(PHILSTAR) - President Aquino will fully disclose the utilization of his own pork barrel or lump sum funds under his discretion.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Aquino said he was open to itemizing allocations for his office to prove that he was not misusing public money.

“We are open, but did you notice that no one was saying there was misuse of the President’s Social Fund?” he said. “But it’s being asked to be scrapped. You don’t understand the logic there.”

Following the 8th East Asia Conference on Competition Law and Policy at Sofitel Philippine Plaza in Pasay City, Aquino said he was open to proposals to itemize the Special Purpose Fund and the President’s Social Fund.

“I will ask the PMS (Presidential Management Staff) where the (PSF) was spent over the three years that I have served as President and how much the funds had grown because we had been prudent and careful in spending that,” he said.

Aquino said the PSF was presently being spent for policemen and soldiers wounded or killed in battle to transport them back to their families and to provide assistance to the families left behind, especially if they were the sole breadwinners.

The PSF was also the source of funds for the education of fallen policemen and soldiers, and that some medical assistance for people were also coming from his social funds, he added.

Aquino said the Malampaya Fund can also be itemized, and that he would also show the public how it was spent. The law mandates that the Malampaya Fund be used only for energy or energy-related programs and projects, he added.

Aquino said energy-related projects would include electrification and protection of energy assets for the Navy, the Coast Guard and the Air Force.

“Part of the fund can also be used to upgrade (or) help in the modernization (of the military),” he said.

Aquino said the Malampaya Fund was also tapped to solve power woes in Mindanao and could be used for bridge financing for cooperatives to provide generator sets.

“Again, I am very strict on insisting that when it’s Malampaya, it must be used on energy or energy-related purposes,” he said.

Aquino said he sees no problem if the funds would be itemized so long as it would not be too specific.

“A few weeks ago, they were saying (the budget) was too itemized, now it seems to be lacking in itemization,” he said. “So you be the judge as to what is really being said. But again, aside from the Calamity Fund, for instance, (the rest can be itemized).”

Aquino said lump sum allocations like the Calamity Fund are needed because they could not predict calamities or disasters.

“You should really have standby funds to respond to the disasters that will come,” he said.

In a statement, the Department of Budget and Management denied reports that allocations for Priority Development Assistance Fund “more than doubled” under the Aquino Administration.

In 2011, the Aquino administration consolidated both “soft” and “hard” projects under the PDAF.

The VILP (various infrastructure and local projects) is still an item in the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH)’s budget but this fund no longer includes congressional allocations.

It facilitated efficiency in the management of congressional allocations for socio-economic programs and better transparency and accountability in the use of PDAF.

It was also designed to curb the common practice of so-called “congressional insertions” where legislators lobbied with agencies for the inclusion of more projects in their districts during budget deliberations.

Secretary Herminio Coloma of the Presidential Communications Office told The STAR in Davao City the administration is set to embark on a nationwide

information campaign on the budget process to make the people more vigilant in ensuring that public money is not misused.

“We want to promote greater awareness among our people, not only about PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund) and other discretionary funds,” he said. “We are willing to do this through the Philippine Information Agency. In that way people will be more aware, vigilant and they will be active in monitoring how government money is spent.”

Coloma said government might take steps similar to India where the budget minister comes up with an annual message with regard to their national budget. – Aurea Calica, Edith Regalado

I learned from Palparan mistake—Aquino By Nikko Dizon, TJ Burgonio Philippine Daily Inquirer 2:46 am | Saturday, August 31st, 2013

FULL BATTLE GEAR Heavily armed members of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology guard the entrance of Makati City Jail where Janet Lim-Napoles is detained pending her court-ordered transfer to Laguna. RAFFY LERMA

President Benigno Aquino III said he received Janet Lim-Napoles in Malacañang to accept her surrender and offered to take her to Camp Crame to “impress on everyone” that he wanted her “alive.”

It was a gamble, the President said, explaining that he was aware of how the people felt about the pork barrel scam allegedly masterminded by Napoles.

But he said he did not want to repeat the mistake he believed he had made in the case of former Army Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, who went into hiding after Mr. Aquino ignored his surrender feelers last year.

Wanted for the forced disappearance in 2006 of University of the Philippines students Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan, Palparan has not been found despite the P2-million reward the government is offering for his arrest.

“Part of the decision was Palparan’s case. He insisted that he had to talk to me first before he submitted. I said, ‘Why would you make demands? You have a warrant of arrest that you have to face.’ I refused to meet him. [Had I] met him, I wouldn’t be looking for him now,” Mr. Aquino said.

Grabbing the chance

“In this (Napoles) case, we already have a chance (to get her). So I grabbed it,” he said.

Speaking in an interview with Inquirer editors and reporters on Thursday night after addressing a gathering of Asean newspaper editors hosted by the Inquirer at its main office in Makati City, Mr. Aquino said the government did not ask Napoles to serve as state witness in exchange for security, as critics of his action on Wednesday night implied.

Napoles claimed there was a grave threat to her life, presumably from some people involved in the pork barrel scam.

According to presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, Napoles’ lawyer Lorna Kapunan told him that the businesswoman wanted to surrender to the President because she trusted him.

