‘Bosses’ told: I am not a thief

MANILA, NOVEMBER 4, 2013 (PHILSTAR) By Aurea Calica - Stung by the label of “pork barrel king,” President Aquino lashed out last night at what he described as attempts to muddle the issue of thievery in the pork barrel scam.

“We are not the same,” Aquino said in a televised address to the nation. “I have never stolen. I am not a thief.”

He blamed an “old politician” for the apparent squid tactics of those tagged in the pork barrel scam as he urged his “bosses,” the people, to stay with him in continuing the march along the straight path or daang matuwid.

Aquino did not name the politician, but speculation focused on the oldest member of the Senate, Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile, who is one of several lawmakers accused of funneling their pork barrel to bogus non-government organizations (NGOs) in an alleged multibillion-peso scam implemented by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles.

“Those who have been accused of stealing are those who are sowing confusion; they want to dismantle all that we have worked so hard to achieve on the straight path. We were stolen from, we were deceived—and now we are the ones being asked to explain? I have pursued truth and justice, and have been dismantling the systems that breed the abuse of power—and yet I am the one now being called the ‘pork barrel king’?” Aquino lamented.

“This is what I say to them: if you think that this will stop me from going after you, if you think that you can divert the public’s attention, if you think you can get away with stealing from our countrymen—you have sorely underestimated me and the Filipino people. If there still remains some vestige of kindness in your hearts, I hope that you stop acting in self-interest, and instead act to help your fellowmen,” the President said.

Aquino also continued to defend the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) of his administration and said this should not be compared to the congressional pork barrel or Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

The President said he deemed it best to directly address the nation because in recent months, the people might have been confused by “the cacophony of discordant voices” on the pork barrel issue.

Lashing out at those implicated in Napoles’ operations, he said, “Since it is exceedingly difficult to explain, it seems they have taken the advice of an old politician from their camp: if you can’t explain it, muddle it; if you can’t deodorize it, make everyone else stink; if you can’t look good, make everyone look bad. You have heard what they are saying: that we are all the same.”

“I am the one who goes after thieves,” Aquino said. “We appointed people of unquestionable integrity who are fulfilling their sworn duties. Did we not appoint the Commission on Audit leadership that reviewed the documents leading to the discovery of PDAF abuse? And now, can we not expect a fair and just investigation, because the ombudsman we appointed walks alongside us along the straight path?”

Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago had earlier said Enrile was behind the speech of Sen. Jinggoy Estrada accusing the administration of giving incentives to senators after the conviction of chief justice Renato Corona in the impeachment trial.

Budget and Management Secretary Florencio Abad later said lawmakers were merely asked to identify projects that would be funded by DAP and not PDAF. He denied that it was a form of bribe.

Enrile and Estrada are facing plunder charges in connection with the pork barrel scam.

Santiago described Estrada’s speech as “protective coloration,” a form of squid-tactic defense, which is employed to make everyone look guilty by muddling issues.

Aquino emphasized that the administration was not straying from the straight path.

No denial

“Might I remind those who have forgotten: the real issue here is stealing,” he said. “This is the topic they have constantly tried to avoid ever since their wrongdoing was exposed.”

He added: “I can’t help but shake my head, since the first thing I expected was for them to at least deny the accusations. After all, is that not the natural reaction of anyone who is accused of anything? And yet, in the midst of all their extended counter-accusations hurled against me, not once have I heard them say: ‘I did not steal.’”

He said the officials have not yet explained the misuse of PDAF through bogus NGOs, with the supposed beneficiaries reportedly lifted from a list of board passers culled from newspapers.

“This state of affairs is indeed difficult, even impossible, to explain away,” he said.

No stealing through DAP

The pork barrel scam suspects then decided to hit the DAP.

Aquino explained that of the DAP releases in 2011 and 2012, only nine percent was disbursed for projects suggested by legislators.

“The DAP is not theft. Theft is illegal. Spending through DAP is clearly allowed by the Constitution and by other laws,” he stressed.

Aquino said DAP was only a name for a process in which the government could spend both savings and additional revenues to stimulate the economy.

He said DAP played an important role in the country’s economic resurgence since 2010, with the World Bank noting that disbursement acceleration contributed 1.3 percent to GDP growth in the fourth quarter of 2011.

“Let us compare: isn’t it true that when they were still in power, we were called the ‘Sick Man of Asia’? Today, we can choose from a number of new labels: Asia’s fastest growing economy, rising tiger, brightest spark. And let’s include the investment grade status we received from the three most reputable credit ratings agencies in the world,” Aquino said.

He attributed these gains to “principled spending, and not of stealing.”

“Money once pocketed by the corrupt is now being used to help our people, particularly the poor,” he said.

