LAWMAKERS FACE 'PORK' RAPS / ERAP RECALLS HAVING MET NAPOLES BEFORE



JUSTICE SECRETARY LEILE DE LIMA: Congressmen implicated in the alleged pork barrel scam have begun readying their defense, as Justice Secretary Leila de Lima warned on Wednesday, that members of the executive branch could also be included in the charges. De Lima said she would not release the names of legislators allegedly involved in the scam, until the completion of the investigation. “We are not yet done identifying exactly the lawmakers and other executive officials who could be charged because there is sufficient evidence,” she said during the congressional hearing on the Department of Justice budget. “We will only announce that list when we are ready really to file already the charges and we will endorse that, we will endorse the report of the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) to the Ombudsman with our recommendations and Ombudsman will act accordingly.”

MANILA, SEPTEMBER 9, 2013 (PHILSTAR ) By Aie Balagtas See - At least 10 people, including lawmakers and officials of government-owned and controlled corporations, will be indicted along with businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles in connection with the pork barrel scam.

Levito Baligod, lawyer of the whistle-blowers in the multibillion-peso scam, said two of the 10 are from the National Agribusiness Corp. (NABCOR) who allegedly received millions in commissions from Napoles.

Baligod talked to reporters after attending a case conference called by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima at the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).

Earlier, De Lima said the NBI was preparing to file a plunder complaint against Napoles and several lawmakers implicated in the scam.

Baligod said the cases may be filed after Sept. 11. He said some may face complaints for plunder, which normally does not allow bail.

The lawyer declined to give specific names or dates to avoid preempting the NBI.

De Lima also declined to elaborate on the details but said the report, which will be forwarded to the Office of the Ombudsman, is nearing completion.

A special audit report of the Commission on Audit linked Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, Ramon Revilla Jr. and Gregorio Honasan to the fund diversions.

Subhead

Why focus on Janet Lim-Napoles when there could be dozens or even hundreds of her kind skimming billions of pesos from the congressional pork barrel?

Sen. Juan Victor Ejercito raised the question during a Senate Blue Ribbon committee hearing yesterday on the pork barrel scam, which Napoles allegedly orchestrated in collusion with some lawmakers.

Ejercito said he found it suspicious that the focus of investigations into the issue was on cases of pork barrel misuse between 2007 and 2009 or during the previous administration. The pork barrel is officially called the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

A Commission on Audit (COA) report showed that more than 80 dubious non-government organizations cornered sizable chunks of PDAF allocations by acting as project conduits. Only eight of the NGOs have been linked to Napoles.

“We are zeroing in on Napoles NGOs in this hearing, but with your indulgence, I would like to ask COA or DA (Department of Agriculture) or whoever – are there other Napoleses operating this way, because I don’t believe that there is only one,” Ejercito said.

“I’m quite interested and curious about 2004 to 2007 because this period was the time that the former administration’s legitimacy was in question. So probably a lot of questionable releases may have happened during this period,” Ejercito said.

COA director Susan Garcia explained that the special audit report on the PDAF was just a factual presentation of their audit findings and made no mention at all of Napoles or her alleged modus operandi.

A total of 160 legislators were found to have funneled their PDAF into NGOs during the period, including Senators Ramon Revilla Jr., Jinggoy Estrada, Gregorio Honasan and Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile.


The hearing continues. Senate President Franklin Drilon and Blue Ribbon committee chairman Teofisto Guingona III examine a document containing the signatures of senators and congressmen at the continuation of the Senate hearing on the alleged P10-billion pork barrel scam. Lino Santos, MANILA STANDARD

‘Livelihood girls’

Ejercito admitted he is also worried about being linked to the scam because during his stint as congressman, he and his colleagues had to deal with some of these NGOs whose representatives – usually beautiful women – would often do business at the session hall.

“I was also a congressman for one term and I noticed then in plenary there are times there are a lot of beautiful ladies around. We called them ‘livelihood girls’ because they were offering livelihood (projects). In fact, they are really beautiful it is hard to say no at times,” Ejercito said.

“So I was afraid that we might be included (in the scam),” he added. “But do we know of any other corporations just like JLN (initials of Napoles) who are doing this modus operandi? Do we know of any?”

