COA: Pork barrel anomaly bigger than P10 B

Posted at 07/20/2013 1:22 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Both administration and opposition senators and congressmen gave pork barrel funds to questionable non-government organizations (NGOs) in an amount far bigger than P10 billion from 2007 to 2009, the Commission on Audit (COA) bared Friday.

In an exclusive interview with The STAR, COA Chairperson Ma. Grace Pulido-Tan said the audit report on the priority development assistance fund (PDAF) of lawmakers that would be released next week will identify more legislators and more questionable NGOs that received government money.

“Whoever will be hit will be hit, what can we do,” she said, noting she does not play politics and that the list of lawmakers who gave away their PDAF to shady groups include even those from the administration party who are not being mentioned in the P10-billion scam recently exposed by whistleblower Benhur Luy.

“I think the P10 billion being mentioned is over a period of 10 years. Our PDAF report is only for a period of three years, 2007 to 2009, and more than P10 billion, definitely,” she said.

Tan said the report is still being finalized and hopefully it will be released next week.

She noted that the NGOs mentioned in recent news reports are also in the audit report, along with many other NGOs.

She stressed, however, that Luy’s expose had nothing to do with COA’s investigation since the probe was started in 2010 when Reynaldo Villar was still COA chairman.

Luy had told the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) that his distant relative and former employer, businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, owner of JLN Corp., is the head of the racket that allegedly skimmed about P10 billion from the pork barrel fund of several senators and congressmen.

The businesswoman has been linked to an alleged scam involving the diversion of pork barrel funds of several lawmakers into dummy NGOs purportedly for ghost projects worth over P10 billion.

Napoles has denied any wrongdoing. She even claimed that she did not deal with any of the five senators and several House members whose names have been dragged into the alleged P10-billion PDAF scam.

Tan, opting not to use the word bogus, said the NGOs involved in the PDAF anomaly are questionable because either they were found to be legally nonexistent or the groups had already closed.

Some of the groups’ incorporation papers or permits to operate could not be found, nor could they be located at their listed addresses.

She explained that when she was appointed to COA, they continued the investigation already being conducted and saw a pattern, which is why the audit was intensified.

“On top of that special audit, which is really a nationwide audit, we also started looking at the individual agencies that were often linked to the modus operandi,” she said.

Tan said the PDAF audit investigation covered three big agencies like the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), and the Department of Agriculture (DA) and four agriculture-related government-owned and controlled corporations (GOCCs).

The audit even covered several local governments units (LGUs) like five cities in Metro Manila and several others from the provinces.

Tan said the audit and its results that she personally supervised, reviewed, and edited, go beyond politics and political parties.

“This is a very sensitive issue, many names were implicated, so we want to proceed very cautiously because we would like to avoid anyone being unfairly treated,” Tan said.

According to her, COA’s findings recommended full investigations by the concerned agencies and copies would be forwarded to the Office of the Ombudsman and the Department of Justice (DOJ) for proper action.

Tan said the manner by which the PDAF was released to questionable NGOs is much like how ZNAC Rubber Estate Corp. (ZREC), an attached agency of the DA, released P194.97 million to Pangkabuhayan Foundation Inc. (PFI) in 2009 and 2010.

A COA report on the agency revealed that the money came from the PDAF of former Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile, Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr. and Buhay party-list Rep. Rene Velarde for the implementation of livelihood projects.

Sen. Gringo Honasan, former Akbayan party-list Rep. Risa Hontiveros, and former Oriental Mindoro Rep. Alfonso Umali Jr. also gave more than P30.1 million of their pork barrel allocations to two questionable foundations in 2011 for supposed agriculture projects, a separate COA report later bared.

The PDAF releases were coursed through the National Agribusiness Corp. (NABCOR), a GOCC acting as the corporate arm of the DA, to Sagip-Buhay People Support Foundation Inc. (SBPSFI) and Kaagapay Magpakailanman Foundation Inc. (KMFI).

COA said public funds released to the PFI should be refunded after it found evidence of fabricated documents and forged signatures in the liquidation report submitted by PFI.

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. suggested yesterday that lawmakers be prohibited from spending their pork barrel funds beyond their respective congressional districts to minimize corruption.

Belmonte issued the statement as the Department of Justice and the Office of the Ombudsman are separately investigating the alleged P10-billion scam involving the use of the PDAF of senators and congressmen through bogus NGOs.

He said spending the congressman’s PDAF in his or her district would make it easier for agencies and their constituents themselves to keep track of disbursements.

Each senator has P200 million a year in PDAF while each member of the House of Representatives receives P70 million.

“It’s still possible for a person to use the PDAF outside his district as long as there is consent from the congressman of that district. Personally, I would like that the PDAF be used in your own district only,” Belmonte told reporters.

He said he would discuss his proposal with Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, who is expected to submit to the House the proposed national budget for 2014 soon.

DOJ protects whistleblower

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has provided a protective cloak to pork barrel scam whistleblower Luy, allowing him to avoid arrest after a Pasig City court issued a warrant against him for a qualified theft case.

In an interview yesterday, she said the arrest warrant issued by Pasig Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 265 last July 9 would not be served on Luy since he is now covered by the witness protection program (WPP).

“We will not turn him over (to the court). We will file the appropriate manifestation and motion in court informing the court that he’s under WPP and therefore under our protective custody,” she explained.

De Lima said the WPP office under her department would ask the RTC to allow Luy to remain under their custody, saying courts normally agree to such arrangement.

The justice secretary also could not help but question what she believed was the hasty issuance of the arrest warrant.

“I was surprised why suddenly there’s this warrant of arrest. This means that case (qualified theft) passed through the prosecutor’s office. I’m having that looked into,” she lamented.

She said she has asked Prosecutor General Claro Arellano to look into circumstances behind the case because “it appears to be (resolved) in haste.”

The Pasig RTC issued the warrant against Luy in connection with the complaint filed by his former employer Napoles for allegedly stealing P300,000 from her.

The DOJ reported that Luy and another witness, Merlina Sunas, would be covered by the WPP.

Napoles’ lawyer Alfredo Villamor said there was nothing irregular in the issuance of the arrest warrant against Luy.

“It took almost two months before it was resolved by the Pasig City prosecutor’s office and more than a week before the Pasig RTC issued warrant of arrest. It is therefore clear that there’s nothing hasty about the case and warrant,” he said in a text message.

Another Napoles lawyer Hans Santos had requested the NBI to immediately arrest Luy.

The NBI had sent agents to coordinate with the WPP.

De Lima confirmed that Luy is now under provisional WPP coverage that will last for several months, during which his qualification for full coverage into the program that will also include benefits to be accorded to him would be assessed. – With Paolo Romero, Edu Punay, Marvin Sy, Aie Balagtas See