Sidebar, Part 2

Binay’s pork: Breaking bad

AFTER THE Supreme Court declared the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) unconstitutional in November 2013, a modified pork-like system of funneling funds to projects endorsed by lawmakers was born and from it, Vice President Jejomar ‘Jojo’ C. Binay supposedly continued to get his pork share. It is difficult to say, however, how much pork he got or continues to get, and through which implementing agencies, after PDAF’s supposed abolition.

What is certain is that for three years in a row, 2011, 2012, and 2013, Binay had received a hefty P200-million slice of pork annually. For sure, he had also vowed to spend it on his project lists: scholarship for indigent students, medical assistance for the poor, and the construction of 200 senior citizen centers in as many towns and cities of the country.

On Sept. 11, 2013, a day after the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order on all PDAF spending, Binay announced that he had decided to remove pork from the OVP budget. He did so “even before the authorities determine the nature of the fund in order to avoid speculation and politicking on this issue,” supposedly to “convey to the public that we in government are always listening to them and ready to service honestly and with commitment.”

As proof, his chief of staff cited that minus the pork, the OVP’s P417-million budget in 2013 was to be reduced by half to P217 million in 2014.

By then, however, Binay had already secured P600 million worth of pork in three tranches – the first P200 million disbursed by the Department of Budget and Management in 2011, and the next two loaded up in the OVP’s agency budget.

On account of pork, from only P185.1 million in 2011, the OVP budget more than doubled to P401.8 million in 2012, and grew further to P416.6 million in 2013. It dropped to P217.9 million in 2014 but again rose slightly to P222.6 million in 2015.

But whether he had spent it well is the question state auditors have raised. In its annual agency reports on the Office of the Vice President (OVP) for 2012 and 2013, however, the Commission on Audit (COA) found reason to conclude that Binay’s pork had turned bad.

Among COA’s observations was what it said was the OVP’s failure to liquidate P32 million transferred to the city government of Makati “for more than a year,” a matter “inconsistent with Section 4.6 of COA Circular No. 94-013,” which requires that projects must be completed within their enrolled project timetable. The delay, COA noted, had left “the intended beneficiaries… deprived of the benefits that should have accrued to them due to slow implementation of the project.”

The transfer of his pork funds to the Makati City government was at best unusual, and at worst, a clear case of conflict of interest. Binay had served for many years as mayor of Makati.

His wife Elenita had assumed the post in 1998-2001, after he had served three full terms as mayor. Jojo Binay then became mayor once more, completing three more full terms before running for vice president in 2010. The Binay couple’s only son Jejomar Erwin Jr. or ‘Junjun’ is serving his second three-year term as mayor but was recently suspended on administrative charges by the Office of the Ombudsman.

There were other things, though, regarding the P32-millionfund transfer from the office of the elder Binay to that of the younger Binay that puzzled state auditors.

COA reviewed the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the OVP and the Makati City government that triggered the transfer of the P32 million from the former to the latter under SA check No. 454728 dated November 23, 2012 and IA OR No. 3641153 dated November 27, 2012.

The amount had been part of the PDAF–Soft Projects of the Vice President, which was released as a regular budget to the OVP, which refers to “social, health and livelihood projects of which the implementing agency was the Makati City per Advice of NCA dated November 20, 2012.”

In its review of the MOA, COA found that “the duration of the project was for one year but the starting period was not indicated.”  Moreover, it said in its report, “there was no detailed Work and Financial Plan (WFP) required in the MOA to be submitted by the IA (implementing agency).”

Interestingly, it was the OVP and not the Makati City government that submitted a WFP. This was contrary to official procedure and practice. COA reported that when the state auditors asked why the OVP and the Makati City government performed roles in reverse, “Management explained that instead of the IA, as required in the MOA, the OVP prepared the WFP per verbal concurrence of the parties involved.”

And so Vice President Binay got to prescribe how he wanted the P32 million to be disbursed, and according to his prescribed amounts:

  • All regions with priority to 4th-6th class municipalities, P10 million;
  • Donation of medical supplies and equipment to locally run hospitals/rural health units/health centers with Senior Citizens Centers, 4th-6th class municipalities, all regions, P12 million; and
  • Community based training program (dressmaking, cosmetology and cell-phone repair) including provision of training supplies and equipment to trainees; 4th-6th class municipalities of the Visayas Regions (regions 6, 7 and 8), P10 million.

