PDAF wins elections, favors political parties
3rd of a 4-part series
AMID the public outcry for the abolition of the pork barrel system, Malacanang and Congress have agreed to delete the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), by name at least, from the 2014 national budget.
Yet behind the harried efforts to now design “a new mechanism” to implement what would be PDAF in substance, behind closed doors lawmakers and Cabinet members have talked about how to salve the political values of pork, the less flattering nickname for PDAF.
One senior executive official who declines to be named says that at a recent executive session of the Cabinet, it was understood by the confrerees that “for sure, congressmen will not give up pork for scholarship and KBL (kasal, binyag, libing),” or the retail financial aid lawmakers give constituents pressed for dole, for emergencies and family events like the wedding or baptism of children, or the burial of kin.
A congressman from the ruling Liberal Party (LP) coalition reveals as much. Legislators, he says, are “likely to rise in mutiny (against Malacañang) if you take out the health assistance, livelihood, and scholarship assistance from PDAF in the new budget.”
The reason, says the congressman, is not so much because lawmakers care deeply about the poor – even as some probably do – but because projects and largesse from pork have helped them win elections on and on.
Budget Secretary Florencio "Butch" Abad, interviewed by PCIJ in July 2012, put it most succinctly: Pork, he said, thrives "in the framework of patronage politics" and "unless we can change our politics, PDAF will always be a necessity."
PDAF is a give-and-take between politicians and citizens, he said. Observed Abad: “Poor people will always be coming to politicians, and they (politicians) should be the most responsive. There’s a political value to it.”
Pork and May 2013
Indications are pork worked its wonders in the May 2013 elections, judging by the value and volume of PDAF releases to the senators and congressmen from January to May this year.
Twenty-one senators, including six re-electionists and four others with son, brother, or wife who were senatorial candidates, received from January to May 2013 at least P1.4 billion of PDAF monies.
On parallel track, nearly all the members of the House of the 15th Congress – a majority of them re-electionists or candidates for local positions – altogether received P8.77 billion of PDAF from last February to May.
Worse still, of the 392 Special Allotment Release Orders or SAROs that the Department of Budget and Management issued in May 2013, at least 13 were released on May 14 (day after election day), 38 more on May 15, and another 10 on May 16.
The Commission on Elections (Comelec) had issued En Banc Resolution No. 9385 on April 3, 2012, covering the calendar of activities for the May 2013 elections.
It set the election period for the May 2013 elections from January 13 to June 12, 2013. It reiterated that among the “prohibited acts” defined in the Omnibus Election Code (Batas Pambansa Blg. 881) are the following: “construction of public works, delivery of materials for public works and issuance of treasury warrants or similar devices for a future undertaking chargeable against public funds,” “release disbursement or expenditures of public funds,” “giving donations or gift in cash or in kind, etc.,” and “giving, accepting free transportation, food, drinks and things of value.”
For candidates to the Senate, the same Comelec resolution defined the 90-day campaign period to commence on Feb. 12, 2013, and to close on May 11, 2013. For candidates to the House of Representatives and local positions, the 45-day campaign period started on March 29, 2013 and ended on May 11, 2013.
But a week before the local campaign period began, on March 22, the Comelec en banc allowed the qualified exemption of pork-funded projects in its Resolution No. 9660.
The Resolution said that “the release, disbursement, or expenditures of the PDAF and other state funds are allowed,” on the following conditions:
• “Projects/programs sought to be implemented during the ban were established prior and was duly reported to the Commission on Audit (COA)”;
• “In no instance shall the implementation be used as an opportunity by any candidate, family member, and political parties to further their candidacy through their personal appearance in such events, posting of campaign propaganda materials containing their names/slogans/initials/images; support for candidates/party-list being made as a condition for the entitlement of the benefits of the project/program.”
• Should the program involve cash or goods distribution for scholarship, burial assistance, health care, or calamity, “the candidates and their family members are prohibited from participating directly or indirectly.”
And whyever did the Comelec have to issue a Resolution that negates the very law that defines its powers and duties as a constitutional agency? Apparently, an unspecified number of lawmakers from the House had asked the poll body to exempt pork projects from the ban.
