Former Sen. Panfilo Lacson said a “representative” of the Department of Agriculture once offered him a P3.5-million “commission” if he signed a prepared letter authorizing the agency to use his name in using P5 million from its own budget.
Lacson would not state categorically whether the amount was part of the so-called congressional insertions in the budgets of various departments, a source of kickbacks for lawmakers.
Lacson, who was then a junior senator, said the offer took place just before the P728-million fertilizer fund scandal rocked the agriculture department after the 2004 presidential election.
He said he did not talk personally to the representative who appeared hesitant to approach him when the person came to his office in 2003.
During his two terms in the Senate, Lacson was known for not using his P200-million Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), a pork barrel, allotted yearly to each senator.
Members of the House of Representatives, on the other hand, are each entitled to P70 million in PDAF every year.
A pork barrel is a fund set aside in the annual general appropriations act for the pet projects of legislators. It is a source of kickbacks for lawmakers.
By contrast, congressional insertions are funds of a specific department that are already integrated in its annual budget. Senators and members of the House are allowed by law to use the insertions and PDAF for projects they identify.
Lacson said there had been cases when lawmakers held meetings on the side during budget deliberations in either the Senate or the House where they haggle with department representatives over the amount of insertions they would be authorized to identify for a specific fiscal year.
Still more bribes
Lacson said the P1.5-million balance that would remain once he was supposed to get his P3.5 million in kickbacks from the agriculture department was meant for “clearing” operations that involved still more bribes, this time to individuals in the Commission on Audit (COA) and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).
The senator said he later learned from his staff that copies of the pro forma authorization letter that the representative carried had already been signed by “at least” four of his colleagues at the time.
Lacson said some of his colleagues had left the Senate while others were still incumbents.
Some of those who signed the pro forma letter received up to P10 million each in kickbacks, he said.
Lacson used the words “senador … at senadora” in describing during a radio interview Sunday the other lawmakers who received kickbacks.
He said he took the copy of the pro forma letter given to his office and brandished it during a privilege speech he delivered soon after the bribe offer of P3.5 million was made.
Some senators who interpellated him, he said, took the cudgels for the agriculture department, saying the agency would not make such an offer.
Lacson stuck to his guns during the radio interview. He said the P1.5-million balance to be taken from the agriculture department’s budget would still be divided further.
“The way it was explained, the P1.5 million was really needed for clearing because other individuals needed to be paid. At that time, even the COA was part of the syndicate. Two percent goes to COA to facilitate the process, and the DBM also needs to be fixed to release the funds,” he said in Filipino.
He said it was a big syndicate in the government and the ultimate victim was the taxpayer.
“I know that at least four senators at the time received kickbacks. Some received P10 million and others P5 million,” he told dzBB radio anchor Nimfa Ravelo.
He said it was clearly a ghost project.
Lacson said he could not recall encountering the name of Janet Lim Napoles, touted as the head of JLN Group of Companies that allegedly converted billions of pesos of pork barrel into kickbacks.
Earlier reports said the JLN group was able to convince legislators to part with their PDAF for projects supervised by nongovernment organizations connected with it.
Reports also said the JLN group used part of the Malampaya funds (revenue from the gas fields off Palawan) and the fertilizer funds supposedly distributed by the Department of Agriculture.
Lacson said that when the Senate was investigating the fertilizer scam, he and other senators were too focused on then Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn “Jocjoc” Bolante who was accused of following orders of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to use the allocation for her 2004 presidential campaign.
Give up pork
At one point, Lacson reiterated his position that all legislators should do away with their PDAF and other forms of pork barrel to liberate themselves from the perception that all lawmakers were pocketing their pork barrel.
“A legislator has a choice between self-respect and aggrandizement. Why don’t you just preserve your self-respect so people won’t even think that you enjoy commissions?” he said.
Lacson urged the National Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice to continue their probe of reports that the JLN group had gypped the government of about P10 billion in various forms of pork barrel through the use of NGOs.
“As far as I know, only government agencies are allowed to receive pork barrel. An NGO is a private entity,” he said.
“Maybe an NGO can supervise but the implementing agency in the case of pork barrel should still be the office of the mayor or governor of the area where the pork barrel is being used,” Lacson said.