The savings for DAP resulted from efforts to stop connivance in bidding for contracts, in padding costs, overpricing and kickbacks, he explained.

Savings were also due to proper spending and good management in government-owned and controlled corporations, he said.

Aquino cited the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System, pointing out that an agency once buried in debt now remits dividends to the national government annually.

Savings, above-target collections, and new revenues are the results of good governance, Aquino said, adding that because of DAP, funds were allocated to projects that were within the proposed budget.

Explaining the mechanism for DAP, he said agencies that are unable to implement their projects quickly lose priority in funding. The “savings” from these stalled projects are channeled to programs that are implemented efficiently by other agencies. Benefits from these projects then reach the people faster and earlier.

“You can decide for yourselves: is this wrong? When has it ever been wrong to look for a constitutional way to serve our countrymen more effectively?” he said.

The President reiterated the projects funded through the DAP: Project NOAH, which gave warnings during calamities; the Training-for-Work Scholarship Program of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority that allowed some 150,000 Filipinos to study, with 90,000 of them now employed.

He said DAP also benefited the Philippine Air Force and the Philippine National Police and restored the benefits of Department of Education employees by paying their Government Service Insurance System premiums.

President’s ‘pork’

Explaining the President’s Social Fund (PSF), he said it allowed quick response to sudden needs, such as assistance for the families of soldiers and policemen killed during the recent rebel siege in Zamboanga City as well as those who died in rescue operations for typhoon Sendong.

“The PSF funded these; without it, without calamity or contingency funds, (the people) would have continued to suffer,” he said.

Not so simple

“Because these funds were abused in the past, people are saying that perhaps we will abuse them today—even if no one has accused us of stealing or using them in the wrong manner. Some propose to remove them completely. Would this be just? If only it were that simple—but what would we then do in case of natural disasters?” Aquino argued.

The President said even if Congress was in session, it would take at least four months of debate before Congress could approve such funding.

“If you are in Zamboanga, with a child crying from hunger, and government tells you that it cannot help you just yet, it would need to haggle with Congress first—how would you feel? We have the money, and we have the mechanisms that will ensure this money goes where it’s needed most. Would it be right to deprive our countrymen of the care they direly need?” he said.

When his father, the late senator Benigno Jr. returned to the Philippines on Aug. 21, 1983, the President said “Ninoy” Aquino had a speech prepared that Filipinos never got to hear.

“In that speech, he quoted Archibald MacLeish: ‘How shall freedom be defended? By arms when it is attacked by arms; by truth when it is attacked by lies; by democratic faith when it is attacked by authoritarian dogma. Always and in the final act, by determination and faith,’” the President said.

“Now that falsehood and deception are threatening the Filipino’s right to a clean and honest government, the truth stands as our most powerful weapon. Tonight, I laid out the truth of what has been happening in our nation. I hope that in the coming days, you will talk about this among yourselves—in your families, in the groups you belong to, between friends and colleagues, within your communities—and that you can arrive at an understanding and a resolve that aligns with the truth,” Aquino said.

Aquino, whose ratings plummeted due to the pork barrel and DAP issues, thanked his “bosses” the people and asked them to stay with him.

“My bosses, we have fought so many battles. And I am grateful that no matter how foul the slander and the sabotage, you never let go, you never gave up. Together we proved that there are no tyrants if there are no slaves. Now, those who have abused our trust want to cast us off the course toward the fulfillment of our collective aspirations. I do not believe that you will let this pass. And so long as you are with me, I will continue to stand for our principles,” Aquino said.

“I have no doubt that, whether or not I am in office, you, our bosses whose minds and hearts are in the right place, will continue and will finish the fight. This knowledge is the source of my strength and my courage,” he said.

Bong: I'm not a thief By Christina Mendez ( | Updated October 31, 2013 - 11:12am 19 943 googleplus0 2

Senator Ramon "Bong" Revila Jr. (file photo)

MANILA, Philippines - Following President Benigno Aquino III's speech on the pork barrel issue on Wednesday night, Sen. Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr. reiterated that he did not steal from the government's coffers.

"Hindi ako magnanakaw at wala akong ninakaw sa kaban ng bayan," Revilla said, reacting to Aquino's speech.

"Baka kaya walang naririnig ang Pangulong PNoy dahil hindi siya nakikinig," the senator added.

Revilla, meanwhile, said that President Aquino's explanation of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) raised more questions than answers.

"No Senator or congressman knew about the DAP. It did not pass through Congress," he said, adding that he only knew of the special allocation when Sen. Jinggoy Estrada exposed the supposed bribery to senators to vote for the impeachment of former Chief Justice Renato Corona.

Revilla and Estrada, along with Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile, are facing plunder charges over the alleged pork barrel scam. Also facing charges over the fund scam were businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles and several former members of Congress and their chiefs of staff.