Without the lawmakers’ lobby, such PDAF projects and doleouts during the election period should have earned a multitude of lawmakers either penalty or time in jail. The Omnibus Election Code states that violation of the ban is an election offense that carries a penalty of one to six years imprisonment, removal of right to vote, and disqualification from holding public office.
Indeed, based on the lists and specifications of projects funded by the PDAF of the senators and congressmen during the election period, there is a preponderance of evidence that a great majority of the lawmakers who ran in May 2013 may have violated election laws.
The bulk of the PDAF-funded projects during the period involved the construction of multi-purpose buildings, road repair, financial assistance to health indigents, scholarship assistance, and even the purchase of sports equipment for intramurals.
Former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s list of projects during the period stands out for its stark candor. By then aiming for a second term as representative of the 2nd district of Pampanga, Arroyo set aside her PDAF as “Social Services – Assistance to indigents or victims of calamities in the Province of Pampanga” through multiple SAROs all dated Feb. 22, 2013, but specified that variable amounts of P300, P200, and P100 each be given to certain numbers of residents in certain barangays.
Pork for parties
Political fortunes change, however, election after election in this country. And by all indications, a lawmaker’s access to pork servings changes, too, with his or her political party affiliation.
In her heyday at the Palace, Arroyo was “really very partisan, she really used it (pork) as a political tool,” according to Abad. As President, Arroyo had denied some lawmakers from the former political opposition their pork shares.
But the tables have since turned and Abad, a former congressman from Batanes and a stalwart of the Liberal Party (LP) of President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III, now represents the ruling coalition.
When asked if pork has flowed more to administration allies, and less to the new political opposition in Congress, under Aquino, Abad offered an interesting remark: “It’s really more historical justice... There were some that really got a lot before.”
A PCIJ review of data disclosed by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) shows that under the Aquino administration, P60.4 billion of PDAF had been released for 85,534 pork-funded projects of 21 senators and 284 congressmen of the 15th Congress, from July 2010 to June 2013.
Of this amount, P8.57 billion or 62 percent was released to implementing agencies for various projects chosen by 22 senators. This figure includes the projects of then Senator Juan Miguel "Migz" F. Zubiri, who was replaced by Senator Aquilino Martin "Koko" L. Pimentel III in 2011.
Former senators Panfilo M. Lacson and Joker P. Arroyo are excluded because they had both opted not to use their PDAF.
Each senator could have gotten as much as P600 million from July 2010 to June 2013, at P200 million per year.
Pork winners all
Then senators Francis "Kiko" N. Pangilinan and Edgardo J. Angara and incumbent senators Antonio "Sonny" F. Trillanes IV, Lorna Regina "Loren" B. Legarda, Francis Joseph "Chiz" G. Escudero, Manuel "Lito" M. Lapid, and Vicente "Tito" Sotto III each managed to get more than or nearly half a billion pesos of PDAF during this period.
Senator Franklin M. Drilon got the least amount: P293 million. But his pork plus the P100-million that was released to his credit from the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) in 2012 makes Drilon’s share a significant P393 million.
Drilon – now Senate President – and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. of the House of Representatives are both vice chairmen of the President’s Liberal Party.
By party affiliation, the members of the Nacionalista Party (NP), LP, and the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) got the highest amount of PDAF in total.
These three parties had the most number of senators in the 15th Congress. They now also make up the nominal “ruling coalition” in the 16th Congress.
On average though, Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino member Edgardo J. Angara received the highest amount of PDAF at P494.9 million.
Next are the three members of NPC (Escudero, Legarda, and Sotto), with an average PDAF release of P460.9 million, followed by the five members of NP (Alan Peter and Pia Cayetano, Manuel "Manny" B. Villar Jr., Ferdinand "Bongbong" R. Marcos Jr., and Trillanes), with an average PDAF of P411.7 million.
Escudero, Legarda, Alan Peter Cayetano, and Trillanes ran for reelection in May 2013 under the President’s Team PNoy slate, together with two neophyte Senate candidates: Villar’s wife Cynthia A. Villar and Angara’s son Juan Edgardo "Sonny" Angara. All six won in May 2013.
