) or pork barrel scam, it is clear that the Daang Matuwid (Straight Path) has been ignored – conveniently and paradoxically becoming a cover of corruption. Hindi nawala ang korap, kaya’t hindi mawawala ang mahirap (The corrupt did not go away; the poor are here to stay).

When President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III trumpeted in the halls of Congress during his State of the Nation Address last July 22 the success of Matuwid na Landas,

[“The transformation of our society is not just evident in the economy or in statistics. Now, Filipinos know: Rich or poor, with or without political connections, when you do wrong, you will pay the consequences. Now, justice is truly blind. We will not undermine the orders of our Bosses to hold the corrupt accountable, and to right the wrongs of a system that has long beggared our country.”]

the senators and House representatives must be grinning aside to each other, enjoying themselves, joining the thunderous ovation of the naïve loyal followers of the President in the gallery for his naivety. The tragic comedy was if he truly believed himself. He knew the truth. He was representative then senator before becoming President.

What really has beenstill is, and probably will be for time indeterminate – the state of our nation? For the mischievous punsters, “the true state of corruption is the true state of the nation.

As seen in the PDAF scam, the true state of corruption stinks worse than the pigsty. Look deeper to see the seriousness of the cancer infection.

The 2007 – 2009 Special COA report identified 82 fake NGOs used to legalize the illegal releases of PDAF funds. It named six senators and 74 House representatives from whose PDAF allocations the releases came. This suggests the breadth and depth of the corruption – from the top to the grassroots.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer September 6 report, Impossible for lawmakers not to know ‘pork’ disbursement, says ‘contractor’, validates the suggestion. The “contractor” of Janet Lim-Napoles identified as “Alfred” said: Only five-percent of the PDAF would actually go to the project and another five-percent to the Department of Agriculture that is implementing it,” referring to one project proposed by the JLN NGO, Pangkabuhayan Foundation Inc. (PFI).

The beneficiaries get a morsel. The standard sharing Napoles revealed to “Alfred”: Five percent goes to the beneficiaries; five percent to the implementing government agency; 20 percent to the Local Government Units covering the area of implementation; 15 percent, to the NGO project proponent; 15 percent to the Department of Budget Management; and, 40 percent “automatically” back to the senators and congressmen providing the PDAF fund. [Note: Eye popping? For a bogus project, it’s not improbable]

In the case of the PFI project, the farmer-beneficiaries actually received “only P500,000 … out of the P30 million project cost sourced from the PDAF of a lawmaker (“Alfred”) did not name”. [Author’s Note: If 5%, it should be P1.5; why “only P500,000”? By the same percentage sharing standard, the DA got, P1.5; the PFI, P4.5M; the DBM, P4.5M; the LGU, P6M; and the legislator, P12M.]

“Alfred” clarified: “If we do not give DBM the 15 percent share, the budget officials will not grant the project.” And he disclosed, whether as revealed by Napoles or of his own personal knowledge the PDI report did not tell, that “Malacañang was also aware of the ‘process’ in the disbursement of PDAF”.

Did the farmers really get the P500,000? If they did, what did they do with it? While the grassroots only get a morsel, they are innocently part of the top-to-bottom PDAF scam – providing the reason for its being.

How widespread is the cancer infection? This did not stop in 2009 the end-year of the Special COA Report but it is still flourishing under the Aquino administration as the President himself and the Palace have admitted. The Report listed only 10 of the 82 fake NGOs as belonging to the JLN NGO network; there must be more.

How widespread in reality? Specifically referring to its audit of the TRC (Technical Resource Center) of the Department of Science and Technology, the COA said that during the period 2007 to 2009, the TRC handled the highest amount of pork funds at P2.613 billion. But TRC reportedly released only P580.85 million worth of pork barrel funds to the eight JLN NGOs – meaning that TRC awarded P2.05615 billion or 78 percent to other bogus NGOs not affiliated with the Napoles group.

What is the modus operandi? The PDI September 6 report, Whistle-blowers tag 2 Napoles contacts at TRC”, reveals that Napoles’ contacts in government implementing agencies were their top officials and that implementing laws and rules were ignored in the processing of papers.

For instance, according Benhur Luy, in the TRC, Director General Antonio Y. Ortiz and his deputy, Dennis L. Cunanan had been the contact persons of Napoles as far back as 2006. Cunanan has taken over as director general; he is now on indefinite leave, according to a PDI September 7 report.

