All pork releases lead to Malacañang

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda and Secretary to the Cabinet Jose Rene Almendras talk to Janet Lim-Napoles and her lawyer Lorna Kapunan at the Palace receiving area, where the businesswoman surrendered to President Aquino the other night.

MANILA — All releases of pork barrel lead to Malacanang, with President Benigno Aquino III having the last say on who gets the grease, lawmakers and Palace officials said Thursday.

Under Mr. Aquino, pork barrel allocations for Congress went up from P7.89 billion in 2008 during the Arroyo administration to P24.62 billion in 2011 and P25.24 billion next year, said former Iloilo City congressman Augusto Syjuco.

Syjuco said the President used some P310.1 billion in discretionary funds, including congressional pork barrel, to acuqire more power at the expense of the opposition.

“President Aquino should not lie about his own pork barrel because he even increased the allocations so he would acquire more power so he can control the lawmakers and local executives,” Syjuco said.

Former President Gloria Arroyo, he said, had allocated P7.89 billion in 2008, P9.67 billion in 2009 and P10.86 billion in 2010 for congressional pork, officially known as Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

“President Aquino immediately increased the PDAF to P24.62 billion in 2011, P24.89 billion in 2012, P24.89 billion this year and P25.24 billion for 2014,” said Syjuco.

Syjuco said the President increased the budget allocations because he also increased the number of districts.

“President Aquino imposed gerrymandering and [used] the principle of divide and conquer because his only agenda was to annihilate the opposition just to suit his ego,” he said.

He said the President wanted the ruling Liberal Party to rule the country “for as long as they can.”

“President Aquino used the taxpayers’ money to get back at the opposition that did not agree with their positions,” he said.

Syjuco said from 2010 to 2013, the President deprived his district of its rightful annual allocation of P70 million.”

“Some 75,000 of my constituents signed a petition begging the President to grant us our PDAF because 2,000 of our constituents die annually because there was no allocation for medical assistance. My constituents were even deprived of PhilHealth cards,” Syjuco said.

He described the President as “vindictive.”

In Thursday’s budget hearing of the Agriculture Department in the House, Kabataan Rep. Terry Ridon and ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio said President Aquino’s pork barrel allocations were also tainted with graft and corruption.

Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala said he had in fact barred allocations to local government units for two years but that this was reversed by the Budget Department.

“We cannot defy the order of the DBM. Even if we did not want to release the funds to some projects… We do not want a head-on collision with fellow government agencies,” Alcala told the House committee on appropriations, chaired by Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab.

Alcala looked uncomfortable when Tinio demanded that he name the six lawmakers that allegedly allocated funds in 2012 to phony non-government organizations linked to businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles, who has been accused of masterminding a scam that siphoned billions of pesos in pork into ghost projects.

Alcala named Ungab, Reps. Anton Lagdameo, Jr. of Davao del Norte, Scott Davies Lanete of Masbate, Neil Benedict Montejo of An-Waray and Reynaldo Umali of Oriental Mindoro.

Alcala said of the P83.2 million, some P44 million had been released to Napoles’ group.

Montejo and Ungab said their projects were accounted for and blamed the Commission on Audit for not being thorough in its probe.

Also in 2012, Ridon told the panel, some eight local government units that had signed organic farming agreements with the Agriculture Department allocated the funds to NGOs that may be linked to Napoles.

Ridon said a certain Johnny Lim, a nephew of Napoles, and now whistleblower Merlina Sunas were signatories to the agreement as witnesses.

Agriculture Undersecretary Antonio Fleta said some P100 million was involved in the organic farming projects.

Fleta said they were not aware that some personalities closely linked to Napoles were involved in the projects since they rely mainly on the endorsement of the LGUs.

Lim and Sunas signed for the LGUs, Fleta said.

The projects involve organic agriculture programs in Nueva Ecija, Surigao del Sur, Pangasinan and several other provinces and municipalities.

“These projects are part of DA’s national organic agriculture program and are financed by the Agriculture Department itself, not from PDAF funds. In other words, this reveals that the Napoles group’s operation is even far wider than what we thought, as they also operate inside agencies,” Ridon said.

“This revelation tells us one thing: graft and corruption practices are not limited to PDAF – government agencies are also involved in this large-scale scam. While a full review and investigation of the PDAF should immediately be done, a multi-agency investigation should also be made,” Ridon said.

At one point in Thursday’s hearing, Ungab asked Alcala point blank if his pork-funded projects were bogus.

“Were those ghost projects? I know you know the answer,” he told Alcala. “As I have said, I am open to investigation.”

Responding to the question, Alcala virtually cleared the panel chairman of any wrongdoing, saying that while the funds were channeled to Kaupdanan Para sa Mangunguma Foundation Inc. (KPMI), an NGO allegedly set up by Napoles, the projects were “properly” carried out and liquidated.

After the hearing, Alcala said his department would release the results of its own investigation into the pork barrel projects of the six lawmakers who had channeled funds to the Napoles-linked NGO.

The department released a total of P44 million to KPMI.

In the Senate, Commission on Audit chairman Grace Pulido-Tan told the Blue Ribbon Committee that senators who had channeled their pork to non-government organizations linked to Napoles confirmed their signatures on documents authorizing the transactions.

Tan said at least four senators –Senator Ramon Revilla Jr., Juan Ponce Enrile, Gregorio Honasan and Jinggoy Estrada – reportedly transferred millions of their pork barrel funds to bogus organizations linked to Napoles.

None of the senators named were at Thursday’s hearing but issued statements in support of the Senate investigation.

Tan said based on an initial report, Revilla released almost P97 million of worth of allocations to one NGO, while Enrile released P24.25 million. Honasan released P14.55 million, she said.

Tan said the senators confirmed these transactions by letter.

Tan said two other senators were found to have used NGOs linked to Napoles, but she refused to name them until the audit report for 2011 and 2012 is released to the public.

Among the NGOs linked to Napoles are Agri and Economic Program for Farmers Foundation, Inc., Agriculture Para sa Magbubukid Foundation, Inc.; Countrywide Agri and Rural Economic Development Foundation Inc., Masaganang Ani Para sa Magsasaka Foundation, Inc.; People’s Organization for Progress and Development Foundation Inc.; Philippine Social Development Foundation Inc.; and Social Development Program for Farmers Foundation, Inc.