NUP, Lakas top shares
In Belmonte’s House in the 15th Congress, pork flows have largely been assured to the members of his broad ruling coalition that is evidently more an accretion of sundry political parties by convenience, rather than by principle or platform.
Belmonte had a long political career as congressman and mayor of Quezon City, as a senior member of the Lakas-Kampi-CMD party of former Presidents Fidel V. Ramos and Gloria Arroyo. In 2009, he jumped ship to the LP and ran under its banner for Congress in the May 2010 elections.
The LP was a minority party with a few allied party-list groups at the start of the 15th Congress in July 2010. In fact, within LP circles, one popular quip is that until Aquino became President, LP was just “a Volkswagen party” – that is, its members were too few they could all fit in such a small contraption.
Belmonte, however, at the time managed to get elected Speaker with at least 227 votes from about 280 House members. His voters came from a hodge-podge of House members who had just then broken with Lakas-CMD to form the National Unity Party (NUP), as well as those from the NPC, NP, and party-list groups with various political tendencies.
LP had officially nominated and sent to victory only 48 members, but has since nearly doubled its number. By July 2010, with Aquino’s election to the presidency, the ranks of LP had grown to 78 members.
In contrast, nearly a third or 84 of the House members elected to the 15th Congress had run as candidates of Lakas-Kampi-CMD. But after Belmonte was elected Speaker, the party’s ranks had thinned out to 44.
Lakas-Kampi-CMD party’s loss, though, became a pork windfall for Lakas-Kampi-CMD members – former and present.
Under Belmonte, the Lakas-Kampi-CMD group of lawmakers had also secured the second highest amount of pork monies, or P186.4 million on average per lawmaker, from July 2010 to June 2013.
Meanwhile, the 21 House members of NUP who had bolted Lakas-Kampi-CMD to join the LP-led ruling coalition garnered the highest amount of PDAF at P189.7 million each in the last three years.
LP’s 78 members drew an average of only P177.5 million; NPC’s 45 members P178.6 million; NP’s 24 members 180.5 million of pork pesos during the period.
SB gets more votes
By July 2013, Belmonte was elected Speaker yet again, with more votes, 244, out of the 290-plus House members.
Former Pangasinan representative Jose de Venecia Jr., who had served a long time as Speaker, had told PCIJ earlier that a Speaker’s command of votes lies largely with his ability to please the House members, including through generous servings of pork.
Under Belmonte’s watch, at least 227 members of the House of Representatives received a total of P51.8 billion of PDAF for their local pet projects from July 2010 to June 2013.
Of this amount, P42 billion had been released to 232 district representatives and P9.8 billion to 59 party-list representatives.
Only Rep. Jesus N. Sacdalan of North Cotabato received the entire P210 million of PDAF that he is appropriated with for the three-year period. Majority of the lawmakers, however, received pork that was close to this amount.
More than half of the House members were each allotted with PDAF worth P180 million and above. This includes former President Gloria Arroyo, who got P190 million in pork funds.
On pork diet?
Certain lawmakers, however, got only very minimal pork. They include Arroyo’s sons, Rep. Diosdado "Dato" M. Arroyo of Camarines Sur and then Rep. Juan Miguel "Mikey" M. Arroyo of the party-list organization Ang Galing Pinoy, as well as her late brother-in-law, Rep. Ignacio T. Arroyo Jr. of Negros Occidental, and Rep. Ma. Milagros "Mitos" H. Magsaysay of Zambales.
All four received P15 million each as their PDAF in 2010.
On average, members of the top five parties received PDAF within the range of P180 million to P187 million.
Members of three parties – United Nationalist Alliance (P131.6 million), Sulong Zambales Party (P125 million), and Lapiang Manggagawa (P65 million) – received a fairly low PDAF on average.
For party-list groups, members of Akbayan, Bayan Muna, Anak Pawis, Gabriela, AA-Kasosyo, Kabataan, 1-UTAK, Act Teachers, Alay Buhay, and Ang Galing Pinoy, got pork funds lower than the average amount received by all party-list representatives. – With additional research by Fernando Cabigao Jr., PCIJ, October 2013