Philippines’ ‘Pork Barrel’ Graft Probe Has Lawmakers Squealing

Public protests against rampant culture of political corruption are gathering momentum

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The Philippines' student groups stage a protest against the misuse of the country's state funds in Manila on Aug. 26, 2013

The Philippines and corruption go together like pork and mustard. But a fresh inquiry into the country’s so-called pork-barrel culture has produced some of the largest popular protests to hit the nation in years, and they show no signs of abating. Up to 100,000 people took to the Manila’s Rizal Park to protest on Aug. 26 with further marches slated for Wednesday and Friday.

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Pork barrel is a pejorative term for Priority Development Assistance Funds — discretionary annual lump sums of $4.5 million and $1.6 million provided respectively to each of the country’s 24 Senators and 289 Congressmen to pay for local infrastructure and development works. However, much of this cash is simply ferreted away through bogus NGOs and nonsensical initiatives (like $115,000 for “antidengue inoculants” although no dengue-fever vaccine is currently available). In addition, the cash is treated as a slush fund for ensuring political patronage and successful re-election. “It looks like everyone has their hands dipped in the cookie jar,” Malou Mangahas, executive director of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, tells TIME.

Although graft is endemic in the Philippines, the sweeping scope of pork barrel has stunned even the most cynical. The scale emerged after a businesswoman named Janet Lim Napoles was accused of laundering staggering sums of money for lawmakers. From 2009 to ’12, Napoles allegedly provided at least six Senators and 26 Congressmen with $224.9 million, according to an Aug. 16 report by the Philippines’ official Commission on Audit. The 49-year-old former Laguna City housewife, who turned herself in to President Benigno Aquino III ostensibly out of fear for her own life, reportedly took a cut of 30% while delivering the bulk back to the pockets of politicians — much of it cash delivered furtively in shopping bags.

The opulent lifestyle enjoyed by Napoles — swanky houses, sports cars and a socialite daughter seen hobnobbing with celebrities including Justin Bieber at L.A. parties — spurred public outrage. “People were scandalized as you are dealing with a country where 80% of the people are poor, and the minimum wage doesn’t even reach the poverty line, only to find out that they do have money but they can’t have services because the officials are pocketing the money,” says Harry L. Roque, professor at the University of the Philippines College of Law.

In response, hordes of seething voters have taken to the street to demand an end to pork-barrel discretionary funding. So far, however, Aquino has only gone as far as to offer more transparency. Under touted reforms, each Senator and Congressman would maintain their current $4.5 million and $1.6 million allocations but must reveal where it is being spent — a half-measure described as “misleading the people” by Roque. “Unless you remove the budgetary entitlement of politicians,” he tells TIME, “there will always be pork.”

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Although Aquino remains untainted by the most serious allegations, he has not been immune to criticism. Aside from lawmakers, the office of the President also comes with a sizable discretionary budget — like calamity relief — and there are calls for this to also be abolished, as well as discretionary development funds for the judiciary and other arms of government. This comes with political risks. “There could be mutiny in the Congress if all pork is phased out,” warns Mangahas.

Indeed, pursuing legal cases will likely prove troublesome, as both allies and enemies of the executive have been implicated. “It would be difficult to file suits against so many Congressmen,” says Mangahas. In addition, complex graft cases will take several years to reach the courtroom — especially for the expected charges of “plunder” — during which time even more people could be implicated. Investigation attempts are currently focusing on a paper trail via illicit bank accounts, but the likelihood of numerous cash transactions could make gathering primary evidence extremely problematic.

Nevertheless, the strength of public feeling means that inaction is not an option. “The President wants to finish his term and he will make sure [something is done] as people are very, very mad,” explains Roque, adding that some token convictions will likely be forced through as quickly as possible. A long-awaited Freedom of Information Act is also receiving widespread public backing as it will give media the tools to properly investigate alleged impropriety. “I’m hoping that this anger will redefine Philippine politics and end the cycle of vote buying and corruption,” says Roque.

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33 comments
gutierrez
gutierrez

even though Philippines has a graft and corrupt issue it doesn't mean all Philippine officials are corrupt, many of them is just implicated. They do their responsibilities as well as they can,but there's some official that was so greedy in terms of money,and sometimes the President is not involved here, so don't judge because nobody's perfect.

Rhealyn R. Gutierrez

Contributor, http://OurHappySchool.com

GutierrezRhealyn
GutierrezRhealyn

even though Philippines has a corrupt issue it doesn't mean all Philippine officials are corrupt, many of them is just implicated. They do their responsibilities as well as they can,but there's some official that was so greedy in terms of money,and sometimes the President is not involved here.So don't judge because nobody's perfect. Graft and corruption in the Philippines might have an ending soon .. SANA!



Rhealyn R. Gutierrez

Contributor, http://OurHappySchool.com

emilynnofies
emilynnofies

Yes I know that graft and corruption in the Philippines cannot be gone, but its up to the government officials to how they can handle and used that money to produce a projects. Some officials become corrupt because of their salaries that they can say its to small but they also know that there's have a solution to make them a good official just like to used that budget for a projects.

