Fourth of Five Parts
WITHIN six months after he took his oath in June 2010 as the country’s 15th Vice President, Jejomar ‘Jojo’ C. Binay, had two wishes fulfilled, with a lot of help from President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III and his friends in Congress.
First, Aquino granted Binay’s request to set up official residence and workplace at the newly renovated Coconut Palace in Manila, a 2.7-hectare “Imeldific” complex built in 1978 supposedly for P1.2-billion.
Second, Aquino and Congress allowed Binay to have his own pork barrel – until then the exclusive perk of lawmakers – although they later pruned his plea for P500-million pork per year to only P200 million.
Binay began getting his pork funds in 2011, even as Malacañang had not enrolled it as an expense item in the budget proposal it sent to Congress. In fact, Aquino’s budget proposal had asked for a smaller budget for the Office of the Vice President (OVP).
But to accommodate Binay’s pork, on Dec. 14, 2010, the last session day before the Christmas break, the House of Representatives ratified the 2011 General Appropriations Act with the vice president’s pork tucked in.
The Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) section of the 2011 GAA made only passing mention of the vice president in the paragraphs on “allocation of funds.” But the pork Binay got doubled his access to public funds. The P200 million was, in fact, even bigger than the P185-million approved agency budget for the OVP.
In the 2012 GAA, however, Malacañang and Congress somehow put Binay’s pork in order; his P200-million pork share this year has been added to the OVP budget of P481.79 million, a hefty 260-percent increase from 2011.
This time, Binay’s pork was set aside for “the priority programs and projects of the Vice President,” with the proviso that “the amount shall be subject to the conditions, limitations and requirements under the Special Provisions of the Priority Development Assistance Fund and to the submission of a Special Budget.”
But his pork fund, which would amount to P1.2 billion until 2016, along with his other official duties and his fast-growing networks of old and new friends and allies in the Boy Scouts of the Philippines and the Alpha Phi Omega fraternity, Binay is well-prepared, and by all accounts preparing well, to run for president in 2016. Indeed, the mastermind of the so-called supercoalition of political parties for the 2016 elections can well also count on the super-network of sister cities of Makati, which is controlled by his family, to propel him into greater heights in 2016.
Spare tire no more
The vice president declined to conduct a face-to-face interview with PCIJ for this story. Asked pointblank by email if he has hitched his ride to the Palace on the pork express and Makati’s network of sister cities, however, Binay replied: “The PCIJ is entitled to speculate. It seems that political motive will always be inferred from the actions of the vice president.”
The consistent topnotcher in all recent popularity-rating surveys, Binay is for sure the man to beat in the May 2016 presidential elections. Until he came, the post of vice president has been immodestly valued as the nation’s “political spare tire.”
Binay is obviously no spare tire of a vice president. Aquino had designated him chair of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council, presidential adviser for the nation’s estimated 12 million overseas workers, and “chairman emeritus” of agencies working on human trafficking and illegal recruitment.
In media interviews, Binay admits that he wishes, wants, and desires to someday be president, saying this has been his dream as a young boy. Yet often, he also offers the caveat that his decision to run in 2016 ultimately rests on whether he will be chosen to stand for the post by his political party or coalition of parties, and by “destiny.”
This early, with help from his pork, Binay has apparently decided to claim his destiny. By the scale and scope of projects he wants to be funded with his P200-million annual pork share, this “crown prince” of Philippine political royalty has been working and networking so hard so he could be king soon.
It was the Senate panel in the bicameral conference committee that worked on the 2011 budget measure that gave the assurance that Binay’s pork request had been cleared with and approved by the president no less, according to various press reports.
Before the House could vote, Bayan Muna Rep. Teodoro Casiño questioned how the grant of pork to Binay could serve the public interest. But Cavite Rep. and House committee on appropriations head Joseph Emilio Abaya said his doubts about the legality of granting Binay’s request were squelched when he was told there was a precedent to it: as vice president from 1992 to 1998, Joseph Estrada had also requested and obtained pork.
