The modus of pork crooks

Research and reporting by Davinci S. Maru and Malou Mangahas, PCIJ

Posted at Aug 17 2015 12:27 PM | Updated as of Aug 17 2015 08:35 PM

CORRUPTION, an apparent eternal scourge of Philippine government and politics, is firmly entrenched in many public agencies.

It thrives often in secret, but its murky methods are the known tools of trade of crooks, big and small. They include the authors and architects – the big fish who conceive and command it, and draw the largest sums – as well as the undertakers and bureaucrats – the small fry who document or doctor documents to justify and conceal it, and get haled to court for their and their bosses’s misdeeds.

In law, corruption is a concept simple and clear: deriving private gain from public funds.

In practice, corruption combines fraud and deceit, project proposals “downloaded from the Internet,” preselected contractors, fake or doctored bid documents, manufactured reports for auditors, and even double or triple tagging and counting of goats, cows, and farm equipment.

The National Agribusiness Corp. (NABCOR) was one of five state-owned companies that had served as conduits of multi-billion-peso pork-barrel monies until 2013. These state firms were alleged to have awarded fake nongovernment organizations (NGOs) fake projects endorsed by senators and congressmen, who in turn drew and received huge kickbacks from project funds.

In an interview with PCIJ, a whistleblower from NABCOR revealed the modus operandi of the crooks or the tricks they employ so they could line their pockets, and that of the fake NGO “service providers” and legislators.

Step 1. Design a customized proposal for “a project idea” or “sapat na dahilan” for a “problem” that festers. Otherwise, create and escalate a situation to trigger the need or demand for it.

A project proposal may be made, or the staff of an implementing agency may be requested to craft one, focused on addressing the real or concocted problem. With a little help “from the Internet” or websites that could offer content, context, and technical data, the whistleblower says proposals had been produced on demand at NABCOR.

“Puwede po itong nangyayari na, na-anticipate nila, o gagawa sila ng sitwasyon para magkaroon ng project (What could happen is, they would anticipate it or they will create a situation so that there will be a project),” says the NABCOR insider. Or, continues the whistleblower, “kung hindi man sapat ang dahilan ay gagawan ng paraan sa tulong ng media, i-escalate ang sitwasyon para ma-justify para mailabas ang pondo (if the supposed reasons fall short of prompting some action, they will find ways with the help of media to escalate the situation to justify the release of funds)."

For example, the source says, programs for the dispersal of livestock, seedlings, and farm equipment, as well as for the importation of rice and milk, had been “justified” to respond to a proffered public need for them, in the aftermath of calamities or engineered media reports.

Step 2. Match the “project idea” or “sapat na dahilan” with the implementing agency or funds that could serve as its house and funds conduit.

Pork barrel and other lump-sum budget items allowed such projects shelter and funds cover. Says the insider: “Ang kailangan lang po nito is ma-justify at ma-align sa tamang ahensiya kung saan dadaan and pondo… Halimbawa, sa Department of Agriculture (DA), kung may kakulangan sa bigas, o sa gatas man (The only thing needed here is to justify and align with the right agency through which the funds could go through. For example, at the Department of Agriculture, if there is a shortfall in the rice or milk supply).”

Step 3. Move the funds to designated fellow crooks in the department and implementing agency, and on to favored and pre-selected contractors and fake NGOs.

The trail of crooked money is pre-determined from project conception, the whistleblower says. The path taken is thus: “Mula sa departamento papasok sa korporasyon (ng gobyerno) at iyong korporasyon papasok kung sinuman ang supplier o iyong NGO na kausap. Maaaring kausap na ng nasa departmento o sino pa pong tao sa gobyerno… para mas madaling ma-transact iyong negosyo nila (From the department, it goes to the state corporation and then on to whichever chosen supplier or NGO. The deal may have been sealed at department level or with whomever government personnel…to make their business transactions easier).”

In NABCOR’s case, the source says, “mayroon na pong kausap ang aming opisina kung sino ang mananalo kaya magugulat na lang kami, may instructions na gawin niyo na ito, ito ang mananalo kasi ganito, ganyan (Our boss knew ahead of time who would win the contracts. We would only be told and instructed later to do this and that, and that this person will be the winner because of this and that).”

In NABOR’s records, the insider says, “mapapansin niyo rin po na paulit-paulit kung sinu-sino ang mga taong iyon. Kaya po nare-retain po sa aming isipan iyon -- Ay si Sir ano pala ang kausap, ay tumawag si congressman, project pala niya ito (You will notice that the same people keep appearing. That’s why they get retained in our minds – Oh, they talked to Sir whoever, oh, congressman called, seems this is his project).”

Step 4. Document the fake project, according to audit rules, or in the absence of documents, manufacture them. Make sure to enlist the help of the deputies and clerks of the agency bosses to assist the fake NGOs and service providers.

“Ang trabaho lang ng NABCOR ay hanggang sa pagproseso lang ng dokumento (NABCOR’s job is only up to processing the documents),” says the source. “Ang napansin ko po, parang sinadya po na hindi kami isama sa direct implementation. So hindi po namin malaman kung ito ba talaga ay implemented kasi hindi na parte ng trabaho namin (What I’ve noticed is that they intentionally leave us out in direct implementation. So we don’t know if this has really been implemented because that is no longer part of our tasks).”

