Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada wants to investigate the misuse of his own pork barrel that the Commission on Audit (COA) says went to a bogus nongovernment organization.
“We need to unmask those who benefited from this scheme,” said Estrada, who himself was linked to payoffs from jueteng operators during the short-lived administration of his father, former President Joseph Estrada.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, who was embroiled in the controversy over turning millions of pesos in maintenance and other operating expenses into gifts last Christmas, is claiming ignorance of the recipient of his pork, also called the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).
Estrada and Enrile were reacting to an Inquirer banner story about a COA report that found some P195 million in PDAF allocations in 2009 and 2010 of four lawmakers—Enrile, Estrada, Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr. and Buhay Rep. Rene Velarde—went to Pangkabuhayan Foundation Inc. (PFI).
The COA said that PFI fabricated documents and forged signatures for the liquidation of the funds and that the PFI president, Petronila A. Balmaceda, could no longer be reached.
Every year, senators are allotted P200 million in PDAF and members of the House of Representatives, P70 million, for their pet projects. The PDAF is a known source of kickbacks for lawmakers.
Quoting news reports, Estrada said ZNAC Rubber Estate Corp. (ZREC) received P106.7 million of his PDAF late in the term of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. ZREC, a government-owned and -controlled corporation, then transferred the money to PFI.
Enrile confirmed the COA report that he identified livelihood projects to be funded by his PDAF in Ilocos Norte, Tawi-Tawi, Sulu and Camiguin but denied that he nominated ZREC and PFI to receive the funds and implement the programs.
“What I designated were the LGUs [local government units]. And I do not know why ZREC had to transfer the money to Pangkabuhayan Foundation whatever that is,” Enrile told the Inquirer.
“At that time, the lawmakers were informed by the agriculture department this NGO was a legitimate organization and that our pork barrel would be used to benefit thousands of farmers,” Estrada said in a statement.
Estrada wanted to find out from former Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap and the ZREC board “why they channeled the taxpayers’ money to this bogus organization.”
“We’ll work with COA and we’ll open our books to get to the bottom of this. I won’t allow my office to be used as a conduit for debauchery, decadence, dishonesty and depravity,” the senator said.
Asked about the agriculture department and ZREC’s role in the use of the four lawmakers’ PDAF, Yap, now a Bohol representative, said: “I do not recall the name of that foundation, but senators and congressmen, then and today, are allowed to endorse coops to undertake projects using their PDAF.
“The recipient coops must account for their usage and liquidate the funds. In this case, the concerned NGOs must be called to account for the funds they received,” he said.
Enrile called on the Department of Agriculture to shed light on the legitimacy of PFI and how his PDAF was spent.
He said he did not nominate either ZREC or PFI to be the recipients of the P74.69 million of his PDAF earmarked for livelihood projects in provinces of his choice in 2009 and 2010.
No second thoughts
“I never heard until [Wednesday] night of ZREC and PFI. I was flabbergasted,” Enrile told the Inquirer, referring to the instance when his reaction to the allocation of his PDAF for the NGO was sought.
Revilla said he identified projects under the agriculture department’s program for Basilan.
“We know the situation in Basilan and in many parts of our country so that when an NGO asks for our help to assist our countrymen, who are caught in the armed conflict in Mindanao, we had no second thoughts about setting aside funds for them, especially since it was the Department of Agriculture that would implement the project,” said Revilla, an actor.
He said the agriculture department and the NGO that received the funds “should explain so that the public would be enlightened as to where the funds allocated by our office in Senate for our poor countrymen in Basilan really went.”
Enrile also confirmed the COA findings that certain documents were forged to make it appear that his office nominated the recipients of PDAF-backed livelihood projects.
“They found in the records certain documents where the signatures had been altered or superimposed… And then as if we nominated them. I have nothing to do with the nomination or dealing with the beneficiaries,” Enrile said.
“To be fair to [the members of my staff], regarding those documents, I don’t think they’ve done a letter like that,” he added.
Among the documents the COA presented for verification from his office, Enrile said, were liquidation reports that he said his office shouldn’t be concerned with.
