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De Lima invites 97 mayors to shed light on P900M fund scam

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Justice Secretary Leila de Lima. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said Monday 97 mayors had been summoned to shed light on allegations P900 million from the Malampaya gas fund intended to rehabilitate towns and cities ravaged by Storms “Ondoy” and “Pepeng” in 2009 went to Janet Lim-Napoles, the alleged brains behind a P10-billion pork barrel scam.

De Lima made the announcement after a daylong meeting in the National Bureau of Investigation with Benhur Luy and Merlina Suñas, two of six former Napoles workers who had accused their employer of channeling state funds into ghost projects purportedly implemented by dummy nongovernment organizations (NGOs).

She said that Luy and Suñas told her that money from the Malampaya fund, coursed through the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), to help beneficiaries of the government’s land-to-the-tiller program “all went” to Napoles, who has denied any wrongdoing.

“The whistle-blowers confirm the accuracy of the list of 97 mayors published by the Inquirer whose signatures were forged by JLN employees, making it appear that the mayors had requested and benefited from the P900 million secured by Napoles when the truth is, according to the whistle-blowers, no funds were released to the mayors, since the P900 million all went to Napoles/JLN,” De Lima said.

DAR probe

Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes said Monday that his agency started its probe into the Malampaya fund as early as November last year after a team from the Commission on Audit (COA) found that at least two former mayors did not receive agricultural packages from the fund intended for their towns.

He identified the mayors as Ramon Tinawi of Hingyon town in Ifugao and Allen Jesse Mangaoang of Balbalan, Kalinga. He said the two former mayors in a letter to the COA denied knowledge of the project and claimed that their signatures were forged in the documents pertaining to it.

Based on the COA report, P300 million of the P900-million Malampaya fund was released to the Ilocos region to fund support services for agrarian reform communities and help them recover from Ondoy and Pepeng. They were supposed to get “farm initiative production kits.”

De los Reyes said the largest chunk of the amount went to Pangasinan—P180 million for Urdaneta City and the towns of Rosales, Natividad, Mapandan, Mangaldan, San Nicolas, Umingan, Balungao, Alcala, Sual, San Quintin, Sta. Maria, San Manuel, Tayug, San Jacinto, Asingan and Binmaley.

Other towns that supposedly received P10 million each out of the Malampaya fund included Banna, Pagudpud, Bacarra, Paoay, Pasuquin, Solsona, Vintar, Sinait, Marcos and San Nicolas in Ilocos Norte; Bagulin and Tubao in La Union; and Pulilan in Bulacan.

‘They know a lot’

De Lima said in text messages to reporters that the NBI had been interviewing the whistle-blowers and completing supporting documents. She said she talked to Luy shortly after he was rescued by the NBI from allegedly being illegally detained by Napoles.

“From what he and Suñas have disclosed so far to the NBI, and to me, I can tell you now that they know a lot,” she said.

The NBI, she said, was working double time “to complete a substantial part of the probe so we can release a report and file charges.”

Suñas, president of the dummy NGO People’s Organization for Progress, earlier told the Inquirer that she had been tasked by Napoles as the coordinator in the DAR for the Malampaya fund project.

She said there were no deliveries from the Malampaya fund because checks in the names of the NGOs were withdrawn three days after their issuance and deposited in Napoles’s bank accounts.

No idea on commissions

As coordinator, Suñas said she was assigned to prepare the documents for the whole project, including the letters of the mayors asking for assistance addressed to then Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman.

Suñas said all the tripartite agreement documents she prepared bore the name of then Assistant Agrarian Reform Secretary Narciso Nieto as signatory representing the DAR.

“My role was limited to the preparation of the documents. How much was the commission or share of other parties, I have no idea,” she said when asked if she knew how much commission government officials got, if any.

The NGO heads’ and Nieto’s signatures were genuine, but the local government officials’ signatures were forged,” Suñas said.

She said all the letters of requests and the agreement documents were given to Napoles, who personally took them to the DAR. “We knew the transaction came through when we started to withdraw the money of the NGOs on orders of Napoles,” she said.

Pangandaman and Nieto were not immediately available for comment.

Originally posted: 8:02 pm | Monday, August 12th, 2013

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Tags: Benhur Luy , Crime , Department of Justice , DoJ , Graft and Corruption , Janet Lim Napoles , Justice , law , Leila de Lima , Malampaya fund scam , Malampaya Gas Fund , Merlina Suñas , PDAF , Philippines , Pork barrel , pork barrel scam

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