Abaya is secretary-general of the Liberal Party chaired by President Aquino. Another LP leader, Sen. Franklin M. Drilon, Senate committee on finance chairman, came out to defend Binay’s pork.
News reports quoted Drilon as saying that Aquino himself “had approved the transfer of the pork barrel funds earmarked for his fourth year as senator to Binay.”
He wanted P500M
Drilon revealed that Binay, in a letter to Congress, asked for “P500 million in pork barrel funds, saying that his office’s budget was too meager for the country’s No. 2 most powerful man.”
The reports said, “Binay had argued during the budget deliberations that he needed the extra funds to meet the requests of people seeking his assistance.”
“The president rejected Binay’s request for a P500-million pork because the government was trying to limit its costs,” Drilon said, adding, “Instead, 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.”
Whether or not Aquino was right to propose that the PDAF intended for him be given to Binay is a big question. But why Congress acquiesced to enroll Binay as recipient of what should have been in theory the pork share of the 24th senator who had become president is a bigger question.
Binay’s bid for pork, however, had other powerful supporters. It drew a lobbyist in the person of the Senate President himself, Juan Ponce Enrile, who ran under the Estrada-Binay slate of the Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino in May 2010. Enrile had admitted this much to reporters: he had also lobbied for Binay’s pork at the bicameral conference committee sessions on the 2011 budget.
Actually, Enrile had lobbied for Binay’s pork much, much earlier. Days before the Congress budget vote, Enrile had come out in the media in defense of Binay’s request: “If the congressmen and senators have pork barrel, why should we not give it to the vice president, who’s only a hair breath away from the presidency? In my opinion, it’s his right.”
Enrile said more. “I was the one who asked for the augmentation of the budget of the Vice President but not in the form of the pork barrel, just an augmentation,” he said. “Because he's the No. 2 man, he represents government, he represents the sovereign people. His office is created by the Constitution. He represents the Republic of the Philippines next to the president.”
And then some more. “In other words,” Enrile said, “we are not a monarchy system but he's in effect in the position of a crown prince.”
Thus, the “crown prince” got his P200-million pork included in the P24.62-billion PDAF budget for 2011 allotted for the Senate and the House, even though Binay belongs to neither chamber.
Previously, Binay had been mayor of the financial district of Makati City, a post he had held continuously since 1987, except for a three-year hiatus when wife Dr. Elenita Binay served in his stead.
Binay prides himself in being a hardworker, and in mastering the pulse of the masses. Indeed, he seems to know what the numbers mean: In reply to PCIJ’s questions through his spokesperson Joey Salgado, he says: “There are over eight million senior citizens in the country, most of them in 4th– to 6th-class municipalities and in need of greater care and attention from government.”
Aside from focusing on senior citizens, Salgado says Binay has also earmarked part of his PDAF “for education, health services and assistance to indigent or displaced families in calamity prone areas, also in 4th– to 6th-class municipalities.”
Official data show that senior citizens, or Filipinos aged 60 years old and above, comprise 6.9 percent of the total population as of 2011. This is expected to increase to about 7.8 percent by 2016. “Relatively better off” that most Filipinos, official records count only a million poor senior citizens, out of the total 19.8 million poor Filipinos, by 2003.
But by 2009, the total number of Filipino families had reached 18,452,000 according to the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB). Assuming that each has a senior citizen as patriarch or matriarch, Binay’s choice of pork recipients will get him in the good graces of a big portion of the nation’s total households well ahead of the campaign for May 2016.
That’s not all. Laying out networks and “relationships on ground” has always been a zealous pursuit of Binay. In fact, he has designed his pork for distribution mostly in the teeming mass of “sister cities” of Makati that as mayor he started stringing up as early as the 1990s, and which his only son and now Makati Mayor Jejomar Erwin ‘JunJun’ S. Binay Jr. continues to nurture.
By the time Jojo Binay quit as mayor in May 2010, Makati had sealed sisterhood agreements with at least 229 cities and towns in the country, and even with some cities of nations across the world that host large numbers of overseas Filipino workers.
