3 senators, other lawmakers 'endorsed' bogus NGOs - witness
MANILA (2nd UPDATE) – Former officials of subsidiaries of the Department of Agriculture (DA) named Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, and Ramon “Bong” Revilla as having endorsed their pork barrel funds to supposedly bogus non-government organizations (NGOs).
During the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing on Thursday, former National Agribusiness Corporation (NABCOR) vice-president for administration and finance Rhodora Mendoza said she was “very sure” that the three senators and several congressmen gave their endorsements to the NGOs, then represented by now pork barrel scam whistleblower Benhur Luy.
Luy would later point to businesswoman Janet Napoles as having started the scam to siphon lawmakers’ pork barrel to ghost projects and eventually to private pockets.
NABCOR is one of two Department of Agriculture (DA) subsidiaries that the Commission of Audit (COA) found to have had tie-ups with supposedly bogus NGOs.
Mendoza claimed Luy frequented the NABCOR office to follow up on NGO projects. She also said she met Napoles once, when she was invited to a “thanksgiving mass” at the Discovery Suites in Pasig City.
She also named other legislators as having given their endorsements to projects of NGOs linked to Napoles.
They are: Congressmen Conrado Estrella III, Erwin Chiongbian, Rodolfo Plaza, Victor Ortega, Samuel Dangwa, Edgardo Valdez, Mark Douglas Cagas, Rizalina Lanete, Arthur Pinggoy, and Rodolfo Valencia.
She said she relied on the documents submitted by Luy in assuming that the NGOs were aboveboard.
“Did one of the legislators show up [at NABCOR],” Guingona asked Mendoza, to which she answered, “none.”
She said that Luy submitted “external audit reports” that were also “certified correct by the legislators themselves because they have a list of beneficiaries.”
Officials of NABCOR and Zamboanga del Norte Agricultural College Rubber Estate Corp. (ZREC), implementing agencies for the pork barrel, earlier claimed they had validated the papers of the NGOs.
Prompted to answer if “kasama kayo or naloko kayo [you were with the NGOs or duped by them],” they said they were duped given the recent turn of events on the pork barrel scandal.
Mendoza was actually only at the Senate gallery but had to be called by her former boss, NABCOR President Allan Javellana, who said he couldn't remember the names of lawmakers who gave their Priority Development Assistance fund (PDAF) to NGOs linked to Napoles.
Earlier in the hearing, Blue Ribbon Committee chair Senator TG Guingona said his team made an ocular inspection of the Social Development Program for Farmers Foundation Inc. (SDPFFI), Magsasakang Ani para sa Magsasaka Foundation Inc. (MAMFI), and People’s Organization for Progress and Development Foundation Incorporated (POPDFI).
Based on the photos given to him which were shown during the hearing, Guingona said “something is really wrong. There seems to be a conspiracy to defraud Filipinos of their funds.”
Upon further prompting from Guingona, Javellana – who was NABCOR chief during the periods covered by the COA audit – said he can remember the three senators’ signatures on the audit and liquidation reports of the NGOs in question. He alleged the financial plans of the NGOs were also initialed by the lawmakers.
He admitted to knowing Napoles, who met with him twice at the Discovery Suites. Asked what was his business there, he said Napoles wanted to be educated about the functions of NABCOR.
“Who is Mrs. Napoles? Why go out of your way to meet her?” Guingona asked. He answered, “We’re looking for investors, not just Napoles…for joint ventures on the projects."
Former ZREC President Salvador Salacup also said the PDAF that was channeled through the DA subsidiary was that of “Congressman Valdez,” which was then forwarded to SDPFFI.
He said the rest of the pork funds channeled to them by the lawmakers were for Pangkabuhayan Foundation Inc., which was not named by COA as having connections to Napoles.
COA earlier said some of the NGOs may not necessarily be bogus, but lacked liquidation documents and audit papers.
He said he did not initially think the transactions were suspicious “because we had mechanisms in place.” He said they require NGOs to submit documentary evidence from the Securities and Exchange Commission, Bureau of Internal Revenue, mayor’s permits, certified financial statements, etc.
Salacup said there is also a mechanism in the agency’s memorandum of agreement with the NGOs where the money is given in tranches. “Each tranche was also noted by the legislators or their representatives," he said.
The implementing agency has retained earnings of 3% from the NGO projects.
Senator Chiz Escudero, however, pointed out that there are only two modes of awarding a contract to an NGO. Salacup replied, “We were not procuring, we were only partnering with the NGO.”
Escudero pointed out, however, that laws and regulations prescribe either the bidding or negotiating of contracts. “And even in negotiated contracts, the NGO is required to come up with a performance or security bond.”
He said he could not believe that with the mere endorsement of legislators, they accepted “hook, line and sinker” the legality of the NGOs “in clear violation of the laws and regulations.”
“I can’t accept that officials would feign ignorance of these [rules],” he said.