Another ‘pork’ scam?

MANILA – Another investigation on alleged irregularities in the disbursement of pork barrel funds has uncovered that three senators and 32 congressmen funnelled a total of P470.715 million to the Philippine Forest Corporation (PhilForest) – the funds of which were eventually disbursed to 11 non-government organizations (NGOs) from 2010 to 2012, an official of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said yesterday.

DENR Undersecretary Annaliza Teh discovered the names of the lawmakers after she was appointed last August 30 as PhilForest officer-in-charge by DENR Secretary Ramon Paje when then PhilForest President Erwin Krishna Santos was requested to take a leave of absence “while documents from the office are being secured” to check on alleged irregularities in the course of implementing PDAF projects.

“I was tasked as PhilForest’s caretaker to ensure that we secure the documents from 2011 to 2012 and that we comply with the requirements of the Commission on Audit (COA),” she said.

Records gathered from PhilForest – a subsidiary of the Natural Resources Development Corporation (NRDC), an attached agency of the DENR – showed that as early as 2009, Senator Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada gave P10 million of his PDAF for the implementation of upland agroforestry program.

In 2010, Sen. Gregorio Honasan gave P55 million to PhilForest for Upland Agro-Industry Development and Livelihood Project in Bataan.. He also allotted pork barrel funds in 2011 for three projects on agro-forestry and jatropha plantation in Limay, Bataan; Gamu, Isabela; and Laguna, worth P50 million, P40 million, and P5 million, respectively.

In 2011, Sen. Lito Lapid allotted P5 million for a jatropha plantation in Calamba, Laguna.

From 2010 to 2012, the following congressmen allegedly funnelled their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to the PhilForest:

•Cebu Rep. Eduardo Gullas – P15 million, P5 million, P4 million

•Misamis Oriental Rep. Peter Unabia – P1.71 million

•Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali – P5 million, P10 million, P15 million

•Negros Occidental Rep. Jose Carlos Lacson – P10 million

•Basilan Rep. Hadjiman Hataman Saliman – P11 million

•Agusan del Norte Rep. Potenciano Payuyo – P5 million

•Misamis Oriental Rep. Salvador Cabaluna III – P15 million, P7.5 million

•Basilan Rep. Michael Angelo Rivera – P15 million, P7.5 million

•Bukidnon Rep. Jesus Emmanuel Paras – P5 million

•Northern Samar Rep. Emilio Ong – P13 million, P10 million

•Masbate Rep. Antonio Kho – P15 million, P15 million

•Cagayan de Oro Rep. Benjamin Benaldo – P5 million, P10 million

•Basilan Rep. Nicanor Briones – P5 million

•Davao Oriental Rep. Nelson Dayanghirang – P4 million

•Davao del Sur Rep. Franklin Bautista – P1 million

•Agusan del Norte Rep. Jose Aquino – P1 million, P2.425 million

•Misamis Oriental Rep. Yevgeny Vicente Emano – P3 million

•Davao del Sur Rep. Marc Douglas Cagas – P7 million

•Abono partylist Rep. Raymund Estrella – P3 million

•North Cotabato Rep. Nancy Catamco – P5 million, P4 million

•Cebu Rep. Ramon Durano VI – P4 million, P5 million

•Oriental Mindoro Rep. Rodolfo Valencia – P3 million, P2 million

•Rizal Rep. Joel Roy Duavit – P10 million

•Zamboanga City Rep. Ma. Isabel Climaco – P4 million

•Ang Kasangga party-list Rep. Teodorico Haresco – P1.5 million

•Lanao del Norte Rep. Fatima Dimaporo – P5 million

•APEC partylist Rep. Ponciano Payuyo – P2 million

•Quezon Rep. Lorenzo Tañada – P9.7 million

•Misamis Oriental Rep. Isidro Lico – P4.5 million

•TUCP partylist Rep. Raymond Democrito Mendoza – P13 million

•Palawan Rep. Antonio Alvarez – P3.880 million

•Laguna Rep. Ma. Evita Arago – P5 million

COA found out that PhilForest has not properly accounted for disbursements in 2011.

So far, the DENR has already completed evaluation of disbursement vouchers and documents of seven out of the 11 NGOs that received PDAF.

The 11 NGOs that received PDAF are Philippine Environmental and Ecological Development Association, Inc.; Kabuhayan at Kalusugan Alay sa Masa Foundation, Inc.; Pangkabuhayan Foundation, Inc.; Kapuso’t Kapamilya Foundation, Inc.; Maharlikang Lipi Foundation, Inc.; Workphil Foundation, Inc.; Focus on Development Goals Foundation, Inc.; Itonami Foundation, Inc.; Livedures Foundation, Inc.; Kaagapay Magpakailanman; and Kasama Foundation.

Teh cited that the memoranda of agreement of the NGOs and PhilForest “look like a template.”

“Mostly are for jatropha plantation. If you read the MOAs of the NGOs, it says they should be able to establish nursery for five hectares and jatropha plantation for 20 hectares. It already looks like a template,” she said.

But based on the articles of incorporation of the NGOs, agroforestry program is not their nature of business, yet they were entrusted with funds to implement the project.

She noted that the nature of business of the NGOs seems generic like to address poverty, undertake environmental protection, and conduct livelihood trainings.

“Their (NGOs) accomplishment report is vague. Some say they have distributed livelihood kits or seedlings. It does not have anything to do with the jatropha,” she said.

“We have gathered the disbursement vouchers of 11 NGOs involved with PhilForest and so far completed the documents of seven NGOs. We hope to submit them partially to COA if Secretary Paje would approve it. But I think for the seven NGOs, we could already submit it to COA,” Teh said.

“For the funds disbursed to these NGOs, at least we could show from the document that the money was actually released to, and properly received by the NGO,” she added.

But Teh said they have not yet established if the NGOs are connected or not to alleged pork barrel scam brains Janet Lim Napoles.

Paje discovered the supposed irregularity in November, 2012 and issued a memorandum to Santos to submit reports and audit findings, which were followed up last July.

“PhilForest has sent letters to NGOs to explain things like why they don’t have signages in their offices. Some have already responded to the letters. They claimed that they are just poor NGOs so they have to stay with their officers’ houses to save money. Others said their offices were damaged by storm ‘Ondoy.’ It means that their offices are still there. They are trying to justify that they are existing NGOs,” Teh explained.

“We have noted lapses like under COA rules on disbursement of funds to NGOs, they need to go through the bids and awards committee headed by the PhilForest president, who will be screening their qualifications. Also under the guidelines they should have a three-year track record. Some of them don’t have that. Paano nakalusot? The asked.

“The guidelines also include site inspections but if you look at their certificate of accreditation, there’s no supporting evidence that there was a site inspection. There is also a provision in the guidelines that the NGO should be operating at least in one site identified as project area but that was also not established. They have identified project areas in Mindanao or Isabela, but their office are in Pasig or Quezon City. They have not established their presence in the project areas. There are also lapses there,” she added.

Teh believes that the PhilForest was not stringent because “there is a provision in the memorandum of agreement that the legislator could warrant or guarantee that an organization is a legitimate organization and that it has a capability to implement the project.”

“The reason they dealt with those NGOs is because these were endorsed by congressmen and senators,” she said.

“These NGOs are existing because they have legal personality. They are registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission. But whether or not they are eligible to warrant the access of PDAF funds is questionable or if they are the right NGO to implement the project,” she explained.

Teh said they will establish possible liabilities of the NGOs, including the employees of PhilForest.

For the legislators who will be found liable, filing of charges would be recommended to the Department of Justice, she added.