But the projects never got going. Nine months after the fund was transferred to Makati City, just a sliver of the P32 million of Binay’s pork had been disbursed. According to COA, “only P879,550.00 or 2.74 percent of the amount was utilized as of August 31, 2013.”

“This,” COA reiterated, “proved that there was slow implementation of the program depriving the intended beneficiaries of the benefits that should have immediately accrued to them.”

COA quotes the city government’s Assistant Chief of Staff as saying that “the implementation was delayed due to the directive of the Vice President to refocus the beneficiaries of livelihood assistance to provinces that were hit by typhoon Yolanda and the re-bidding made by the IA on the procurement of supplies and materials for distribution to beneficiaries.”

Curiously, super typhoon Yolanda would visit the Philippines only on Nov. 4, 2013 – or three months after COA had checked on the status of the P32 million pork of Binay. The OVP had transferred the fund to the Makati City government in November 2012 — a full year before Yolanda struck.

The apparently largely unspent P32 million, however, was not the only problems COA had with the Vice President’s pork. Among its other observations were:

  • “Ineffective system of granting medical assistance.” The OVP grants nominal amounts of medical assistance to indigents upon submission of nine various documents, including a personal letter to the Vice President. It takes the OVP three months to process applications, and another two weeks to release the checks, COA noted. Because of the “long processing lag time,” COA said, “it is possible that the patient may have been discharged from the hospital before the assistance can be delivered.” But, COA said,  “under the List of Frontline Services of the Citizens Charter booklet which was published in the OVP website, the processing time of medical assistance in normal circumstances is five to ten days only.” It added:  “Clearly, timeliness of the services offered to the prospective beneficiaries by the medical assistance program is not observed, thus, defeating the purpose of the program.”
  • Scant and scattered reports on the completion of projects funded by P100 million from the “Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of the Vice President.” The amount was supposed to support “the repair/construction of 200 senior citizen centers, or half the P200 million of his pork share, which has been transferred to the OVP’s regular agency budget in 2012 and 2013.”
  • Total disbursement of P88,524,987.42 in “donations” in 2013 for “various forms of assistance granted under the Vice President’s Social Service Program (VPSSP) such as educational, medical, funeral, and calamity relief operation.” That redounds to about P7 million a month.

COA then directed the OVP to monitor the use of the fund closely “to avoid delay in the implementation of projects and ensure punctual delivery of service/benefits and full attainment of goal.”

But because the Supreme Court had declared the PDAF unconstitutional and imposed a restraining order on its disbursement starting Sept. 10, 2013, COA said in its report, “(We) advised the Chief Accountant that the unspent balance at the time of declaration should be refunded by the Makati City to the OVP and reverted to the general fund of the government.”

Whether or not those words were heeded is the P32-million question that Binay has yet to answer. The COA audit report on the OVP for the year 2014 could probably offer some answers. As of this posting, however, that report, eight months into 2015, has not come out.

The Office of the Vice President, of course, had not even been entitled to any pork initially. But Binay had asked for it from President Benigno S. Aquino III. In a letter to the President in late 2010, he argued that the budget of the vice president’s office was “too meager for the country’s No.2 most powerful man.”

Fortunately for Binay, he was still on good terms with Aquino at the time, as well as with many of the President’s allies. He also had on his side then Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, who noted that as the nation’s “No. 2 man,” Binay “deserves to get his pork” because “he represents government… the sovereign people… the Republic of the Philippines next to the President.”

“In other words,” Enrile said, “we are not a monarchy system but he’s in effect in the position of a crown prince.”

In the end, it was decided that Binay would get the P200-million pork share Aquino was supposed to have, had he stayed on in the Senate. The amount was in fact far less than what Binay had asked for, but it was more than the annual allocation for the vice president’s office.

“The President rejected Binay’s request for a P500-million pork because the government was trying to limit its costs,” explained Senator Franklin Drilon, Liberal Party Vice Chairman and then head of the Senate Committee on Finance. “Mr. Aquino suggested that since there was a P200-million allocation for a 24th senator, the Vice President could be given the funds and still allow the government to stay within its P1.645-trillion budget.”  – PCIJ, August 2015