COA names senators linked to Pork Scam

‘PORK’ HEARING — Senate President Franklin Drilon (left photo) watches intently as Senate Blue Ribbon Committee Chairman TG Guingona flashes a letter allegedly that of one senator requesting that his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) be released to a certain non-government organization (NGO) during Wednesday’s hearing on the so-called ‘pork barrel’ scam.

MANILA  — The Commission on Audit (COA) on Wednesday linked several senators to the questionable disbursements of their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), or pork barrel, amounting to P1.9 billion given to non-government organizations (NGOs) from 2007 to 2009.

COA Chairperson Maria Gracia M. Pulido-Tan appeared before the Senate Blue Ribbon committee hearing chaired by Sen. Teofisto L. Guingona III held at the Senate Session Hall. Named by her were the following senators –Juan Ponce Enrile, Jose “Jinggoy’’ Ejercito Estrada, Gregorio Honasan II, Ramon ‘’Bong’’ Revilla Jr., Ralph G. Recto, and Manuel ‘’Lito’’ Lapid, and former Sen. Edgardo J. Angara – in connection with the alleged questionable disbursements.

This is the first day of the Senate hearing to investigate the pork barrel scam. The senators were earlier named in a COA report presented by Ms. Pulido-Tan a few weeks ago. The audit confirmed many unofficial reports on the misuse of the pork barrel fund, contributing to the massive protest rally in Luneta early this week.

Recto was able to extricate himself from the scandal after confronting COA Director Susan Garcia who told the Guingona committee that there are no documents linking him to the NGOs and the pork barrel scam.

The documents could include requests to implementing agencies for PDAF funds to be funneled to NGOs. Recto emphasized that he had never issued such requests.

“At this point, we cannot say for certain until there is evidence that it (government funds in the pork barrel system) were pocketed by legislators. We have to wait until the investigation is finished. The allegations are not yet proven. We still have to call witnesses. Not all NGOs are bad. There are many legitimate NGOs throughout the country,’’ Guingona said.

82 NGOs

Tan testified that of the 82 questionable NGOs audited by the Commission, eight have been traced to belong to Janet Lim-Napoles.

Replying to a query by the Manila Bulletin in a press briefing after the three-hour public hearing, Guingona said that the eight of the NGOs were bogus. At the hearing, Tan testified that their offices are non-existent or are located at wrong addresses on hovels (barong-barong), mostly in the Metro Manila area.

Tan explained that as a general rule, government funds could not be transferred to private entities such as NGOs unless there is a law or an ordinance.

It was explained that the flow of pork barrel funds should have been from the requesting legislator (senator or congressman) to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to the implementing agencies.

Guingona observed that “what happened was the funds flowed later from the implementing government agencies to NGOs and then to ‘’bulsa (pockets).’’

The government implementing agencies include the National Livelihood Development Corporation (NLDC) and the National Agriculture Business Corporation (NABC).

“To have a complete story,” Guingona said the Senate committee will coordinate with the Executive branch to summon Napoles before the committee.

Only2 Senators Present

Of the six senators named by Tan, only Recto and Estrada appeared.

But Estrada won’t be appearing before the committee in the future. Before leaving the Senate session hall, he issued a statement formally inhibiting himself from being present in the hearings because it may deter “the resource persons from providing relevant information.”

“Being one of those mentioned in connection with the pork barrel issue, I feel compelled to excuse myself from participating in these proceedings. I believe that my presence during the investigation may be conceived as deterring the resource persons from providing relevant information or may be perceived as impeding the free-flowing discussions among the participants here.

‘’To avoid such eventualities, Mr. Chair, I am requesting therefore that I be excused from attending the proceedings.

‘’At sa atin mga kababayan, pinalaki ako ng aking mga magulang na may takot sa Diyos, an alam kung ano ang tama at mali at kung ano ang makatao at tiwali. Kaya makakaasa p[o kayo na katuwang niyo pa rin ako sa pagsasa-tama ng mali at pasasaayos ng tawali.’’

Confirming signatures

Most of the multi-million-peso pork barrel disbursements were made by Enrile and Revilla as they confirmed their signatures authorizing their representatives to handle the flow of their PDAF funds, Tan said.

Honasan confirmed two authorizations while Estrada had not confirmed whether or not the signatures in the documented authorizations were his, Tan testified.

Napoles’ NGOs

The eight NGOs linked to Napoles are the Agri & Economic Program Foundation Inc. (AEPFFI), Agriculture Para sa Magbubuklod Inc. (APMFI), Countrywide Agri & and Rural Economic Development (CARED) Foundation Inc., Masaganang Ani Para sa Massasaka Foundation Inc (MAMFI), People’s Organization for Progress and Development Foundation Inc. (POPDFI), Philippine Agri & Social Economic Development Foundation Inc. (PASEDF), Philippine Social Development Foundation Inc. (PSDFU) and Social Development Program for Farmers Foundations Inc.

Tan said that P6 billion in pork barrel funds were given to the 82 NGOs for livelihood projects.

Guingona noted that there are inter-locking incorporators of some of the NGOs cited by Tan.

He also said that most of the so-called beneficiaries such as town mayors of the livelihood projects denied having been recipients of such projects or supplies.

Surrender

Before opening the Senate hearing, Guingona commented on the surrender of Napoles as ‘’indeed welcome news to everyone (however) hard work lies ahead still for those looking to find a satisfactory resolution to the controversies bared by her alleged involvement in the PDAF.’’

‘’Let the wheels of justice turn. If found guilty, she must face the consequence of her actions. The Department of Justice (DOJ) is the competent body to assess if Napoles is qualified to be a state witness under the guidelines provided by law,’’ he said.