‘We were not warned’
Enrile also addressed the COA’s reported recommendation that ZREC inform Enrile and the other lawmakers “that PFI should no longer be granted any fund assistance and have it blacklisted.”
“We have never been warned nor have we ever received any such notification from ZREC nor the Department of Agriculture. I have no knowledge of nor any link to PFI, or the one identified as its President, Petronila Balmaceda,” Enrile said.
The Senate President, one of the pillars of the opposition United Nationalist Alliance, called on the COA to release the entire report on the special audit of all the lawmakers’ PDAF from 2008 to 2010 to prevent a “selective disclosure” of the findings that may be used for political ends.
Enrile said COA chairperson Grace Pulido Tan had told him that the special audit “was not directed at the lawmakers but at the implementing agencies.”
Reelectionist Sen. Chiz Escudero said members of the Senate had the responsibility to make the use of their PDAF transparent and relevant.
“I believe members of the Senate, present and future, should adhere to the principles of good governance when it comes to public funds such as our PDAF,” the senator said.
“At the same time, we have a responsibility to protect the integrity and the reputation of the Senate as an institution and as a pillar of our democracy. This should be non-negotiable,” Escudero added.
Former Sen. Ramon Magsaysay Jr. said a thorough probe was necessary “so that we can plug any loopholes in the funding process.”
Magsaysay, chairman of the Senate committee on agriculture that looked into the fertilizer fund scam during the Arroyo administration, said the misuse of the PDAF was inconsistent with President Aquino’s reform program.
“The next Senate should impose stricter penalties on such misuse of taxpayers’ money and uphold transparency and accountability,” said the senatorial candidate of Team PNoy.
Malacañang signified its willingness to help establish liability in the misuse of the PDAF.
At a briefing, presidential spokesmaon Edwin Lacierda said the Aquino administration would cooperate should the Senate investigate the matter.
Lacierda said the Palace would allow members of the Cabinet to appear in the Senate if summoned by senators.
“Well, if the DBM (Department of Budget and Management) will be called in as a witness, they (DBM officials) will, of course, testify in the Senate hearing. But again, it’s up to the Senate if they decide to call for an investigation,” he said.—With reports from Christian Esguerra and Michael Lim Ubac
Whether the heirs of the sultanate of Sulu acted on their own to reclaim Sabah or were instigated by an external force to do so, one thing is certain, according to government intelligence sources: It was a business that proved too big for the heirs to handle on their own.
The sources said that the Philippine government’s policy on Sabah is to keep it in the back burner.
But apparently “some people” want to push it forward now. And why now, at this time, is one of the questions government intelligence is looking into.
The sources consistently mentioned three groups that appear to have taken advantage of the decision of the Kirams to pursue their Sabah claim.
“These are groups that wanted to ride on the Kirams’ pursuit with their own interests in mind,” one of the sources said.
Another source added: “There are a lot who can gain from this, not just in the Philippines but in Malaysia as well.”
These “external factors,” as an Inquirer source described the groups, are one small faction that is in it for the money, an anti-Aquino administration group, and the Malaysian political opposition.
“The Kirams planned to pursue their claim as early as last year. But they went to Lahad Datu also on the instigation of these groups,” the intelligence officer said.
The small group supposedly goaded the Kirams to ask Malaysia for a higher rent on Sabah. If Malaysia gives in, this small group would allegedly have a share of the increase.
The anti-administration group simply wants to discredit President Aquino and is using the peace process as a cause of disenchantment for the Kirams.
“All those who do not like P-Noy (the President’s nickname) have joined forces. This is one way to really test how this administration will react (to such an issue). Whatever happens in Malaysia, there will be a backlash on us,” one source said.
“In a way, whoever wants to disrupt the peace process or the gains of President Aquino has already won,” the source added.
The third group is allegedly the Malaysian political opposition, which is gearing up for general elections that may be called before June.
The intelligence officer said that one member of the Malaysian political opposition allied with Anwar Ibrahim was running for a post in Sabah.
