Sui Generis

Pork barrel ghost haunts candidate Marcos

Marites Dañguilan Vitug
Pork barrel ghost haunts candidate Marcos

Art by Guia Abogado

Plunder case unresolved

Ferdinand Marcos Jr was a senator when the huge pork barrel scandal erupted in 2013. An estimated P10 billion of public funds was siphoned off to lawmakers’ pockets and to the ringmaster, Janet Lim-Napoles. This was said to be one of the biggest heists in recent Philippine history.

As it turned out, Napoles colluded with senators and congressmen to channel their Priority Development Assistance Funds or PDAF – meant for programs to uplift their constituents – into her bogus non-governmental organizations (NGOs), in exchange for hefty kickbacks.

Marcos appears to have emerged unscathed from this mega-corruption scandal. He was not among the three senators who were detained and later freed: Juan Ponce EnrileBong Revilla, and Jinggoy Estrada.

But questions persist about candidate Marcos’ use of his PDAF. In April 2016, a youth group called iBBM or iBalik Ang Bilyones ng Mamamayan, sued Marcos Jr, along with his consultant Catherine Mae “Maya” Santos and Napoles, for plunder, for funneling P205 million of his pork barrel to fake NGOs. The plunder suit was filed at the time Marcos Jr was running for vice president.

The complainants brought their case to the Ombudsman. They obtained data from the digital files submitted by the whistleblower, Benhur Luy, to the National Bureau of Investigation. The records showed that Marcos authorized Special Allotment Release Orders or SAROs to finance various agricultural and livelihood programs in different local government units using sham NGOs apparently set up by Napoles. (SARO is a document of the Department of Budget and Management that allows the release of funds to the government agencies.)

Marcos chose fake NGO

At least nine of Marcos’ SAROs were identified to have been coursed through NGOs allegedly involved in the pork barrel scam and a government agency that was later found to be riddled with PDAF-related corruption. The amounts ranged from P5 million to P100 million, reaching a total of P205 million.

One of these disbursements, P10 million for a livelihood project in General Nakar, Quezon coursed through a fake foundation associated with Napoles, was disapproved by the Commission on Audit (COA) in 2014 for being “illegal and irregular.”

In a statement at the time, a hard copy of which was attached to the iBBM complaint, Marcos said that he approved the request of the mayor of General Nakar, a municipality in Quezon, for a fund for livelihood projects for farmers. He then asked the mayor to tap the Social Development Program for Farmers Foundation (SDPFFI) to help implement the project.

SDPFFI was later revealed to be a sham foundation. It was one of the NGOs that gave a false address and was found by COA to have no capability to implement projects of such magnitude, the complaint said.

The big ask, as iBBM said in its press statement, was: “Why would Bongbong Marcos give special instructions to deal with SDPFFI, when they had no known address, projects, or reputation to speak of?”

Missing: Witness Santos’ testimony

Marcos has denied any involvement in the multi-billion-peso scam. There has been no word from Santos, Marcos’ co-accused, who was his consultant from January 2011 to June 2013.

A whistleblower identified Santos as a “project coordinator” of Marcos and a witness said she was one of the “middlemen” used by Napoles in her transactions with lawmakers. However, Santos has not given any testimony.

During the Arroyo administration, Santos was undersecretary of the National Anti-Poverty Commission and assistant secretary of the Department of Agriculture.

In an affidavit, Napoles pointed to Santos as the one who approached her to offer projects from Marcos’ office and that she didn’t know or meet the senator. Santos told Napoles that she (Santos) was the one tasked to oversee the senator’s projects and funds. Santos supposedly asked for 50% for each project she could give Napoles.

There seemed to have been no effort by the investigators to get to Santos, a key character in the scam. This is baffling.

More fake NGOs

Apart from SDPFFI in Quezon, other NGOs received PDAF from Marcos, as detailed in the complaint with the Ombudsman. Here are some of them:

  • P10 million to the Health Education Assistance Resettlement Training Services (HEARTS) in Bulakan, Bulacan. According to COA, this NGO was only registered in December 2012 but received its SARO in January 2012. Residents in Bulakan have not heard of HEARTS foundation and the given office address had long been abandoned.
  • P10 million to the Countrywide Agri & Rural Economic Development Foundation (CARED). This is one of the sham foundations associated with Napoles. COA found out that the given address of CARED was a “mere shanty occupied by the mother of one of the incorporators.”
  • P10 million to the People’s Organization for Progress and Development Foundation (POPDFI), also a bogus foundation.
  • P10 million to Kaupdanan para sa Manguguma Foundation (KMFI), another Napoles fake foundation.
  • P100 million to the National Livelihood Development Corporation (NLDC), one of the implementing agencies that “downloaded the most PDAF to bogus NGOs associated with Napoles.” NLDC was abolished in 2015. Eight of its former officials, as of 2016, faced graft and plunder charges before the Sandiganbayan.

Almost six years later, the plunder complaint against presidential candidate Marcos remains unresolved by the Ombudsman.

Marites Dañguilan Vitug

Marites is one of the Philippines’ most accomplished journalists and authors. For close to a decade, Vitug – a Nieman fellow – edited 'Newsbreak' magazine, a trailblazer in Philippine investigative journalism. Her recent book, 'Rock Solid: How the Philippines Won Its Maritime Case Against China,' has become a bestseller.