In the same report, “two other holdover executives from the Arroyo administration have been suspended after having been tagged as Napoles contacts – assistant secretary Ophelia Agawin (a Department of Agriculture official) and Erwin Krishna Santos, the president of the Philippine Forest Corp.

The procedure: Napoles talked directly to Ortiz while Luy and the JLN office staff took care of the paperwork for the pork barrel allocations. TRC had no hand in identifying the recipient NGOs. Its role, the TRC management told the COA, was “recommendatory” since the lawmakers themselves picked the NGO recipients.

Another September 6 PDI report, “OMG! It’s ‘Tanda,’ ‘Sexy’ and ‘Pogi’ again”, tells more of the anomalous procedure. At the Senate hearing of the Blue Ribbon Committee, Salvador Salacup and Rhodora Mendoza testified on how three senators poured their PDAF into fake NGO projects through ZNREC (Zamboanga del Norte Rubber Estate Corp.) and Nabcor (National Agribusiness Corp.) of the Department of Agriculture.

Both Salacup, ZNREC head (2007-2009) and now Agriculture assistant secretary, and Javellana, former Nabcor head, were taken to task by the senators for relying on the endorsements of the legislators in the release of the funds. Reminded of the GPP (Government Procurement Procedure) Circular, they said they were not familiar with it.

Under the GPP, a project can be awarded to an NGO only through (a) public bidding or (b) negotiated procurement depending on the cost of the project. The NGO, especially in negotiated procurement, has to comply with a lot of requirement. The implementing agency has to undertake the necessary checks and validation. For this role, the agency gets three percent of the project cost (five percent in the JLN standard sharing).

Javellana said that the mere endorsement of a legislator, by the legislator himself or his representative, was enough to award the contract to a particular NGO. Legislators wrote letters to department secretaries. Their department (Agriculture) told them to award projects as being asked by the legislators. In short, the letters of the legislators – or any other form of endorsement – supplanted the rules under the GPP Circular.

So pleased were the legislators that ZREC which got P10M in 2007, got P80M in 2008; in the case of Nabcor, P2.4M in 2006; P186M in 2007; P752M in 2008; down to P307M in 2009. Corrupt legislators feed well the most willing to cooperate in corruption.

To recapitulate: How has the Daang Matuwid been ignored?

Daang Matuwid requires that Philippine society is corruption free in all its aspects. In government, honesty, integrity and good work must prevail among all officials and employees in the performance of their duties, in rendering public service and in the use of time and government money. In all government projects, every centavo appropriated must go to the project for the benefit of the beneficiaries.

However, Daang Matuwid is there for all to admire but not to follow. The President, while trumpeting the “success” of Daang Matuwid in his SONA 2013, lamented: “But let us be honest: Even today, there are still those in government who seemingly refuse to change.” That was an understatement – not “even today”, but “as it was in the past”; not “there are still”, but “there are” (period!); not “seemingly”, but “blatantly”.

As seen in the PDAF scam, top government officials – the members of the Congress and heads of the cabinet and its agencies – connive with fake NGOs to funnel the PDAF money into their pockets. For personal profitability, they prefer the “dating daang baluktot” (the old crooked road) to the “bagong (new) daang matuwid”.

How much has been lost in the PDAF scam? When the COA finishes its audit, updated to 2012, the amount must be stunning.

However, we can get a fair idea from JLN’s P10 billion take. By the JLN standard of sharing, the P10 billion is 15 percent of the PDAF money awarded to JLN’s fake NGOs; so, a total of P66.67 billion had been released to JLN. From the COA audit of the TRC releases, JLN’s share was 22 percent. Granting that 22 percent is generally applicable, the total PDAF money released to all faked NGOs was P303.045 billion.

The actual audited amount could be more. And just in the 2000s. In a space of six years, counting from 2007, P300 billion could have done much to reduce poverty. But the history of historic corruption involving government funds dates back to the mid-1900. President Aquino’s “Kung walang korap, walang mahirap” tells the tragic consequence.

Ignored, Daang Matuwid only amounts to an ornamental gun hanging as wall decor. Will it remain just that? Aquino still has three years to make Daang Matuwid a functional gun to compel the corrupt to truly transform. The PDAF scam is his acid test. Will he go outfiring or hide under the bed?

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