Budget officials in the Arroyo administration identified P200 million in savings, channeled it through the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) and designated as beneficiaries farmers in 40 municipalities but the amount allegedly ended up being administered by seven nongovernment organizations controlled by Janet Lim-Napoles, the Inquirer has learned.
The Inquirer obtained the Saro, or special allotment release order, E-07-09283 for the P200-million agrarian reform fund disbursed in 2007 and 2008 that could prove crucial in the ongoing investigation by a five-member Ombudsman panel.
A source from the DAR said that the document would prove that the agency and its officials’ role in the fund scam were ministerial as they had no say in the amount, the source and the beneficiaries of the program except to sign the documents.
Even then Budget Secretary and now Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr. and Undersecretary Mario Relampagos found the document “highly irregular” considering that the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) did not usually give out Saros with the intended beneficiaries.
In a four-page document dated Dec. 4, 2007, addressed to then Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman, Andaya wrote: “Please be advised of the release of (Saro) amounting to (P200,000,000.00)… to cover fund support to agribusiness development under CARP (Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program), in various municipalities, nationwide as shown in Annex A, consisting of two pages beginning with Aleria, Surigiao del Norte, and ending with Calvier, Surigao del Norte.”
In the Saro, the P200 million was classified as additional program funds to be generated by overall savings from the 2007 budget. The DAR Central Office was also named as the implementing agency.
“Even now, (the DBM) cannot implement a project allocation for funding without the request of the implementing agency, which is responsible for auditing or making sure the projects are fully implemented. We don’t usually give Saros with breakdowns like that. That is highly irregular,” Andaya said in a phone interview.
Based on requesting agency
Relampagos insisted that the DBM did not issue Saros like the P200 million DAR allocation. “The Saro is based on the requesting agency, the request for funding. On our own, we cannot do that,” he said.
Andaya said he checked with official records of the DBM and found out that the only Saro signed that month had only one page. He said that Relampagos signed the document. “That is the signature of Mario as confirmed by him. Bar code attached after signing.
He said the budget was allocated to the DAR during a Cabinet-level meeting. He does not know how the document, which served as the basis for the release of the P200 million for the Napoles NGOs, was faked. He said that he himself would like to know how these things were manipulated.
Andaya said it was not true that an implementing agency had no choice when given a Saro because it also had the option not to spend it.
The 40 town beneficiaries that were given allocations of P5 million each were in Talacogon, Jbonga, Tubay in Agusan del Norte; Sta. Josefa, San Agustin, Esperanza, San Luis, Bunawan and Veruela, in Agusan del Sur; Bacuag, Gigaquit, San Benito, Burgos, San Francisco, Tubajon, Claver, Aleria and Socorro in Surigao del Norte; Bayabas, Lianga, San Miguel, Marihatag, Madrid and Cagwait in Surigao del Sur; Divilacan and Tumauini in Isabela; Doña Remedios Trinidad and Marilao in Bulacan; Esperanza in Masbate; Rosales and Mapandan in Pangasinan; Amadeo in Cavite; Barauen in Leyte; Pitogo in Zamboanga del Sur; Talusan in Zamboanga Sibugay; San Jose in Batangas; Sanchez Mira and Piat in Cagayan Valley.
Each town was supposed to be given 130 agricultural supplies packages (seeds, farming tools, and ergonomic knapsack sprayer) valued by the NGO at P36,558 each.
The Ombudsman panel is currently investigating the charges filed by its Field Investigation Office (FIO), which named as defendants Agrarian Reform Secretary Pangandaman, Undersecretary Narciso Nieto, Director Teresita Panlilio, chief accountant Angelita Cacananta, budget officer Ronald Venancio, cashier Nilda Baui, three notaries public, three certified public accountants, and 24 private individuals led by pork scam whistle-blower Benhur Luy.
The DAR officials have been charged with grave misconduct, conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service, gross neglect of duty and serious dishonesty.
In its report, the FIO said the “projects appeared to have been delivered to certain municipalities in Cagayan, Pangasinan, Cavite, Dinagat Island, Surigao del Norte, Surigao del Sur, Agusan del Norte and Agusan del Sur, but whose supposed beneficiaries denied having signed or received anything.”
The seven NGOs implicated in the scam are Philippine Agri and Social Economic Development Foundation, Agri and Economic Program for Farmers Foundation, Agricultura para sa Magbubukid Foundation, Social Development Program for Farmers Foundation, People’s Organization for Progress and Development Foundation, Masaganang Ani para sa Magsasaka Foundation, Countrywide Agri and Rural Economic Development Foundation.
Luy, the principal whistle-blower who was a former personal assistant of Napoles, has claimed that these NGOs were controlled by his boss, who has flatly denied having any interest in these organizations and any dealings with the government.