And also used their power as a government official to resolve that issue by discharging the corrupt officials, By doing that they can reduced the corrupt officials. ALL FILIPINOS are doing the right decisions to make them country proper.



EMILYN L. NOFIES

contributor, http://ourhappyschool.com

MikoManuel
MikoManuel

I hate it when they take advantage of the country.

bolus2x/day
bolus2x/day

It pains me to see my country suffer.  It pains me more to see my countrymen suffer and die from hunger and calamities. But, I will never abandon nor demean nor be ashamed of my native land just because some of its people are shameless to the core! It is a beautiful country marred by a few. Sad to say, but I don't think graft and corruption will ever be erased off the map of the Philippines ( I am hoping I am wrong with this). While some of its people running its government are feeding themselves with my people's money, my country will continue to stand on its own! And I will be there by it!

StPatrick
StPatrick

... corruption is endemic in the philippine culture, i know i used to be a govt employee... in our office during my  time in the 90's we had fake trainings/ projects, equipments used for private business,  expensive office equipments mysteriously missing, playing tong-it during office time, under the table deals with suppliers etc...saw all of that. couldnt stomach it, so i went away before i get infected..


TroyZarateDeLeon
TroyZarateDeLeon

Read this late (including the replies) but some idiotic & ignorant comments aside, the article and most of the comments are correct except for saying that PDAF == Pork Barrel.

The PDAF is just one part of the large pork barrel fund which includes that of the President Aquino and we are giving him a fixed amount of time to resolve the issue.

LittleGreenMen
LittleGreenMen

MarianoRenatoPacifico

I am no big fan of the Philippines but you are horribly misinformed about how it stands in Asia. In fact you are the reason why Filipinos cannot progress- channeling your energy in putting your country down. Try getting something done in India or Cambodia and you will miss the efficiency of the Philippines.

Vietnam built its industry on ripping off the whole world of intellectual property. Try even walking the streets of Saigon alone as a foreigner. Don't even get me started about India and red tape corruption. The overwhelming general ignorance and malaise that eclipses their tech savy is mind -boggling. Thailand does not sit on the worst storm belt in the world and does make three crops of rice per year which is how they progressed agriculturally not to mention stealing Cambodian territory.

The problems of the Philippines can be fixed because there are smart people with the will and courage to get them done as is being done now with the corruption issues. I think the biggest problem in the Philippines are whiners like yourself.

rouj
rouj

this is the reason why politicians continue to retain their positions in the government ...to become wealthy and rich...to help the people is bull crap to them

kitkilatis
kitkilatis

Understandably, PNoy controls a sizable budget in the Philippines government all because he is the President, for crying out loud. As a matter of fact, he virtually controls every single centavo in the entire budget of the government.

But, that is not the issue at hand. The issue is the stealing of people's money by legislators, other government officials, and their cohorts, plus the breakdown of mechanism intended to check corruption in government.

Can we just expect the culprits to stand idly by while charges against them are being readied? Not by a chance. And so, while we can expect nobody from those mentioned from earlier reports to have enriched themselves out pork-barrel to admit, common sense would tell us that they could be behind all these twister moves, the objective of which is to deceive the Filipino people into believing that they should point their guns to PNoy and away from the real culprits.

MarianoRenatoPacifico
MarianoRenatoPacifico

What Charlie Campbell do not know about Philippines and Filipinos:

1.  In the Philippines whistleblowers do not have evidences just affidavits.  In America whistleblowers have evidences.  Therefore, these Pork Barrel Scandal will go round and round and boil down to he-said-she-said

2.  Guilt by socialization and association.  There are pictures flying around with pictures of Janet Napoles with senators and congressmen and justices.  Therefore those who are in the pictures are already presumed guilty

3.  President of the Philippines Benigno Aquino claimed that he doesn't know Janet Napoles, yet, when Janet Napoles called Malacanang Benigno Aquino sent his Chief of Staff in the middle of the night in darkened corner of the cemetery.  Fetch her.  Brought her to Malacanang, served coffee and personally escorted her  thru Presidential Escort Service to National Bureau of Investigation.  

This is like Madoff calling the White House and Obama sent his Chief of Staff to fetch him and in Presidential Limousine One escorted him personally to FBI

Something is inherently genetically wrong with Filipinos.  They cannot know what is right.

saywcgir
saywcgir

wait what?!?!?! 80% of the country is poor?!?! FALSE.

vote4gino
vote4gino

This writer needs to check his sources, or just do a simple Google search. Napoles surrendered due to a standing warrant of arrest for illegal detention and did not admit to any wrong doing with regards to the pork barrel scam.  Also "There could be mutiny in the Congress if all pork is fazed out." Should there be a (sic) there or did you mean "phased out"?

eronsalazar
eronsalazar

We, the Filipino people, are embarrassed by the news article. But our thick-faced politicians are doing the damage! God help us!

emmancon
emmancon

As far as I know, Janet Lim Napoles has denied any involvement in the pork barrel scandal. It were the whistleblowers, who are former employees of Napoles, who accused Napoles and the senators/congressmen of corruption.

