Pork for the president

Marites Dau00f1guilan Vitug

Janet Napoles is the flamboyant, high-living con woman we all love to hate. She has gamed the system so well, worked with partners in Congress and the executive departments, and together, drained public coffers of billions of pesos. 

She is the recognized queen of congressional pork. But she was not one to rest at her peak. Instead, she expanded her territory and found a great discovery, the Malampaya Fund, which is the other branch of government’s pork, the President’s.

In 2009, reports show that most of the P900 million sourced from the Malampaya Fund and released to the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), then under Secretary Nasser Pangandaman, went to Napoles’ pockets, through her fake NGOs. This huge sum was meant for the rehabilitation of farmers in areas ravaged by typhoons Ondong and Pepeng.

Napoles hit gold here. According to the whistleblowers, she started buying her US properties after this windfall.

But, it turns out, Napoles only got a minor share in the largesse from Malampaya. The Commission on Audit’s initial findings show that, from 2006-2010, President Arroyo approved the release of P23 billion, mostly in 2009, to a number of agencies supposedly to be used as calamity fund.

The recipients include the Department of Public Works and Highways, which got the biggest slice (P7 billion), followed by the Department of Agriculture (P5.8 billion), Palawan (P3.9 billion), and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (P2.1 billion). The National Housing Authority and defense department got P1.4 billion and P1.2 billion respectively.

The rest — energy department, DAR, health department, transportation and communications department, PAG-ASA, and the budget and management department—belonged to the multi-million club.

Battle for billions

It may be a little-known fact but the Malampaya Fund can be spent the way the President wants it. This is not in the General Appropriations Act or the annual budget passed by Congress and its amounts are awesome, much bigger than the pork barrel. 

This Fund comes from the Malampaya natural gas project that has been operating off the shores of Palawan for 13 years (since 2001). It is the single biggest investment in the Philippines and, so far, has paid the government more than $4 billion in revenues. The government expects royalties of up to $10 billion from Malampaya’s 20-year operations.

Apparently, the government was not prepared for this good fortune. To this day, the sharing of this multi-billion dollar fund is unsettled—and the resolution has been lodged with the Supreme Court. While the Supreme Court sits on the 7-year case questioning the sharing of the Fund, it has served Malacañang and others, including Napoles, well.

Looking back, former Palawan Gov Joel Reyes may have been one of the beneficiaries. In 2011, the COA recommended the filing of graft and criminal charges against Reyes for the alleged misuse of the P3.9 billion given to the province.

This controversy, apparently, claimed a life. Remember that Gerry Ortega, who exposed the alleged corruption in the provincial government’s handling of the fund in his radio shows, was shot dead.

Plunder

Today, here’s where things stand.

The province of Palawan wants 40% of gross revenues, citing the Local Government Code, while the national government says everything should go to them because they claim that the project is outside the territory of Palawan. To appease Palawan—and while waiting for the High Court’s decision—President Arroyo granted the province “assistance” from the Fund.

Arroyo was able to do this because a decree of Ferdinand Marcos gives the president a free hand in allocating the Fund. The decree states that revenues from energy projects should finance exploration and development of energy resources but provides a catch-all phrase that says the fund can also be used “for such other purposes as may be directed by the President.”

In the wake of the pork barrel scandal, Harry Roque, who is questioning the agreement between Arroyo and Palawan before the Supreme Court, wants the case resolved immediately. He was shocked to find out that 2 days after the oral arguments in the Court on Nov 24, 2009, the DAR released the first tranche of the P900-million rehabilitation fund for farmers to Napoles. 

It’s been more than 3 years since the oral arguments, he says, and during this time, the “systematic plunder” of the Malampaya Fund continued, “unabated.”

(The justice in charge of the case is Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno; this is one of the cases she inherited when she was appointed to the Court in 2010. )

Napoles has led us to this bottomless well. It’s time to set things straight and, in Roque's words, “put an end to this plunder.” - Rappler.com