Enrile, Ejercito, Honasan and Estrada belong to the Senate’s minority bloc while Revilla is with the majority.

He stressed he was not defending his colleagues but was merely trying to help ferret out the truth.

“I think we owe it to the Filipino people to know everybody who is involved in this scandal or scam,” he said.

Enrile, Estrada and Honasan had opted to inhibit from the Blue Ribbon hearings but Ejercito and another colleague in the minority, Nancy Binay, had shown up and pushed for the identification of legislators mentioned in the COA report.

COA’s Garcia explained to the committee that the period covered by the audit on PDAF was randomly selected and that the decision to conduct a special audit was made in 2010. She said it took them three years to complete the review.

“We are not going to conduct an audit of the same program on a yearly basis. We conduct performance audits so we just take a look at how to improve each program of government,” Garcia said.

But Ejercito said the audit appeared to be selective. “You said it was random. But there are concerns, not only from those accused, but I have read that there are other personalities who have been asking why the years 2007 to 2009 were chosen,” he told Garcia.

Garcia explained that her team was concerned only with the conduct of special audits and that regular audits were conducted in various government agencies, which may have also been recipients of PDAF from legislators.

She said another special audit for the period of 2004 to 2007 would also take around three years to complete.

In a statement released earlier this week, the Senate minority bloc defended the release of their PDAF to NGOs, saying it’s the responsibility of government implementing agencies and local government units to verify the legitimacy of NGOs they’re dealing with.

“It is even more unfortunate that members of the Senate minority group have been pilloried and scorned by the media and by the public for this lapse in the implementation of the law,” the statement read.

Trial by publicity

Revilla, through his lawyer Joel Bodegon, said his being dragged into the issue was a “trial by publicity” as well as a “derogation of his constitutional right to due process of law.”

“He is appalled at how the media are giving unwarranted credence to the lies purveyed by the whistleblowers who have publicly confessed their criminal enterprise of stealing the lawmakers’ PDAFs,” Bodegon said.

He said that Revilla is “as much interested to know the truth as anyone else, that is why he is continuing with his own investigation of all the allegations against him.”

Ejercito is pushing for the inclusion of all legislators mentioned in the COA report in the Blue Ribbon committee investigation “in the spirit of transparency.”

Senators Ralph Recto, Manuel Lapid and Edgardo Angara were also mentioned in the COA report, according to Garcia.

Sen. Binay had asked her to read the names of the other senators mentioned in the COA report.

Senate President Franklin Drilon clarified that not all of the legislators mentioned in the COA report had misused their PDAF or had links to Napoles.

“Because you know in this environment, just the mere mention that you are part of the COA report would already condemn you. So let us make it clear that these legislators named in the COA report, yes, indeed utilized NGOs, but not all of those NGOs are bogus,” Drilon said.

Garcia emphasized that some of the NGOs mentioned in the report were only cited for failing to liquidate the funds they received from lawmakers. “They had different deficiencies,” she said.

Drilon also stressed that the special audit of the COA had nothing to do with the Aquino administration since it was approved and started when former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was still in power.

“Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo appointed (former COA chairman) Rey Villar, who was the one who directed the special audit to be done on PDAF. Therefore, naturally you started to count back from 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007,” he said.

More auditors

Recto, for his part, said COA should hire more auditors next year as some P2.2 billion in “hiring fund” has been earmarked for the agency.

He said that with such budget, COA can “theoretically” hire 6,488 auditors.

But he stressed a special provision in the proposed budget for COA for 2014 allows the release of funds only after actual hiring begins.

“In short, it is some sort of a hiring fund the COA can withdraw from to pay for the salaries of new employees it has hired,” Recto said.

Recto, who is Senate president pro-tempore, explained that while the COA plantilla has 15,219 authorized positions, only 60 percent or 8,734 are currently filled.

He said it’s important for COA to have adequate personnel because it sets the “tripwires against corruption.”

COA’s total proposed budget for next year stands at P8.4 billion.

In its budget submission to the Senate, COA reported that “19,081 agencies are subject to its financial, compliance and other audits,” prompting Recto to comment that “even if COA achieves full staff complement, that would still be below the 1:1 personnel to office ratio.”

In addition, COA stores 39 million spending vouchers, “which its auditors are supposed to examine,” he said.

