MANILA, Philippines – Not all “pork” may be bad, especially if channeled to the right projects.
Going by allocations alone in the heavily devastated cities of Tacloban and Ormoc in Leyte, disaster mitigation projects actually got sufficient attention from lawmakers. But they were still no match for Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).
In 2012, the two cities were recipients of pork barrel funds from lawmakers for projects ranging from flood control to disaster preparedness programs. Despite the tarnished reputation of the pork barrel system, the use of such funds was actually high in Tacloban and Leyte in the past two years.
Last year alone, Tacloban City, which bore the fury of Yolanda, got P5.2 million in pork barrel funding for its flood control projects implemented by the Department of Public Works and Highways. The funding was sourced from the pork barrel of Leyte 1st district Representative Martin Romualdez.
Ormoc City, another city badly damaged by Yolanda, was a recipient of P11.3 million in pork barrel funding for the rehabilitation of a spillway and disaster preparedness program. It was sourced from the pork barrel of Leyte 4th district Representative Lucy Torres-Gomez.
Much maligned as a major source of corruption, the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) has recently been ruled as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. The High Court said the pork barrel system has been transformed into a discretionary fund by lawmakers, giving them the “power of appropriation” which is beyond their legislative function.
Abuse and misuse of the pork barrel system has been in the spotlight in the recent months, following reports that it has been systematically abused by lawmakers in collusion with private individuals. Three senators and a few other House members have been charged with plunder before the Ombudsman for allegedly colluding with self-styled businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles in pocketing the funds.
A special state audit covering 2007-2009 confirmed the testimonies of whistleblowers that Napoles and a network of individuals have been pocketing government funds. The provinces of Leyte and Samar were not covered in the special state audit.
Available data showed that about 10% of pork barrel funds were used for disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM) programs – from soft to hard projects. This is higher compared to the requirement imposed by RA 10121 or The Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act. The law requires that 5% percent of the Internal Revenue Allocation of LGUs be reserved for DRRM projects.
For 2013 alone, Tacloban tapped P13 million of pork barrel funds to fortify existing flood control projects or construct new ones. Of this amount, P8 million was sourced from the pork barrel of Romualdez and P5 million from An Waray party-list representative Florencio Noel.
The funds augmented the P10.4-million budget that the Tacloban City government allocated for its own flood control projects using its own funds. This is based on an audit report for the city for the years 2010 and 2011.
Another municipality in the 1st district of Leyte, Santa Fe, was a beneficiary of P7 million in pork barrel for flood control projects from Romualdez and Noel. (In 2012, Noel also allocated a total of P3.5 million of his pork barrel for flood control projects in Leyte).
Representatives from the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th districts of Leyte for their part, also tapped pork barrel funds for flood control projects – from spillways to seawalls and drainage systems in 2012 and 2013.
For instance, 2nd district Representative Sergio Apostol channeled P11 million for such projects; 3rd district Representative Andres Salvacion, P2.85 million; 4th district Representative Torres-Gomez, P11.3 million and the 5th district Rep Jose Carlos Cari, P6.2 million.
Of Leyte’s 5 districts, only the 4th district used funds amounting to P10 million for calamity preparedness training programs implemented by the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
Samar and Southern Leyte too
Not to be left behind, the provinces of Samar, Eastern and Northern Samar, as well as Southern Leyte also tapped pork barrel funds for flood control projects.
Eastern Samar used P12 million for DRRM projects, P10 million of which were for the construction in different towns of multi-purpose buildings that double as evacuation centers.
Northern Samar tapped P9.6 million for soft DRMM projects like disaster preparedness and P2.1 million for hard projects. Samar province, for its part, channeled P12.5 million of pork barrel funds for the construction of flood control structures.
Southern Leyte had the lowest usage of pork barrel funds for DRRM, with only P2.6 million for flood control projects in 2012 and 2013.
Not enough preparedness?
Based on the official government count, the freak typhoon that hit the country early November has claimed the lives of 5,500 people as of Wednesday, November 27. The number is believed to be higher.
The national government has blamed the local government units, Tacloban City in particular, for failing to adequately prepare for the disaster.
But experts on disaster mitigation and response say no one expected the damage to be as extensive, given that residents of Eastern Visayas are used to natural calamities.
“The preparedness was not appropriate to the storm surge,” Health Undersecretary Dr Teodoro Herbosa observed, which measured as high as 6 meters. Herbosa has had 20 years exposure to disaster preparation and response.
The strength of Yolanda’s fury, he pointed out, was beyond the scale that Eastern Visayas residents have been used to. “The people there are used to typhoons, but in terms of strength, we never had this scale,” he said.
A ranking official of the Office of the Civil Defense, which serves as secretariat of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), echoed Herbosa’s observation.
“In a scale of 10, the LGUs have been preparing for a 7 or an 8 because that was the appropriate level given their experience in the past. They did not prepare for a level 10 which, in hindsight, should have been the level of preparedness,” the OCD official said. – with reports from Michael Bueza and Rey Santos/Rappler.com