Revilla said that he will squarely deal with the issue in courts to be able to ultimately clear his name from the "unfounded" accusations.

"Handa ako at haharapin ko ang anumang imbestigasyon upang linisin ko ang aking pangalan sa mga kasinungalingan laban sa akin," Revilla said.

Drilon, Chiz rally behind Noy

Meanwhile, Senate President Franklin Drilon and Senator Francis Escudero urged the public to not be consumed and misled by "black propaganda" by some quarters to diver the pork barrel issue.

"The negative propaganda campaign against the administration steered people’s focus away from the real issue which is corruption in the use of the PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Program) allegedly committed by some lawmakers," Drilon said.

Drilon urged the public to "refocus our consciousness towards ensuring that our justice system will work by punishing and jailing those who pocketed people’s money."

A successful resolution of this case will bring about drastic anti-corruption reforms in government and more importantly, it will purge the government of corrupt officials, the Senate President said.

Drilon lamented that he has also been a subject of a highly-funded vilification campaign to steer the public attention away from those who are implicated in the PDAF scam.

After being linked to Napoles, Drilon said there are efforts to make him appear crooked and corrupt before the public’s eyes.

Escudero said he agrees with Aquino's statement that the government's use of the DAP is legal.

"I agree with PNoy. As I said before, DAP is not illegal. It's a slogan for a spending program in accordance w the current general appropriations act," Escudero said.

Escudero echoed the President's call to "keep our eyes on the ball, so to speak."

He said the real issue right now is "stealing," which he assured is not being committed by the President and members of his administration.

Escudero also said another issue is "accountability," which, he added, is what the government is exacting from allegedly erring legislators.

Lawyer on Bong’s civil suit: He must be dreaming By Aie Balagtas See (The Philippine Star) | Updated November 3, 2013 - 12:00am 0 1 googleplus0 0

MANILA, Philippines - Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr. must be dreaming.

This was how Levito Baligod, counsel for the whistle-blowers in the multibillion-peso pork barrel scam, reacted to Revilla’s filing of a civil suit against some of his clients.

In an interview over radio dzMM, Baligod confirmed reports that Revilla has asked a Cavite court to nullify the accounting records of Benhur Luy and his alleged letters to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), which the agency used to release his pork barrel fund.

Revilla allegedly asked the court to order the whistle-blowers to return about P500 million of his pork barrel, which went to fake non-government organizations (NGOs).

Aside from Luy, the other whistle-blowers were Jocelyn Piorato, Nemesio Pablo, Petronilla Balmaceda and Evelyn de Leon, all former employees in the bogus NGOs of alleged pork scam brains Janet Lim-Napoles.

Baligod said the charges filed by Revilla were baseless.

He said Revilla could not ask the court to nullify Luy’s accounting records, as he was “not even a party to those documents.”

“You can only have a document annulled if you are one of those who prepared it and if you declare that there is an error in it,” he said.

Baligod denied that Luy forged Revilla’s signature so the DBM would release the senator’s fund.

“Why did the DBM release the fund when the signature was fake? It’s not Benhur’s fault and it’s not Benhur who received his letter. Maybe it was his staff who received and processed it,” he said.

The lawyer said the NGOs are not authorized to release or return Revilla’s fund, adding it happened allegedly due to connivance among Revilla, Napoles and some unscrupulous government officials.

He was referring to some officials of the Agrarian Reform and Agriculture departments.

Meanwhile, Revilla’s lawyer said they were trying to prove the senator’s innocence in the pork barrel scam by showing that the documents presented by the whistle-blowers against him were fake.

Joel Bodegon said the civil case against the whistle-blowers was done even before the National Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice filed the complaints against Revilla and 37 others before the Office of the Ombudsman.

The civil case sought to nullify the documents used by the Commission on Audit in its report on the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) for 2007 to 2009.

The report was the basis for the filing of the complaints against Revilla, two other senators and former members of the House of Representatives.

In the civil suit, Revilla claimed that the whistle-blowers forged his signature and that of his senior staff Richard Cambe.

It also asked the court to order the whistle-blowers to return the P500 million that they allegedly took from Revilla’s PDAF.

Bodegon admitted the civil case was meant to prove that the whistle-blowers forged the signatures without Revilla’s knowledge. He said they would use the same argument when they would be called to explain before the ombudsman.

Revilla earlier hired a handwriting expert to go over the documents purportedly containing his signatures.

His camp claimed results of the analysis showed the signatures in the documents were forged.

Bodegon lambasted Baligod for describing the civil case against the whistle-blowers as harassment.

He said Revilla was only trying to show the truth on the issue.

“Now look, who’s talking? Who started all the lies? Who falsified the documents? Who forged signatures? Is it harassment to turn the tables in favor of the truth?” Bodegon said.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved