Napoles NGOs still active

Janet Lim Napoles, in handcuffs, is led to the Makati City Jail by the police.

MANILA  – It now appears that as recently as last year, non-government organizations (NGOs) identified with Janet Lim-Napoles were still receiving pork barrel funds from lawmakers.

Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala told the House appropriations committee on Wednesday that six congressmen gave a total of P83 million in 2012 to Kaupdanan (Samahan) para sa Mangunguma (Magsasaka) Foundation Inc. (KMFI) through his department.

The department itself came under fire, with a party-list congressman claiming it entered into deals for organic agriculture with NGOs linked to Napoles, with her nephew among the signatories.

Alcala identified the six congressmen as Isidro Ungab of Davao City, Reynaldo Umali of Oriental Mindoro, Neil Montejo of the party-list group An Waray and Antonio Lagdameo Jr. of Davao del Norte, and former representatives Arnulfo Fuentebella of Camarines Sur and Rizalina Seachon-Lanete of Masbate.

Ungab, who chairs the appropriations committee, and Montejo said their projects were aboveboard.

Alcala, a former Quezon congressman, did not say how much each of the six gave to KMFI.

 

He said of the P83 million, P44 million was released to the foundation to fund 11 projects identified by the lawmakers.

“We have verified nine projects and we are still in the process of verifying the two,” he said.

Rep. Antonio Tinio of the party-list group Alliance of Concerned Teachers, who inquired about pork barrel funds that went to KMFI, said the foundation is a Napoles NGO.

Tinio asked if Alcala has found irregularities in verifying the lawmakers’ projects.

The agriculture secretary begged off from revealing details of their investigation, which he said would be completed next week.

For his part, Rep. Terry Ridon of the party-list group Kabataan said Napoles NGOs received funds last year not only from lawmakers but from the Department of Agriculture (DA) itself as well.

He told Alcala that he was informed by DA insiders that the department entered into a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with 14 towns for the implementation of projects under the DA’s “organic agriculture” program.

He said Napoles’ nephew John Lim signed as a witness in six of the agreements, while Merlina Suñas, who headed a Napoles NGO and is one of the whistleblowers in the pork barrel fund scam, affixed her signature as a witness in one MOA.

“What is the business of these Napoles personnel signing as witnesses in the agreements?” he said.

He said he surmised that the 14 towns that received funds from the DA transferred the money to Napoles’ foundations, as what happened with billions in pork barrel funds covered by the special Commission on Audit (COA) scrutiny.

The special audit found 10 Napoles NGOs to have received more than P2 billion from senators and congressmen in 2007 to 2009.

Ridon said it was Undersecretary Antonio Fleta who signed the MOAs for the DA.

Fleta, who attended the hearing, admitted signing the agreements but claimed that he did not know that Lim and Suñas were connected with Napoles.

He said the MOAs cover about P100 million of the department’s P900-million budget for organic agriculture.

Bureau of Customs (BOC) Commissioner Rufino Biazon yesterday said that he would review his disbursement record when he was still congressman of the lone district of Muntinlupa City.

This was Biazon’s reply to an alleged COA report that reportedly identified him as one of the congressmen that disbursed their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to NGOs when he was still member of the House of Representatives.

The report mentioned that Biazon gave a total of P28.7 million of his PDAF to three different NGOs, namely Dynamic Filipino Citizen Civic Organization Inc. which reportedly received from him P18 million; Unlad Pinoy Organization got P8 million and Philippine Social Development Foundation accepted P2.7 million.

Biazon said that he would leave it up to the COA to conduct its own investigation into how he spent his PDAF.

Call for sobriety

Transparency International-Philippines, Inc., the anti-corruption watchdog accredited by Transparency International based in Berlin, Germany, has called for sobriety in the furor over the PDAF scam.

Demaree Raval, vice-president of TI-Philippines and head of its Transparency in Procurement Unit, said the COA report is still subject to validation, and that making judgment this early would be prejudicial to many persons, especially members of Congress, and so should be avoided.

“What we have is a report of the COA that is still the subject of further investigations. Dahandahan lang tayong maghusga (Let us not be quick to judge). Until we get the ombudsman to lodge indictments against those members of our Congress who actually conspired with fake NGOs, we cannot say for sure that this senator or that congressman is guilty of anything,” Raval said.

Raval cited the case of former Compostela Valley congressman and now Vice Gov. Manuel “Waykurat” Zamora, who was reported to have received P3.2 billion in PDAF that turned out to be a recording mistake by the budget department.

Raval, who worked with former senator Edgardo Angara before he joined TI-Phils., also cited the case of Angara, who is identified in the COA report as having engaged two fake NGOs to carry out projects funded by his PDAF.

Only Angara – among the many legislators to whom fake NGOs have been ascribed – has admitted to the existence and actual operations of the two NGOs ascribed to him, and released documents supporting them.

“Let’s wait for the IAAGCC (Inter-Agency Anti-Graft Coordinating Council). The COA itself has already admitted to many inaccuracies in its report. The DBM (Department of Budget and Management) confirmed those inaccuracies. So, let’s wait, to protect the innocent,” Raval added.

Meanwhile, Technical Education and Skills Development Authority chief Joel Villanueva said the funds he gave to foundations were all properly audited and accounted for.

Villanueva was former representative of the party-list group Citizens Battle Against Corruption.

PDAF swap

Davao City 2nd District Rep. Mylene Garcia-Albano admitted having swapped her PDAF worth P9.45 million with that of her father-in-law Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano.

But Garcia-Albano was quick to point out that there was nothing anomalous with the transaction as the same amount was also returned to her district by her father-in-law in the form of other projects, which were earlier approved by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr.

Garcia-Albano clarified the situation after it was discovered that her PDAF was used for projects outside her congressional district.

Records from the DBM showed that P9.45 million worth of Albano’s PDAF for 2012 was spent in Isabela, the home province of her husband.

Garcia-Albano’s PDAF was spent in five “hard projects” in Isabela like drainage repairs, road concreting and construction of multi-purpose buildings.

In a statement, Garcia-Albano explained that her PDAF was not given to Isabela, but was rather just swapped.

She explained that her father-in-law also spent P9.45 million of his PDAF to finance projects in her district in Davao City as reflected in the elder Albano’s letter to Belmonte dated Nov. 12, 2012 where he requested for the release of his PDAF worth P20 million.

In the letter, the Isabela representative stated that P10.55 million would cover projects in his district while the remaining P9.45 million will be released to the 2nd district of Davao City upon agreement with his daughter-in-law.

In the midst of the nationwide outcry against the pork barrel fund scam, the Kilusang Mayu Uno (KMU) Negros called on the seven congressmen of Negros Occidental to stop using their PDAF allocations.

“Join the people’s call to scrap the pork barrel system. For so long a time, pork barrel didn’t uplift the lives of the people in the countryside, especially the peasants and sacadas,” KMU said in a statement.

Bacolod City Rep. Evelio Leonardia urged the prosecution of cases involving the abuse of pork barrel funds.

Leonardia called anew for an investigation into the alleged questionable purchase of P39-million worth of computers by Bacolod Mayor Monico Puentevella when he was still congressman.

He said the stalled investigation into Puentevella’s alleged anomaly would be the best insurance against a repeat of the pork barrel fund abuse in Bacolod.

Negros Occidental 3rd District Rep. Alfredo Benitez said the anti-PDAF rallies nationwide send a signal that the people have had enough of corruption, and are demanding reforms.