The businesswoman allegedly connived with lawmakers to divert P10 billion from their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to her bank accounts and their commissions through bogus nongovernment organizations over the last 10 years.

She allegedly used the same trick to siphon off P900 million in Malampaya gas funds into her bank accounts.

If true, the threat to Napoles could be coming from some of the lawmakers or former government officials who amassed ill-gotten wealth through her racket.

Defending his decision to go with the group taking Napoles to police headquarters in Camp Crame on Wednesday night, Mr. Aquino said, “I really wanted to impress on, not only the people I was ordering, but even their subordinates, how serious I was in keeping this person alive so that she could serve the ends of justice.”

“The important thing is that she is now in custody,” the President added.

For good measure, the President himself checked the room at the police headquarters where Napoles would be held for the night.

“The way we look at it, people who are involved who might want to hide their tracks would be one group,” the President said. “There has to be another group that wants to provide an issue that they could exploit as some people would like to exploit the (Million People March against the pork barrel on Monday).

There are many quarters, you don’t know. At the end of the day I keep telling everybody I was giving instructions to, if something happens to this person, there is no valid explanation. We will be hard put to explain.”

Closer to truth

Mr. Aquino said Napoles’ becoming a state witness would depend on determination of whether she was the least guilty.
“She has to meet the criteria of not being the most guilty,” the President said.

The same criteria would be applied even if she agreed to cooperate and squeal on the people who had conspired with her to steal state funds, Mr. Aquino said.

“We go back to whether she’s not the most guilty,” he said.

But in every step “anything she says that has value to tie up the whole story” would be evaluated by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and state prosecutors, the President said.

“Definitely she’s a witness. Is she going to be a cooperative witness? That’s the question,” he said.

But whether she tells the truth or lies to investigators and in court, her statements will bring the public “closer to the truth” behind the scam, Mr. Aquino said.

“If she says the truth in its entirety, that will fast-track the process. If [she lies, the truth] will come out in the cross-examination, [and that will nail] her further and get you closer to the truth,” he said.

Plunder charges

The National Bureau of Investigation, which is looking into the scam, is expected to bring plunder charges against Napoles and her coconspirators, possibly lawmakers, in two weeks.

Napoles and her brother Reynald Lim disappeared on Aug. 14 after being ordered arrested by a Makati City court for the illegal detention of Benhur Luy, the principal witness in the pork barrel scam.

Mr. Aquino said Lim was also ready to surrender to the police.

The President also dismissed insinuations that Napoles could have contributed to his campaign for Malacañang in 2010.
“I don’t know her. Why would she help?” he said.

Mr. Aquino said the public could check the Liberal Party’s report on campaign contributors in 2010 with the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

Comelec’s concern

Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes said on Friday that the commission was checking its records to see if Napoles had given contributions to any politician’s campaign.

“We’re just checking our records, since it’s all over the news now,” Brillantes said.

“She appears to be close to several politicians so we want to know if she contributed to anyone of them or not,” he said.
But the Comelec’s concern, he said, is not where the politicians and the contributors got their funds, but whether the contributions have been reported to the election watchdog.

“Did the candidates or the donors file the necessary documents for donations? Even the contributors should have filed reports,” Brillantes said.

He said politicians who failed to include contributions in their election expenditures report could be held liable for perjury.
There were also claims that Napoles had given the ruling Liberal Party at least P10 million for last May’s midterm elections, but Lacierda denied the party received a contribution from her.

April 17 letter

Mr. Aquino confirmed that Napoles’ April 17 letter denying allegations of her involvement in the pork barrel scam reached his office.

He said that by the time the letter reached his office, he had already been apprised of Luy’s kidnapping and the implication of certain personages in the scam.

He said he directed De Lima to refer the matter to the NBI.

As for Napoles’ alleged ties to Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., Mr. Aquino admitted that the MOST law firm, of which Ochoa is a founding partner, initially served as lawyers for Napoles in the kidnapping case but eventually withdrew from it.

“The way [Ochoa] explained it to me, she was a walk-in client. When [Ochoa] learned they had accepted her as a client, knowing fully well the issues involved—and he can’t be an active partner—he advised them to withdraw their services,” Mr. Aquino said.

MOST stands for the first letter of the last names of the law firm’s lead partners—Lisa Araneta Marcos (wife of Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.), Ochoa, Edward Serapio and Joseph Tan. Ochoa is on leave from the firm.

According to Aquino, Ochoa had handled legal matters for him long before he became part of MOST.

Five senators—Ramon Revilla Jr., Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, Gregorio Honasan and Marcos—and 23 congressmen have been implicated in the pork barrel scam.

Like Napoles, the legislators have denied any wrongdoing.

Benefit of the doubt

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales declined to comment yesterday on Mr. Aquino’s alleged help for Napoles, but said she was giving Napoles the benefit of the doubt.

“Let’s give Janet Napoles the benefit of the doubt that she only trusted the President because maybe she feared she would be exterminated by those she might hurt along the way and probably she knew the President would see to it that everything would be fair,” Morales said at a forum kicking off the Office of the Ombudsman’s 25th anniversary celebration.

Morales is a member of an interagency council investigating the pork barrel scam. With reports from Dona Z. Pazzibugan and Michael Lim Ubac

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved