NGO with P195-M pork can’t even pay P9,000 rent

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The mysterious nongoverment organization (NGO) that was the alleged recipient of millions of pesos in pork barrel funds apparently cannot even afford to pay the monthly rental on its tiny office space in Quezon City.

The Pangkabuhayan Foundation Inc.’s (PFI) 15-square-meter office on the mezzanine floor of D&E Building at the corner of Roces and Quezon Avenues has been padlocked since January for nonpayment of the P9,000 monthly rental, the administrator of the property said.

“We padlocked their office because they were not able to comply with the lease contract,” said Benjie Garcia, administrator of D&E Realty Dev’t Corp.

He said PFI first entered into a one-year contract with D&E in the “latter part of 2011,” which it renewed in 2012.

“They said they were an NGO that was assisting farmers in the provinces. They would often entertain visitors but usually only one staffer or messenger was manning the office,” Garcia said.

“Whenever we would follow up on the rent, they would say they are just a foundation and they don’t have a regular source of funds except donors,” he said.

“Toward the latter part of 2012, they were no longer able to settle their obligations and they stopped showing up at the office altogether,” Garcia said.

10 months unpaid rent

The NGO still owes its landlord some P100,000 for 10 months of unpaid rent, plus interest computed at 2 percent a month.

The PFI has become the center of a burgeoning scandal when it emerged that the little-known NGO was the recipient of some P195 million in pork barrel funds, or the priority development assistance fund (PDAF), from three incumbent senators and a former congressman.

Sources of funds

The Commission on Audit (COA) report identified Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada, Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr. and former Buhay Rep. Rene Velarde as the sources of the P206 million in pork barrel funds earmarked for the Department of Agriculture that was released in several tranches in 2009 and 2010.

Of the amount, P201 million was turned over by the agriculture department to  ZNAC Rubber Estate Corp., a government-owned and -controlled corporation, which in turn transferred P194.97 million to PFI.

Bohol Rep. Arthur Yap, who was agriculture secretary when the funds were supposedly funneled to PFI, said he was not familiar with the name of the foundation.

But he pointed out that it was the practice of  senators and congressmen, during his time and up to now, to endorse to the agriculture department the entities, whether cooperatives or NGOs, whose projects are to be funded by their pork barrel.

“But the recipient cooperatives must account for their usage and liquidate the funds,” Yap said.

“In this case, the concerned NGO must be called to account for the funds they received,” he said.

Kickbacks

The PDAF, a known source of kickbacks for lawmakers, funds pet projects of members of Congress. A senator is entitled to P200 million in PDAF every year while a congressional representative receives P70 million.

Senatorial candidates of the administration’s Team PNoy on Friday expressed support for Enrile’s call for the COA to release in full its audit report on the lawmakers’ use of pork barrel funds to dispel any suspicion of selective disclosure meant to target opposition figures.

“I think it would be good. It should be impartial, complete, transparent,” said former Sen. Ramon Magsaysay Jr., who chaired the Senate committee on agriculture that investigated then Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn Bolante and other Arroyo administration officials for the multimillion-peso alleged fertilizer fund scam.

“Anything that has to do with public funds must be made wide open,” Magsaysay told reporters after a campaign rally in Candaba, Pampanga, on Friday.

However, outgoing Sen. Panfilo Lacson, an ally of President Benigno Aquino III, said calling for the release of the full COA report might be superfluous as “all COA reports can be seen on their website, www.coa.gov.ph.”

Doubtful Senate probe

The administration camp also cast doubt on a Senate inquiry into the lawmakers’ use of pork barrel funds.

Team PNoy campaign manager Sen. Franklin Drilon said the probe could be portrayed as a witch-hunt by the rival United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), as an inquiry can  be conducted only during the congressional recess by the blue ribbon committee, which is chaired by Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, a member of the ruling Liberal Party.

“Only the blue ribbon is authorized to conduct an investigation on its own without a resolution or a bill being filed,” Drilon said.

Reelectionist Sen. Francis Escudero, the chair of the Senate committee on justice and human rights, said an investigation by another body would be better since a Senate inquiry could be viewed as an “investigate yourself situation.”

“It might be better if it is looked into by another or more independent body so that if the Senate and the senators are cleared, it will be more credible,” he said.

Lacson said it might be best that the Office of the Ombudsman conducts a fact-finding investigation and expands its coverage to include all possible anomalies in the use of the PDAF of all members of both houses of Congress, including officials in charge of the implementation of the projects being funded by lawmakers’ pork barrel.

Quiet operations

Asked for a copy of PFI’s lease contract with D&E and the name of the person representing the NGO, Garcia declined, saying he felt his company should still protect its former tenant. But he clarified that D&E’s relationship with PFI was limited to that of lessor and lessee.

Since the tenant had installed its own locks, he said the management had not attempted to enter the premises. And it had padlocked the door to prevent anyone from entering.

Garcia, however, said D&E was willing to open the office to any government investigative body looking for evidence “for as long as it is legal.”

Until the PFI staff stopped going to the office, PFI had operated quietly, usually with only one staff member entertaining any visitors who came calling, said D&E accountant Vicky Monserrat.

“We didn’t really pry into their affairs but we didn’t find anything suspicious in their operations,” she said.

Monserrat said a staff member even gave her brochures and pamphlets detailing the NGO’s activities in providing livelihood to farmers. “I even helped them distribute some of the brochures,” she said.

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