EXPLAINER: What you need to know about the PDAF scam

enablePagination: false
maxItemsPerPage: 10
maxPaginationLinks: 10

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 14) — Nearly eight years since the multi-billion-peso pork barrel scam first came to light and drew tens of thousands of protesters to the streets, the issue has not yet been laid to rest.

A number of cases remain pending in court, and in early February this year, principal suspect Janet Lim Napoles made headlines anew after she was handed down another guilty verdict in relation to the scam.

This is just among a number of charges and convictions slapped on Napoles and her cohorts, composed of both public officials and private individuals, who allegedly pocketed ₱10 billion in government money through misuse of the Priority Development Assistance Fund, also known as a pork barrel fund.

The scandal sparked public outrage and triggered nationwide protests in August 2013. Later that year, the Supreme Court declared all congressional pork barrel laws as unconstitutional.

CNN Philippines breaks down what you need to know about one of the country’s largest corruption scandals.

What is a pork barrel?

Pork barrel funds are lump-sum, discretionary funds allocated to legislators for local pet projects. These projects can fall under various categories, such as education, health, livelihood, social services, and culture and arts, among others.

The fund’s earliest form in the Philippines can be traced back to the Public Works Act of 1922, before it took on new names over the decades, including the “Countrywide Development Fund” during President Corazon Aquino's administration, and finally the PDAF which began during President Joseph Ejercito Estrada’s administration.

The Department of Budget and Management said the noble intentions behind the pork barrel was to “empower the legislators to identify key projects that local government units could not fund.” Throughout the years, however, it did not only change faces, it also became subject to growing criticism.

For one, reports have alleged that the funds’ significant amounts are partly due to previous President’s attempts to gain congressional support. In 1996, the Philippine Daily Inquirer also published a story exposing the kickbacks politicians received from government projects financed through the pork barrel.

Historically, the system had opened avenues for pillaging the national budget, the DBM said. And perhaps the biggest scandal to hit the government in relation to the infamous funds came in 2013, when the National Bureau of Investigation began probing allegations that the country had been defrauded of billions through the pork barrel system.

What is the PDAF scam?

Critics said pork funds were susceptible to abuse, and in July 2013, the extent of the corruption became more apparent.

This was after the Philippine Daily Inquirer ran a six-part exposé based on the NBI’s ongoing investigation on an alleged ₱10-billion scam engineered by Napoles. The newspaper also independently interviewed whistleblowers.

The NBI probe was triggered by what was then believed to be a kidnapping case involving businesswoman Napoles and her employee-turned-whistleblower Benhur Luy.

Luy, also a second cousin of Napoles, was “rescued” by the NBI in March 2013 after reportedly being held by the businesswoman at her residence in Taguig City. The alleged reason, as cited by the bureau in its report, was to prevent Luy from exposing the scam. 

Luy and succeeding whistleblowers bared how the alleged brains behind the PDAF scam swindled billions of government funds through systematic embezzlement over a decade. They said Napoles created “no fewer than 20” dummy non-governmental organizations made to appear as recipients of the PDAF, when in truth, the funds were diverted to her private accounts. Documents were also allegedly falsified and signatures were forged.

They also uncovered a web of malpractices by public officials, whom Napoles reportedly connived with in funneling pork money to the fake NGOs for ghost projects. In other words, the supposed development funds produced no tangible outputs and instead ended up in the pockets of those playing the con game.

A month after the exposé, the Commission on Audit published a special report on lawmakers’ PDAF which validated claims of fund misuse.

The report covered the years 2007 to 2009 and found that at least ₱6 billion in pork funds were released to dubious NGOs, 10 of which were linked to Napoles. Nearly 200 lawmakers were also tagged in the anomaly.

Napoles and other implicated individuals denied the allegations. Some government officials maintained their signatures were forged.

In the same month, an arrest warrant for Napoles and her brother Reynald "Jojo" Lim was issued for the serious illegal detention of Luy. After a two-week-long manhunt, Napoles surrendered to then-President Benigno Aquino III, who earlier announced a ₱10-million bounty for her arrest. Two years later, Napoles would be convicted and sentenced to at least 30 years in prison over the illegal detention case. Another two years after that, the Court of Appeals would reverse this ruling and clear Napoles. She would remain in jail, however, for the other charges filed against her in relation to the PDAF scam.

RELATED: Duterte backs SolGen's move on Napoles' illegal detention case

What steps have been taken since the exposé?

Separate investigations into the matter were launched by the Department of Justice, the Ombudsman, and the Senate. Not long after the scam surfaced, the SC also ruled PDAF as unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, several public officers have been dismissed from service by the Ombudsman. Criminal complaints have also been filed against dozens of individuals accused of having amassed wealth through the anomalous deals, including lawmakers, other government officials and employees, heads of the dubious NGOs linked to Napoles, and private individuals.

Notably among those indicted together with Napoles were then-Senators Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., Juan Ponce Enrile, and Jinggoy Estrada, who all claimed innocence.

In September 2013, the Department of Justice filed plunder, graft and corrupt practices, malversation, and bribery charges against the three lawmakers, Napoles, and over 30 other people for their alleged involvement in the scam.

In June 2014, the Ombudsman also filed separate plunder charges against Napoles and the three senators. Arrest warrants were issued for Revilla, Enrile, and Estrada, who all surrendered to authorities thereafter.

Among these, the Revilla plunder case was the first to be resolved in December 2018. The senator — accused of having received the biggest kickback among the three at ₱224.5 million — was released due to lack of evidence. Napoles and Revilla's staff, Richard Cambe, were meanwhile found guilty and sentenced to reclusion perpetua or a maximum of 40 years in prison.

Revilla posted a ₱480,000 bail for his graft cases and has made a Senate comeback.

Enrile and Estrada, meanwhile, are also out on bail and are still awaiting verdict. Enrile’s bail application was granted by the high court in August 2015 due to his old age and frail health, while Estrada’s was approved by the Sandiganbayan in September 2017.

READ: 3 ex-Senators running in 2019 amid pork barrel scam case

What are the latest developments?

On Feb. 5, 2021, Napoles was convicted by the Sandiganbayan for graft and malversation of public funds along with former Cagayan de Oro Rep. Constantino Jaraula. Jaraula said his signatures in documents relating to his PDAF were forged. According to Sandiganbayan, however, the supposed forged signatures are “very similar, if not identical" to those he claims to be genuine.

Also declared guilty by the anti-graft court were Ma. Rosalinda Lacsamana and Belina Concepcion, former officials of the Technology and Livelihood Resource Center, and Mylene Encarnacion, the president of the non-government organization Countrywide Agri and Rural Economic Development Foundation.

Jaraula is separately convicted of direct bribery for receiving at least ₱2 million in kickbacks from Napoles.

Meanwhile, Napoles' camp accused the justices of having “a predisposition to convict her without looking at the evidence” and failing to consider the motion to reopen the case on the grounds that the evidence was “illegally accessed.” It cited Luy's admission that he hacked into the computer of Napoles' JLN Corporation.

Her lawyer said they are preparing to file charges against the three Sandiganbayan justices for their “haphazard decision."