PDAF ‘dead’? Well, gov’t has raised the zombie

MONSTER PIG FINALIt probably shouldn’t surprise us, given the government’s response to the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). For all it’s avowals about the death of pork, the Philippine government is trying its darn best to sustain patronage politics in this country. President Benigno Aquino III himself announced the death of PDAF. Well then, what’s doing the rounds of social media is the pork zombie. Party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio released a recording of a recent meeting between legislators and Health Undersecretary Janet Garin, a former member of the House of Representatives. Audio and transcript show that the country’s leaders have been focused on resurrecting the infamous system that gave rise to the Napoles scandal.

The Supreme Court declared as unconstitutional the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). That’s the system where legislators are given a lump sum (at least P70 million for members of the House of Representatives and P200 million for senators), which they are then free to endorse to any beneficiary worthy of their tender mercies. PDAF is found in the General Appropriations Act. The SC, however, found it unconstitutional for allowing legislators to “intervene, assume or participate” in post-enactment stages of the budget execution. The powers granted legislators under the PDAF include “project identification, modification and revision of project identification, fund release and/or fund realignment, unrelated to the power of congressional oversight.” Not too long ago, Budget Secretary Abad was urging reform-minded groups to target their fire on legislators and PDAF. We now know, of course, that Abad then crafted DAP — which also went to legislators and, incidentally, Napoles NGOs. Now the  recordings leaked by  Tinio shows the executive department bending way, way backwards to allow legislators a death grip on their pork privileges. The transcript of that meeting also shows why politicians (and their patrons) see pork as essential to their survival.

Patients share a bed at congested Fabella Hospital. The poor continue to need to plead with legislators to get health aid.
Patients share a bed at congested Fabella Hospital. The poor continue to need to plead with legislators to get health aid.

It’s hard not to feel some sympathy for Garin as she seeks to appease legislators. The entire point of the meeting was to reassure them that, yes, they still are in control of their PDAF. They still have the power to dictate who gets to benefit from the funds they have allotted for health services. (Even when they, by order of the Supreme Court, should have given up this power.) Garin explains that a new order covering the medical assistance program (clearly PDAF as hidden in the DOH budget) has simplified requirements. Indeed, there is only one requirement to get benefits reserved for “indigent” patients — the benevolent nod of your representative. Officially, the endorsement should come from MAP officials.

“And who are the MAP officials? Kayo yan, these are the Congressmen or your designated personnel,” says Garin.

The SC  ordered that all unused PDAF monies should revert to the general fund and not be spent in any way that replicates the practices ruled as unconstitutional. Here’s what the Department of Health did instead:

“So the decision of the Department is to do away with all walk-in patients because in the first place it was made clear to us that these funds are not DOH funds but are actually funds of Congressmen who are there to assist their constituents.”

Garin apologizes for instances when DOH personnel told patients that there are no legislators’ funds — which was the true state of affairs until they swept back ‘reforms’. And she has a solution for any problems that may arise.

“if in case nagpadala kayo ng pasyente, pagkapadala ninyo ng pasyente sinabi ay wala po ditong pondo yung opisina ninyo …  we have a directory that will be given to you and that will be e-mailed to all your offices. In that directory, there are two persons in-charge of all hospitals, so makikita ninyo dun sa directory, andidito yung mga pangalan ng mga hospitals and then kung sino yung contact person na tatawagan ninyo. So for any problem, you immediately call, text or e-mail the persons in-charge of that hospital and automatically they will issue

To make sure that no pesky local government unit claims legislators’ pork, the DOH says  it will pay only for patients covered by a “guarantee letter” from legislators or their designated representatives.

Public service: Not an question of justice but of tribal strength,
Public service: Not an question of justice but of tribal strength,

The government has a good, noble reason for going around the SC decision: “You (legislators) know best and you know better sino ang nanganagilangan ng tulong sa distrito ninyo, Garin declares. And just like that, they’ve upended the checks and balances in governance. Garin makes the Executive Department seem clueless on matters of poverty. And if you follow her words to their logical conclusion, you should be very, very scared — because this supposedly clueless executive branch has been disbursing billions of pesos to people they have surveyed and verified as poor! According to Senate President Franklin Drilon, the government’s conditional cash transfer program or the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program was alloted P62.6 billion in the 2014 budget and stands to get P64.7 billion next year. The program, which is administered by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) has reportedly given funds to 4.3 million poor families. It is “conditional” because beneficiaries are supported to a) keep their children in school and b) ensure that they get proper government medical care, including regular vaccinations against infectious diseases. This means at least two agencies, the DOH included, keeps track of these poor people. So how does one square this with the claim that only legislators know who needs aid in their districts? If one were truly concerned with red-tape, then one could have ordered the local DSWD units to provide government hospitals of a list of indigents for verification of status. After all, the CCT is given regularly. But no, poor people have to get the blessings of legislators before they will be given the time of day. We’ve heard legislators moan and threaten about the sudden cut in health aid and scholarships because public funds have vanished. But there ARE public funds. The legislators just don’t want these out of their hands. And it is Garin herself who tells us why.

“We also understand na yung guarantee letter na unang nirelease, medyo yung format, I mean it’s good, it’s okay. Unfortunately the format creates a lot of questions kasi nga parang it’s, it’s an indigency program of the DOH. Nawawalan ngayon ng, let’s admit it the political points in, in the case of the office requesting it kasi ang nakapirma dun is Asec. Lagajid and it was placed there na hindi pwedeng i-honor pag Saturday and Sunday. “

That’s the truth. In fact, Garin adds some details tas she tries to plug any problems that could inconvenience legislators: “Our initial recommendation was actually, we’ll send the guarantee letters then bayaran agad para walang, walang tagal, walang maraming requirements kasi the hospital structure has a lot of requirements for indigency program natutu nga kasi diyan sila eh. So to solve that, yun yung prinopose namin.” (So much for reform measures to staunch corruption.)

“But then there were others naman we’re very comfortable with outright downloading so sabi namin okay naman yun. For those na wala kayong downloaded na pondo, actually it’s easier, better and more flexible kasi by the time na nagpalit ka ng isip, kunyare party-list congressman ka, dito ka naglagay ng pondo, then mayroon din dun kasamahan ninyo, kaibigan ninyo tumatakbo din, you want to concentrate on this area, so very flexible, all you have to do is look at our directory tell the person in charge you want a guarantee letter immediately to this hospital, this patient, ipadala agad. So hindi na yung na-download na dun, babawiin mo ulit, ire-realign mo.”

Cinderella should be so lucky! Everybody screams about patronage politics in this country. Where do you think the money for that comes from? There are two very good reasons to get rid of pork:

  • Government, or its executive branch, is mandated to ensure the efficient and rational delivery of basis services to the people, by way of proposing and then implementing the budget;
  • We know that elected officials, especially legislators, channel pork to reward their supporters or lure in new ones.

Through this miasma of discretionary power runs the infamous “weather-weather lang” character of Philippine governance. This rot is what makes decisions of both elected and voters a matter of tribal strength rather than of justice or efficiency. We scream against patronage politics and yet we shrug off the reality of millions of poor Filipinos having to throw themselves at the mercy of politicians to get what is theirs by right under the Constitution. We sneer at the poor about electing the governments they deserve. We sneer and then dance with the pigs we call friends.

One thought on “PDAF ‘dead’? Well, gov’t has raised the zombie

  1. Pingback: Pens vs pork: People’s Initiative puts dead end to Aquino’s ‘Daang Matuwid’ show | Chronicles of Carlos

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