Friday, September 6, 2013

Some Lawmakers Are Guiltier than Janet Lim- Napoles in the PDAF Scam

Janet Lim- Napoles
Hogging the headlines of Philippine dailies, radios, TVs and the social media is the PDAF scam to the tune of billions of pesos which is allegedly masterminded by businesswoman Janet Lim- Napoles, a wife of an ex-major of the Philippines marines. A Commission on Audit (COA) special report for 2007 to 2009 has it that about 10 billion pesos of the legislators’ Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) was channeled into Napoles’ bogus Non Government Organizations (NGOs).

Senators are each allocated 200 million pesos PDAF while each congressman has 70 million pesos. PDAF is allotted to a lawmaker so that he can help his constituents in his district of their needs such as public infrastructures, health and education among others without going to the office of the president to ask for money. It is the practice of the lawmakers to identify the projects and choose the NGOs that will implement them.

The reports of the PDAF scam came to the fore when Ben-Hur Luy, a former employee and cousin of Napoles who was allegedly kidnapped on her instruction divulged in public the magnitude of the raid of the public coffers perpetrated by his ex-boss. He claimed that the NGOs that she put up were illegitimate. Luy along with other whistle blowers who surfaced claimed that her bogus NGOs siphoned off PDAF money that ends up in the pocket of corrupt government officials and some private persons. Napoles and the involved politicians earned money in the scheme. It has also turned Napoles from a struggling business woman into a very rich and well connected person.

A contractor that implements a PDAF funded project claimed that it is the lawmakers who get the lion’s share of kickback that is as high as 40%. The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) which releases the fund is allegedly given back 15% of the money by the project implementers. The government agency to which the fund is released gets 5%. The heads of Local Government Units (LGUs) where project is implemented have 20%. The actual projects or beneficiaries of the fund get only 5% out of the PDAF. What remains of the money after giving involved government agencies or officials their share goes to Napoles who takes responsibility of having the funds liquidated to comply with the requirements of COA. The loss of money in terms of commission given to government officials is the reason why infrastructure projects from the PDAF are inferior in quality, and funds for social services are inadequate. It is also for that reason why persons like Janet Lim-Napoles who deals with the PDAF of the legislators becomes filthy rich overtime.

The scandal surrounding the PDAF scam shows that corruption has permeated the Philippine society in a grand scale, and that high government officials are involved in it. Napoles is able to do her scheme because high government officials tolerate her. Or worse of it, they use her to earn huge kickbacks out of their PDAF. Senators involved such as Bong Revilla, Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, Gregorio Honasan and other lawmakers claimed that their signatures were being forged and that they did not know how their fund was spent because it is the government agencies where the fund is channeled which should oversee the proper utilization of the money. However, failure to take care of huge amount of tax-payer’s money entrusted by the government to an official that resulted to its loss and waste is negligence in the highest order and is punishable by law. It would be naïve for the Filipinos to believe that Janet Lim- Napoles could pull a fast one on highly intelligent and astute politicians such as Enrile, Honasan and other law makers many of whom are high-caliber lawyers. On top of it, Janet Lim- Napoles is not a government official, the lawmakers are.

Corruption has destroyed the moral fabric of the Philippine bureaucracy so that some officials who are entrusted with the custody of government fund think that it is theirs to loot from. And the rich, the influential and the powerful can get around the rules to further their vested interests. The NGOs put up by Napoles are classic example of how an unscrupulous person can connect with high officials and gain financially with their help, connivance or indifference. Former Senator Edgardo Angara, even put up his own NGO with himself as an incorporator, stockholder and member. He even downloaded 14.4 million pesos of his PDAF to it. There are reports that there are at least 82 bogus NGOs which are conduit of the PDAF, and Napoles owns only about ten of them so there are probably more persons other than her who are involved in the plunder of the PDAF.

While the use of the PDAF portrays the corrupt ways of some high government officials, it also shows the good traits of other officials who are in the government. Although, probably, not all of the COA personnel are honest and some might have conspired with persons such as Napoles, others such as the COA commissioner Grace Pulido- Tan set an example of what a good public servant should be in the midst of the big scandal that is faced by the government.  She could have just opted to keep silent, maintain the status quo and earn big money by conspiring and cooperating with the wrong doers. But this brave lady has chosen to be on the right side. She makes reports on what things really are even to the extent of implicating powerful people in the government for corruption and of risking her own life.