“Apparently, this politician was one of those who spoke with the Kirams. He supposedly gave the opposition’s support to the Kirams’ claim to Sabah,” the source said.
The source also believed that in their meeting in November last year, the Kirams decided to “reclaim Sabah or at least ask for a compensation for Sabah that is commensurate to the land’s value today, and for the royal family to be given due recognition by Malaysia.”
But it is being Tausug that is keeping Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, his family, and their subjects stubbornly pressing their renewed claim to Sabah, even to the extent of defying President Aquino, one of the Inquirer sources said.
“This is the last stand of Sultan Jamalul. Being Tausug, they already gave their word they would pursue their claim. This is now do or die for them just to keep their word of honor,” the source, a senior military officer, told the Inquirer.
But for another security administrator analyzing the events of the past three weeks, the Kirams appear to be quite edgy of late.
“They are confused. The government is hopeful that we can buy more time, find a diplomatic way out,” the source said, referring to the government’s efforts to help settle the standoff between Malaysian security forces and an armed group led by Jamalul’s brother, Agbimuddin Kiram, in Tanduao village in Lahad Datu town now in its third week.
The Inquirer’s sources are from the diplomatic and defense establishments. They asked not to be named as they were not authorized to speak to journalists about their analysis of developments in the so-called journey home to Sabah of the Kirams.
The source said the Kirams decided to unite because they felt left out of the peace negotiations between the Aquino administration and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which signed a premilinary peace deal last October.
Calling gov’t attention
“The Kirams wanted to get the attention of the Philippine government,” the source said.
“For so many years, the family felt they have been exploited in politics. Sultan Jamalul was goaded to run for senator in 2010 but he lost. Then their letter to President Aquino (in 2010 before he assumed office) got lost,” the source said.
The source said the Kirams and their followers “conceived the details of the plan to go to Lahad Datu” in late January this year.
“In February, a small group of the Kirams’ followers left for Lahad Datu, followed by Raja Muda Agbimuddin,” the source said.
The estimated 70 firearms now in the hands of the group holed up in Tanduao are owned by residents in Lahad Datu, Tausug and Badjao holding Malaysian identification cards, the source said.
Malaysian security forces have encircled Agbimuddin’s group but are holding action, with the grace period for the group to leave having been extended three times and a fourth being requested by the Philippine government.
The Inquirer’s military source said the impasse continues because the Malaysians are extra careful in dealing with Agbimmudin’s group.
“They are all Muslims and they know that if there is violence, it would go on forever. There are 800,000 Filipinos in Sabah. It would be a huge problem in Sabah if violence erupts. The Malaysian security forces may end up dealing with guerrillas or a rido,” the source said, using a Muslim term for clan war.
AN OFFICIAL of the Inter-agency Council Against Human Trafficking (Iacat) Davao Region said Wednesday they have yet to receive reports of human trafficking from areas affected by Typhoon Pablo.
Regional prosecutor Antonio Arellano, chair of Iacat, said they have addressed the high possibility of human trafficking incident in Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental provinces, two of the most inflicted areas, after the devastation.
He said he wrote a letter addressed to Chief Superintendent Jaime H. Morente, director of the Police Regional Office (PRO), through its task force leader for human trafficking Supt. Federico Dulay, relaying the need for "enhanced preventive measures" against human trafficking.
"With the concrete destruction brought by the typhoon, residents will be primarily dependent with the LGU (local government unit). In these trying times, they are very vulnerable to exploitation and abuse," he said in the same letter.
He said they can detect and address this problem, but the dilemma is now on the means of transportation.
"The danger is more on the possibility that they will be brought out of the region to other areas by land and even by air. And you cannot stop this people as far as domestic travel is concerned because there is a freedom to travel as far as our law is concerned," Arellano told Sun.Star Davao.
He said they are coordinating with the counterparts in Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Armm) and Zamboanga Peninsula, especially in Zamboanga and Sulu.
"We also send our task force in evacuation centers where they conduct lectures to the victims informing them of the dangers of the possibilities of human trafficking and its nature," he said.
The lectures have been conducted in Compostela Valley, particularly in New Bataan.
