OFW in Australian outback implicated in pork scam
MANILA - Even in the small outback town of Alice Springs in Australia's Northern Territory, Janet Lim Napoles is big news.
Especially after one Filipino welder there, Nemesio Pablo, was implicated in the pork barrel scam.
Pablo, who has been working in Alice Springs since 2008, says he was shocked to see his name flashed in the news over The Filipino Channel (TFC).
"Ang naramdaman ko ay magkahalong kaba, siyempre nandun rin ang galit, at wala akong idea kung sino ang may gawa," he said.
Pablo is among the respondents in the plunder and malversation complaint filed by the Department of Justice before the Ombudsman in his capacity as president of the Agri and Economic Program for Farmers Foundation, Inc. -- a bogus nongovernment organization linked to businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles.
A special audit of the COA said the NGO received P145 million from the combined Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of Senators Bong Revilla, Juan Ponce Enrile, and Gringo Honasan from 2007 to 2009.
The project purportedly provided farmers with training kits and seminars.
But many of the intended beneficiaries were no where to be found, or received nothing at all.
Pablo denies he had anything to do with the NGO. Prior to his departure to Australia, he says he spent most of his time in Umingan, Pangasinan where he ran a small welding shop.
"Bihira akong lumuwas ng Maynila. Lumuluwas lang ako nuon para asikasuhin ang pag-aaply sa abroad. Lahat ng oras ko ay nasa pagaasikaso ng aking welding shop, gusto kong kumita ng maayos para sa pamilya ko," he says.
He says he never met Napoles. "Wala kaming relasyon ni Napoles, hindi ko siya kilala."
The bogus NGO was set up in 2009, several months after Pablo departed the Philippines to begin his new life in Australia.
How he became embroiled in the controversy remained a mystery -- until he learned that his cousin, Merlina Sunas, was among the whistleblowers.
Suddenly everything was clear. "Tinawagan ko si Merlina nitong Biernes. Nag-sorry sya sa akin. Sabi nya, 'Sorry Insan, kasalanan ko ito. Ginamit ko ang pangalan mo."
Merlina told him not to worry. "Huwag ka mag-alala, kakausapin ko yung abugado namin, sabi niya. But it's too late already."
Pablo says he was not the only person to lose face when his name was implicated in the scam. His teenage son, Nemesio Pablo III, has had to endure the shame as well.
Atty. Levito Baligod, counsel for the whistleblowers, confirms Sunas apologized to Pablo.
"Noong nagpapa-organize si Ginang Napoles ng maraming foundations, nagbigay siya ng instruction na 'maglagay na lang kayo ng pangalan ng kung sinong mga kakilala nyo.' At dahil ang alam naman ni Mrs. Sunas noon ay na mabuti ang layunin ng isang foundation, isinali nya yung pinsan nya na si Nemesio Pablo bilang presidente," Baligod says. "Inaamin naman ni Mrs. Sunas na hindi alam ito ni Nemesio Pablo."
To Baligod, there's a simple solution to the problem. "Kailangan lamang nya magprisinta ng counter-affidavit nya at sasang-ayunan naman ni Mrs. Sunas na ganun nga ang nangyari."
But Pablo disagrees. Apart from enduring the shame, there are other considerations. "Yung pagdinig na yan ay isang malaking abala sa akin at malaking gastos."
The Australian outback is, after all, a long way from home. But left with no other choice, he would be willing to make the long journey home if only to clear his name. - with a report from Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News