MarianoRenatoPacifico
MarianoRenatoPacifico

@LittleGreenMen India is way more advanced than Philippines, this statement cannot be debated and not negotiable.  Cambodia is now in the rear view mirror inching faster.  "overwhelming general ignorance" ... of India is Mind-boggling.  Dude, you must have 'toopid Filipino Channel (TFC) in your diet not to mention time spent on Facebook updating pictures.  Thaland does not have sit on the worst storm belt .... Filipinos that went to America without the storm belt are still ..... aaaah .... remain Filipinos forever.  Nothing doing.

The problem of the PHiliippines can be fixed, TRUE.  It has been 500 years already and Vietnam, Korea, North Korea, Taiwan, China has already fixed theirs in less than 500 years.

Here my advice to you @LittleGreenMen , stop watching TFC and free yourself from Facebook.  I do not watch TFC and I have Facebook-free life after 4 accounts been banned because of Filipinos cannot stand my take on Manny Pacquiao and the Filipinos.

Boyer
Boyer

@MarianoRenatoPacifico How dare you lumping all Filipinos together.  Yes there are  corrupt politicians but there are also those who toil fair and square.  And where were you born?  Why is it that you know so much about Filipinos and you seem to have the right to belittle an entire nation.

MarianoRenatoPacifico
MarianoRenatoPacifico

Philippine government should be outsourced to India or for instant efficacy to North Korea.  The Filipinos has no business running government.  

Philippines used to be called Pearl of the Orient sea now it is not because the pearl has been stolen

Philippines used to be 7,101 islands currently there are only 7,075 islands the rest were also stolen.

Anything that Filipinos touches turns into controversy and corruption.

It is easier to teach an old dog new tricks then Filipino old tricks

Teach a Filipino how to fish and they starve praying for fish.

Filipinos has no future that is why Filipinos are voluntarily surrendering to their former colonial masters for them to run their lives:  U.S. Japan and other colonial masters.

MarianoRenatoPacifico
MarianoRenatoPacifico

Oh, Charlie Campbell, I forgot one thing it is my number 4.

4.  Whistleblowers armed with typewritten Affidavits is more acceptable evidence than Commission on Audit Reports.

MarianoRenatoPacifico
MarianoRenatoPacifico

@saywcgir as compared to other countries:

1 Vietname came out of the ashes of war in early 70s

2. South Korea is now leading industrial country after the war in the late 50s

3. China after cultural revolution in the 60s

4.  Taiwan after escaping from China's cultural revolution

5. Thailand is more mentioned in business environment than Philippines

6. Indonesia

7. Singapore

Philippines?  Well, they are still waiting for their prayers to be answered.  If prayers are not answered they blame colonial mentality without Filipinos knowing that their religion is part and parcel of colonialism.

MarianoRenatoPacifico
MarianoRenatoPacifico

@vote4gino The Filipinos know that they cannot be relied on with money.  So, they'd rather phase out Pork Barrel the cause of corruption not the politicians.  Wonderful logic from "brilliant" Filipinos.

MarianoRenatoPacifico
MarianoRenatoPacifico

@vote4gino You should check your protocol becauser not anyone can just dial up Malacanang and request personal escort service from the Republic of the Philippines.  But this is a Banana Republic run by Filipinos so what is wrong is right to them.

MarianoRenatoPacifico
MarianoRenatoPacifico

@eronsalazar God cannot help the Filipinos.  God has already escaped from the Philippines.  Philippines is the only Roman Catholic in southeast Asia and the most corrupt.

MarianoRenatoPacifico
MarianoRenatoPacifico

@emmancon In the Philippines Commission on Audit report has no meaning at all but whistleblowers waiving Affidavits is grand and heavy than forensic audits.

MarianoRenatoPacifico
MarianoRenatoPacifico

@Boyer @MarianoRenatoPacifico I did study on Filipinos.  Each Filipinos I polled says do not lump them with other corrupt Filipinos.  Each Filipinos said they are not corrupt.  Therefore, ALL FILIPINOS ARE NOT CORRUPT!  Then why Philippines is still left-behind?

Because Filipnios when polled and studied they are all liars.  Natural born liars.

juvy
juvy

SEEMS YOU ARE A VERY GOOD LAWYER WHO IS VERY BAD LIER!!! hahahahaha... dude shut up your mouth you are criticising your own country Philippines. If you think your self you are perfect then why you are still in where you are now hahahah

readytoarguemister
readytoarguemister

@MarianoRenatoPacifico Dude, if you know everything so well, why not get your smart a*se over here and try to fix our country? Problem with you is you simply can't get your bird brain digest that hey, we're trying to be better. But people like you -- whose amygdala is always hijacked with the most evil chemicals in your body -- only help us try harder. So yeah, thanks very much. Maybe, in your next life, try to be the president of nuts society. You could prolly do better things there. Or continue your trolling. That's such a brilliant use of your talents.