|Written by John Berthelsen and A. Lin Neumann|
The current scandal over patronage funds exposes deeper truths about the country's feudal ways
The Philippines' multibillion dollar Pork Barrel, the center of a massive and growing scandal, is a river of money that enriches those most at its confluence but then flows down to mayors and other local political leaders, corrupting the democratic process as it goes, with a trickle eventually reaching impoverished voters in the form of favors and benefits intended to buy loyalty for the local congressman.
The Pork Barrel, formally known as the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), provides each of the country's 24 senators with P200 million (US$4.8 million) per year, or P1.2 billion for an entire six-year term. Congressional representatives receive P70 million per year, or P210 million for their three year terms.
For months, attention has been riveted on the activities of Janet Lim Napoles, who made herself and her family massively rich after she set up a series of phony NGOs that were the recipients of PDAF funds that were then apparently recycled back to the lawmakers in cash after Napoles took a 30 percent cut. That story has been told extensively and is the subject of an official government audit report; at least six senators and 28 congressmen could be liable for criminal charges.
But the other part of the story is how these funds even when "properly" used perpetuate an almost unbreakable system, helping to create a long chain of political dynasties. In effect the PDAF has been a government-funded way to sustain a corrupt and feudal system.
The way the funds are used illustrates the enormous difficulty of ending or reforming a system that makes a truism of the phrase that money is the mother's milk of politics. The funds were intended to finance rural development projects for constituents but investigations have shown that while many districts benefit from them, more often they are used as a method of delivering patronage and furthering the business interests of powerful local families.
The poorly audited PDAF funds and other sources of money that flow down from lawmakers to district officials or mayors are sometimes used to fund outright illegal operations including smuggling of drugs or weapons and munitions sales, according to a former military officer, virtually unstoppable by an outmanned, outgunned and often corrupt customs service trying to police an archipelago of 7,100 islands, about 2,000 of which are inhabited.Read more.