Because agency personnel are often clueless about the project implementation, or even the reality of the projects, the source adds, “ang dumarating na lang po sa amin iyong mga dokumento, liquidation documents na lang po, tapos na po ang mga project, picture picture na lang din po. Hanggang doon lang po ang nakikita namin (what reaches us are just the documents -- liquidation documents, meaning the projects are finished and all that is left is picture-taking. That’s as far as we see).”

Step 5. Complete the liquidation reports on the use of project funds, and to fill in gaps in the documentation, manufacture more documents.

“Kapag dumating po, most of the time hindi kumpleto iyan,marami pang kulang (When the reports arrive, most of the time they aren’t complete, many things are missing),” says the source. “Diyan po kami papasok. Sasabihan kami, ‘O, tingnan ninyo kung anong kulang, i-follow up niyo. Mga dokumento po na kulang hindi namin mahagilap -- ‘Gawin niyo na. Papipirmahan na lang natin.’ (That’s where we come in. We’d be told, ‘Here, see what’s missing, then follow them up.’ There would be missing documents that we really couldn’t find – ‘Just manufacture them and we’ll just have these signed.’). ”

In his early years at NABCOR, the insider says, he was asked by his bosses to doctor the documents on a P455-million project that he had mistakenly thought went through public bidding. He recalls: “Panay dokumento na lang po ang nakito ko, hindi pa maayos. Wala pang necessary documents para sabihing dumaan sa proseso ang project. Iyong mga attendance sheets po, blanko. Nandoon lang po mga quotation at company profile ang mga allegedly sumali sa public bidding. (All I saw were documents, and they were a mess. There weren’t even the necessary documents that would prove the project went through the process. The attendance sheets were blank. All the papers only contained quotations and company profiles of those who allegedly participated in the public bidding.)”

The source says he tried to contact the numbers and persons listed in the documents but received no replies. “Noong sinabi ko po sa aming boss, ang sabi po sa akin, ‘Gawa’n mo na lang ang storyline niyan, kumpletuhin ang mga kailangan, ako na bahala.’ (When I told our boss about this, I was told, ‘Just make up a storyline for it, complete whatever needs to be completed, I’ll take care of it’).”

The insider adds he asked his boss if the documents had been reviewed by the Commission on Audit but received only this curt reply: “’Huwag ka nang magtanong. Ang sabi ko, ako na ang bahala. Gawin mo lang ang ipinapagawa ko’ (Don’t ask questions. I said I’ll take care of it. Just do what I told you to do’).”

Step 6. In the absence of signatures by the responsible parties, get their house helpers or deputies, or even the staff and members of the Bid and Awards Committees of the implementing agency, to sign documents, post-facto. Yet again, enlist the help of the deputies and clerks of the agency to assist the fake NGOs and service providers.

The insider recounts one instance: “Sa akin po iyong paggawa ng resolutions saka mga minutes of the meeting. Tapos tinulungan na lang ako ng ibang empleyado na mag-xerox. Ngayon po dahil iyong allegedly nanalo na contractor eh kailangan ng pirmahan iyong attendance sheet, nagpaikot-ikot ho ako sa Metro Manila para maghanap ng mga dapat pumirma roon (I was tasked with the making of the resolutions and minutes of the meeting. Then the other employees just helped me xerox. Because the contractor who allegedly won needed to sign the attendance sheet, I went around Metro Manila to look for those who could sign it).”

Because the contractor himself did not sign the documents, others did -- “iyong isang alalay niya saka iyong isang tao pa na nagulat ako bakit siya nandoon eh sa ibang proyekto siya… Tapos pumirma rin iyong ibang mga empleyado ng NABCOR na naabutan ang transaksyon na iyon (one of his factotums and then another person who I was surprised to see there when he belonged to another project…Then other NABCOR employees who were familiar with the transaction also signed).”

Step 7. In the event of under-delivery or ghost delivery of goods or services required in the project, learn to count double or triple or more.

The whistleblower says it has happened in the cases of the dispersal of goats and cows, farm equipment, seedlings, and other farm inputs under NABCOR projects awarded to fake NGOs.

“Ganoon din po kasi tandaan ninyo po ang hayop wala namang serial number, tina-tag lang kung ano ang marka sa tainga (That’s also how it’s done, because remember, an animal has no serial number, it is tagged only according to the mark on its ear),” the source says. “Minsan ho, doble-doble. Kasi ang bilang po namin noong livestock is per tag. Iyon ang identification number so ganoon din. Ang gagawin ko lang dodoblehin ko lang, parang dalawang hikaw rin naka-distribute na (Sometimes it becomes double. Because we count livestock per tag. That is the identification number so it should tally. What I’d do is double the tags, distributing them like two earrings).”

In truth, there was only one goat but on paper, says the source, “dahil dalawa ang tag niya, naging dalawang kambing… Hindi na namin alam saan napunta iyong isa (because it had two tags, it was counted as two goats… We no longer knew where the other one went). “ – PCIJ, August 2015