“If the Ombudsman’s staff is being strengthened, if integrity bodies in revenue agencies are being given additional funds, if internal affairs units in the police and the military are being beefed up, then all the more that COA, the public’s whistleblower, must have more personnel,” Recto said.

Meanwhile, Technology Resource Center (TRC) director general Dennis Cunanan has filed an indefinite leave of absence to give authorities a free hand in checking his alleged anomalous use of PDAF. He filed his leave with Science and Technology Secretary Mario Montejo. TRC is under DOST.

“I am confident that ultimately my name will be cleared as my actions on this issue will bear me out. That being one of my first official actions upon assuming the helm in TRC is to look into the PDAF disbursements,” Cunanan said.

He said TRC has stopped implementing PDAF-funded projects since 2010 and that its own probe into the issue began before the activities of Napoles were uncovered.

He said he had made contact with the National Bureau of Investigation Special Task Force and is ready to cooperate with other probe bodies.

In July 2010, the TRC blacklisted 44 NGOs which failed to properly liquidate their PDAF.

It also said it had turned over to the COA Special Audits Office all records relating to past PDAF projects.

Cunanan said his agency had in fact received praises from state auditors as shown on page 279 of COA Report No. 2012-03.

“Upon takeover of the present management in 2010, NGOs with unliquidated funds were notified individually. A TRC blacklist (submitted to the team) containing NGOs with derogatory records, was also issued… The Team appreciates the actions taken by the TRC officials,” the COA report read,

“With prudent fiscal management, TRC’s financial bottom-line has remained positive over the last three years. This despite not receiving any form of budget or subsidy from the national government,” the TRC also said in a statement.

Cunanan earlier issued a circular adopting stricter eligibility requirements, accreditation rules and monitoring procedures for NGOs wanting to engage the services of the agency. A review and accreditation committee undertakes the task of screening NGOs. The committee includes as member the COA resident auditors. With Rainier Allan Ronda

FROM GMA NEWS TV

Erap recalls having met Napoles before September 6, 2013 10:34pm


FROM GMA NEWS NETWORK: Senator Jinggoy Estrada passes by COA chairperson Grace Pulido Tan (left) as he leaves the Senate session hall after formally excusing himself from the blue ribbon committee investigation on the alleged P10 B 'pork barrel' scam on Thursday, August 29. Benjie Castro

Manila Mayor Joseph "Erap" Estrada admitted Friday that he was acquainted with Janet Lim Napoles, the detained businesswoman tagged as the mastermind of the P10 billion pork barrel scam.

In a report aired on GMA News' “24 Oras,” newscast, the former president said that although he had encountered Napoles in a number of social gatherings, he does not know her personally.

“Na-meet ko siya sa isang party. Hindi ko nga nakausap eh. Baka nag-hi at hello kami, pero yun lang,” he said.

Estrada also confirmed that Cheryl Jimenea and Ruby Tuason, the women named by two new whistleblowers as having ties with Napoles, were his former employees. Jimenea worked as his former appointments secretary while Tuason was his social secretary.

The new whistleblowers, who came forward this week, said in an affidavit submitted to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) that they had met with Jimenea and Tuason in the past to make transactions on behalf of Napoles.

Estrada said that he has not communicated with either of the two women since they resigned from work.

“Ang alam ko [si Jimenea] pumasok sandali kay Jinggoy pagkaalis sa akin pero hindi rin siya nagtagal doon at umalis din. Pero si Ms. Tuason, hindi ko na nabalitaan kung kanino siya napunta. Syempre kapag may umalis akong empleyado, papasok sila sa ibang trabaho. Hindi ko na inaalam kung saan sila namamasukan,” Estrada said.

Jinggoy Estrada, the former president's son, is one of the five senators identified by the Commission on Audit as those who gave portions of their pork barrel funds to Napoles's non-government organizations. The others are Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile, Senators Gringo Honasan, Ramon Bong Revilla Jr. and Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.

Napoles is detained at Fort Sto. Domingo in Sta. Rosa, Laguna for the alleged serious illegal detention of her former employee Benhur Luy, now a whistleblower in the pork barrel scam. A Makati Court Friday reset her arraignment for the case from September 9 to September 23. — XA/ELR, GMA News


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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