In reply to queries from the PCIJ, Binay says that Makati’s sister-cities have since increased to 300, or by 60 more in the last two years. At this growth rate of 30 new sister-cities a year, before the May 2016 elections, Makati may sign and seal a hundred more sisterhood agreements and loop in under its fold the 500-plus cities across the nation.
Binay stresses, however, that the sisterhood agreements are not for the big cities only. “Most of them (are) classified as 4th-, 5th-, and 6th-class localities. These are the same localities that are priority areas for the Aquino administration’s poverty alleviation and social development programs.”
His flight to the vice presidency has been powered, in fact, by Makati’s sisterhood network, Binay admitted in an interview last year for the “Investigative Documentaries” program of GMA News TV.
The official results of the May 2010 elections show Binay garnering 14,645,574 votes, or 727,084 votes more than 13,918,490 votes of second-placer and Aquino running mate Manuel ‘Mar’ Roxas II. A fourth of Makati’s sister-cities by then were located in the top 10 vote-rich provinces, mostly in Luzon island, where Binay trounced Roxas.
The sisterhood concept, Binay had explained, was about Makati sharing its bountiful resources with less fortunate cities. “I hope you all believe me,” he said. “In my desire to share – and I’ve always said we in Makati should never be selfish about what God has given us – we have always helped others.” But sisterhood was not limited to the cities alone, he added. “We also have provincial, we also have municipal (sisters).”
Poll pull of sisters
Binay also admitted that the May 2010 elections affirmed the beauty of sisterhood for a candidate for national office. “It helped during the elections,” he said in the “Investigative Documentaries” interview. “It would be hypocritical to say it didn’t. But it was also because of our good relationship with (the other cities) because whatever we had we shared with them.”
For sure, though, it is sharing with very clear targets. Records that PCIJ obtained from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) show that from June 21 to Oct. 11, 2011, at least half or P100 million of his pork had been released, through the DBM’s various regional offices. Binay used P50 million to cover the “construction, maintenance, rehabilitation” of 100 “senor citizen centers” in as many towns and cities across all the regions of the country, except Metro Manila.
Next, he gave P40 million in “financial assistance to Makati City for the implementation of various priority programs and projects for the cities/municipalities with existing sisterhood agreements with the city of Makati.”
Of this, he allotted P30 million “for medical missions/purchase of medicines (consultation), regular check-ups and distribution of medicines for pediatrics, TB, diabetes, heart ailments, and other common illnesses – nationwide.” He gave another P10 million for “assistance to indigents or displaced families (burial assistance, food and school supplies) – nationwide.”
The balance of P10 million he reserved for “financial assistance for the implementation of scholarship program,” care of the central office of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED). The Budget department’s records bear these notes: “No breakdown if CHED is recipient as CHED decided beneficiaries,” and “no NCA (notice of cash allocation) as CHED should submit NCA request, not the OVP.”
Makati gets pork
In 2012, from May 22 to June 25, another P100 million of pork had been released to Binay but it is not clear in the DBM records if this represents the 50-percent balance of his 2011 pork.
Binay split his new pork tranche three ways: P50 million was coursed through the DPWH, “to cover the construction/repair/rehabilitation” of another 100 senior citizen centers across the nation; P18 million “to cover (the) educational program of the OVP in state colleges and universities; and P32 million to cover social, health, and livelihood projects of the OVP for the first semester of 2012.”
For the last, Binay appended a list of 300 cities and towns from where the beneficiaries of his “social, health and livelihood projects” would come. It is apparently the same 300 towns and cities that, according to Binay in a TV interview in October 2011, have sealed sisterhood deals with Makati City.
His son, Mayor JunJun, has upped the ante, however. Speaking at a “twinning agreement” ceremony between Bacolod City and Makati City only last June 21, the mayor said Makati now has “about 700 sister cities – 334 local government units with another 235 LGUs set to sign an agreement with the city.” It’s either Mayor JunJun’s math is bad, or the news report is wrong. His numbers total only 569 sister cities.
DBM records show that this “soft” pork of Binay also involves 1,000 wheelchairs, 400 nebulizers, 250 sphygmomanometers, and 25 stethoscopes that will all be purchased by the city government through its Ospital ng Makati. (The hospital, by the way, has Dr. Julius M. Drilon, brother of Senator Drilon, as administrator.)
Binay wrote in his pork request document: “The City Government of Makati, through the Ospital ng Makati, shall serve as the implementing agency. The Ospital ng Makati, a tertiary hospital locally run and managed by the city government is experienced in procuring quality medical equipments (sic) and has likewise established a program of assisting other local government units in terms of donating used medical equipments (sic), hospital beds, and conducting medical missions to low-class municipalities and communities.”
In his reply to PCIJ, Binay calls it “erroneous” to say that he favors Makati’s sister cities with his pork because his 2011 PDAF also benefitted those were “not sister-LGUs of Makati.” And it would be the same for 2012, adds Binay. “Being a sister city or municipality is incidental and cannot be avoided given Makati’s extensive network.”
All these were even as Binay’s second child, Marlen-Abigail S. Binay, also received P70 million in annual pork as representative of Makati’s second district.
In 2011, Representative Binay allotted P11 million “for the implementation of various Small and Medium Enterprises/Livelihood projects,” through the city government of Makati led by younger brother Mayor JunJun Binay as implementing agency.
Of the P11 million, she willed P7 million for “garment/textile livelihood project (Beading/ Embroidery/ Macrame for bags and gowns), and Herbal Oils, Liquid Soap, Laundry Detergents, Bath Crystal and Lotion production” for “PWDs (persons with disability) and women in urban areas,” and another P4 million “for Urban Vermicomposting and Backyard Gardening Livelihood Projects.”
In addition, Representative Binay used another P14.5 million of her PDAF in 2011 for scholarship programs with the Asian Touch International Training Institute (P13 million); financial assistance “for the improvement of maternal health and reduction of maternal mortality-micronutrient supplementation” (P500,000); and “assistance to TESDA for the implementation of scholarship program” (P1 million) – and all that to benefit her congressional district of Makati City.
By May this year, she had allotted another P950,000 for financial assistance to PWDs, and for a scholarship program for “200 public elementary and high school students” in Makati, apart from P13.5 million in scholarship programs through TESDA-NCR “in the second district of Makati City.”
These “soft” projects of Representative Binay are, of course, apart from the P40 million she allotted in 2011, and another P20 million as of May 2012, to the DPWH for various civil-works projects like the desilting and cleaning of creeks, and the “construction, repair, rehabilitation of slope protection” in various villages in her district.
Awash in cash
How or why Makati would need such big servings of pork from Vice President Binay and daughter Abigail is beyond comprehension.
At serial signing ceremonies for batches of six to 11 sister-city agreements that Mayor JunJun Binay had been conducting across the nation since December 2010, he is often wont to boast about that Makati is so awash in cash.
Mayor Binay, speaking in Bacolod City just last June 21, said Makati has a P12-billion budget this year. “Last year, we increased local revenue by 10 percent, which is P1 billion and we had a surplus of P2.8 billion,” he said. He called 2011 “a great year for Makati City,” because it shored up its revenues without having to increase tax rates.
By bonding with Makati, a whole menu of free services await sister cities, he said. For instance, Mayor Binay reportedly assured residents of Bacolod, a new sister city, that they may now avail themselves of the services of the Ospital ng Makati, while students may now qualify for Makati’s scholarship program.
Makati has so much money and gives so much dole away to sister cities, but the Commission on Audit (COA) has made adverse observations about it.
COA: Adverse findings
In its 2010 audit report on the city, COA noted the utter lack of documentation for the donations that Makati has made to its sister cities. COA wrote: “One hundred fifty-seven (157) units of multi-cabs and twelve (12) units of used vehicles totaling P32.94 million, which were donated in CYs 2009 and 2010 by the City of Makati to its sister provinces, cities and municipalities, were not recorded as donations in the books, thus, resulting in the overstatement of the Property, Plant and Equipment account.”
Only three units of multi-cabs worth P541,000 were properly recorded as donations in the books, but the rest either lacked or had no receipt records, leaving the city with P32.94 million worth of “unrecorded donations.”
In its 2011 audit report on the city, COA averred: P29.9 million of pork that Makati received remained unused by yearend, “defeating the very purpose for which the funds were entrusted,” even as P11 million in housing assistance coursed through the Gawad Kalinga and Kaakbay ng Masa foundations had not been liquidated, and another P11 million given to the Gabay at Pag-Asa ng Masa Foundation for vermi-culture and backyard gardening projects had incomplete documentation.”
Asked by PCIJ if his decision to course his pork through his son’s city government does not pose a potential conflict-of-interest situation, Binay replied that his 2012 PDAF “remains intact” and that he guarantees transparency in the bidding of his pork-funded projects.
“The funds for these projects are still intact and will be transferred to the recipient agencies and entities after the signing of individual MOAs (memorandum of agreement),” he said. “The MOAs have yet to be signed. Makati would be accountable for project implementation. These projects will undergo public bidding and subject to existing budgeting, accounting, and auditing rules and regulations.”
But here’s one big problem: The city government of Makati hosts a great, multi-layered website that does not post notice of bids or notice of award of contracts for projects it has conducted or has yet to conduct. As of press time, no bid notices from Makati could be found on the website of the Philippine Government Electronic Procurement Services or PhilGEPS.
In the meantime, the OVP under Binay now keeps such a busy, high profile, and pervasive presence all across the nation and online. His official website posts the text of about a thousand speeches he has delivered in the last 23 months, and folders and folders of photographs taken of him and the people, places, and events he had graced.
The COA, in its reports on the OVP for 2010 and 2011, attests to this.
In 2010, the COA reported that the OVP has launched “continuous delivery of social services by providing medical/hospitalization and burial assistance to people afflicted with dreaded illnesses like cancer, tuberculosis as well as kidney, liver and heart ailments benefiting 18,914 beneficiaries.”
Too, the OVP “conducted medical/dental mission, referrals and relief operations for 23,179 beneficiaries affected by disasters and calamities in Isabela, Cagayan Valley, Kalinga-Apayao, and Sorsogon and granted 608 scholarship assistance to poor but deserving students as its contribution to poverty-alleviation efforts of the government.”
In 2011, the COA said the OVP outperformed itself. It “provided medical, dental, burial, feeding and other needed financial assistance to 28,895 mostly indigent beneficiaries… earmarked P10 million scholarship program for 1,090 poor but deserving students in several state universities and colleges nationwide, and conducted relief operations and disaster mitigation in the cities of Cagayan de Oro, Iligan, Dumaguete, Bacolod, Davao, including Bulacan, Pampanga, Tarlac, Pangasinan, Isabela, Camarines Sur, Mountain Province, Quirino, Nueva Ecija, Ilocos Norte and other areas devastated by typhoons, landslides and earthquakes that directly benefitted 149,110 victims of calamities.”
Apparently, too, Binay takes most seriously even his ceremonial duties that COA reports that in 2011, “the OVP accomplished 108,747 or 259.72% ceremonial and related activities exceeding the annual target of 41,871 by 66,876. Likewise, a positive variance of 139.88% or 954 out of 682 target was achieved in coordination meetings with other government agencies that include countryside coordination visits upon invitation of local government officials.”
It is July 2012, and 30 months to go to the May 2016 presidential elections. A few years back, Binay told this writer in an interview that in his mind, the campaign for the next elections starts the day after votes are cast: “The day after election day is when you start campaigning again, visiting the wakes, meeting with people.”
Counting from the May 10, 2010 elections, it appears that over the last 24 months or 720 days, Binay has been gunning for Malacañang. – PCIJ, July 2012