Bernardo Mondragon, executive director of Child Alert, earlier said victims of Typhoon Pablo will become more vulnerable to human trafficking as demand for food increases in the areas.
He said traffickers find disaster areas perfect for human trafficking due to loss of income and livelihood of the residents.
"That's always the case during calamity because the traffickers think the place itself provides supply for trafficking," Mondragon said.
Mondragon said victims are vulnerable since their initial priority is to find ways to have food, clothing, shelter and other basic needs for the family. Worse, because vast farmlands were destroyed, this means thousands are not only homeless but have also lost their source of livelihood.
MANILA, Philippines – The Supreme Court affirmed Tuesday the legality of the contract awarding the compact flash contract to Smartmatic which will be used in the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines.
In its ruling, the high court dismissed the petition filed by LDLA Marketing for lack of jurisdiction.
The high court said petitioners should have followed the procedure stated under Republic Act 9184 or the Government Procurement Act and its Implementing Rules and Regulations.
Under the law, the disqualified or losing bidder should file a motion for reconsideration with the Bids and Awards Committee, in case of denial, file a protest with the Head of the Procuring Entity (HOPE), in this case, the Comelec Chairperson or the Comelec en banc.
“It is only after the HOPE has resolved the protest that the bidder may resort to the regular courts under Section 58 of RA 9184,” the high court explained.
Section 58 provides that “Court action may be resorted to only after the protests contemplated in this Article shall have been completed. Cases that are filed in violation of the process specified in this Article shall be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. The regional trial court shall have jurisdiction over final decision of the head of the procuring entity…”
Petitioner LDLA did not avail of the remedies provided by the law and under existing jurisprudence, the court is without jurisdiction to hear the petition because “compliance with the mandatory protest mechanisms of the law is jurisdictional in character.”
Smartmatic got the contract for transmission modems as the sole bidder, while it got the contracts for transmission services and the CF cards through negotiated contracts after failed biddings.
BACOLOD CITY—The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has ordered the Diocese of Bacolod to remove the tarpaulin hanging at San Sebastian Cathedral, which identifies the senatorial candidates whom the faithful should support and reject for their stance on the reproductive health (RH) law.
Mavil Majarucon-Sia, Bacolod election officer, said the tarpaulin, which was 6 feet by 10 feet, violated the election law that limits the size of campaign posters.
The allowable size is only 2 feet by 3 feet, she added.
He said he has sent a notice to Bacolod Bishop Vicente Navarra to remove the tarpaulin by today (Monday) or the Comelec would take it down.
“The bishop told us he would comply,” she said.
But Fr. Felix Pasquin, rector of San Sebastian Cathedral, said Sunday Navarra had the matter studied by their lawyer and they were seeking a definitive opinion from the Comelec legal department on the matter.
“The tarpaulin is on private property and is an expression of their moral stand against the RH law. It should not be classified as campaign material,” he said.
Pasquin said the “Team Patay”/“Team Buhay” tarpaulin on the right side of the church’s facade is an answer to the tarpaulin they earlier put up on the left side calling for the junking of the RH law that bares a quotation from Acts 5:29 that says, “We must obey God rather than men.”
The Diocese of Bacolod identified seven senatorial candidates whom they tagged as members of “Team Patay” and asked the faithful not to support them for voting in favor of the RH law.
They were Juan Edgardo Angara, Francis Escudero, Loren Legarda, Alan Peter Cayetano, Risa Hontiveros, Teddy Casiño and Jack Enrile.
Partylist groups Gabriela, Bayan Muna, Akbayan and Anak Pawis are also on the “Team Patay” list.
The six senatorial candidates that the Diocese of Bacolod identified as prolife, or as members of “Team Buhay” for voting against the RH law, are Joseph Victor Ejercito-Estrada, Antonio Trillanes, Gregorio Honasan, Mitos Magsaysay, Koko Pimentel and Cynthia Villar.
- See more at: http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/364351/diocese-ordered-to-remove-team-patay-list#sthash.z8pUyDeA.dpuf