Senatorial candidate sees link between 2 scams
Jun Magsaysay likens recent NGO anomaly to past fertilizer fund messBy Cathy Yamsuan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Has anyone noticed the similarities between the misuse of certain senators’ pork barrel that was revealed recently and the infamous fertilizer fund scam that rocked the previous Arroyo administration?
Ramon Magsaysay Jr., a former senator and now a candidate again for the upper chamber, apparently has.
Magsaysay, now running under the administration Team PNoy coalition, said his former job as chair of the Senate agriculture committee required him to investigate then Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn “Jocjoc” Bolante for the alleged diversion of P728 million in fertilizer funds to the 2004 campaign of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Magsaysay noted “the glaring pattern of the abuse of farmers’ fund(s)” that linked the two cases.
Recently, the Commission on Audit (COA) came out with a report that said P195 million in the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada, Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr. and a former congressman, Buhay party-list Rep. Rene Velarde, went to a “questionable” private foundation.
The amount was part of the P201 million in PDAF or pork barrel allocated to the Department of Agriculture (DA) that was released to ZNAC Rubber Estate Corp. (ZREC), a government corporation that in turn transferred the P195 million to Pangkabuhayan Foundation Inc. (PFI).
ZREC was reported to be involved in commercial crop production, particularly rubber. The COA report required ZREC to return P162 million to the government “due to fabricated documents and forged signatures it submitted for the liquidation of funds received.”
Coursed through DA
Magsaysay said the COA’s suspicion that the senators’ pork barrel ended up with a fake nongovernment organization recalled the 2004 fertilizer fund scam in which a number of the eventual recipients of public funds were bogus NGOs.
The COA said the senators’ PDAF that was allocated to the agriculture department was released in several batches in 2009 and 2010.
“Both fund fiascoes (were) coursed through the DA and channeled to bogus NGOs. In the 2005 case, there were several NGOs and even private entities that were found to have participated in…a grand agricultural theft,” he said.
Same modus operandi
“We should not dismiss the possibility of dealing with the same set of perpetrators since it appears that the same scheme was used, the layering of fund distributions. So it’s possible that some of those in the know of the fertilizer fund scam could have employed the same modus operandi four or five years after,” Magsaysay said.
“While we have yet to fully account for the crooks who ripped off our poor farmers of their share in the farm subsidy program in 2004, we’re dealing with another mismanagement of government funds. It will not come as a surprise if the COA would be able to uncover more in the days to come,” he added.
Magsaysay said he supported suggestions for a Senate investigation. However, he pointed out that a probe that did not involve senators would be more proper.
“I would be more vigilant in requesting the Sandiganbayan to decide on the pending case submitted by the Ombudsman on the fertilizer fund scam,” he said.
Agriculture panel chair
It will be recalled that Magsaysay as Senate agriculture chairman led the inquiry into the fertilizer fund scam.
He said that government funds meant for the purchase of fertilizer to be distributed to farmers were allegedly diverted to Arroyo’s campaign kitty in the 2004 presidential election.
Apart from Arroyo and Bolante, also implicated in the Senate probe were then Agriculture Secretary Luis Lorenzo Jr. and Assistant Secretary Ibarra Poliquit.
All four are facing plunder charges in the Sandiganbayan.
“The mismanagement of the fertilizer fund was novel in its method and astounding in its shamelessness. The fertilizer fund was a premeditated, systematic and grand agricultural theft,” Magsaysay said, referring to what his committee report said on the matter.
He said Bolante was the architect of the fertilizer fund scam.
“The unexplained, hurried flight and absence of Bolante from almost all public hearings of the Senate betrayed a guilty conscience. He was eventually caught in the United States and the rest is history,” Magsaysay said.