Ex-congressman got P3B in porkBy Gil C. Cabacungan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
A legislator reputed to be one of the poorest congressmen was given P3.114 billion in pork barrel allocations between 2007 and 2009. Another P20 billion went to a supposed Metro Manila representative who was not even listed as a member of either the 13th or 14th Congress.
A special audit of the Commission on Audit (COA) has revealed that at least 74 legislators exceeded their annual allocations of P70 million for representatives and P200 million for senators and showed a glaring failure to protect the people’s money as legislators wantonly allocated funds to dubious nongovernment organizations (NGOs) implementing ghost livelihood projects under the watch of agencies ill-equipped to monitor them.
The findings of the COA audit so “appalled” (kahindik-hindik) COA Chair Grace Pulido-Tan that she compared her reaction to that of Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle.
Tagle was moved to tears by the P10-billion pork scam reportedly masterminded by Janet Lim-Napoles.
“If Cardinal Tagle was on the verge of tears, I was sobbing (napahagulgol),” Tan said in Filipino at the press conference where she announced the highlights of the COA Special Audit Report.
Of the P12.018 billion in taxpayers’ money allocated to the pork barrel of legislators, only about 10 to 20 percent were spent on the actual projects.
Most of the NGOs that got the funds were of “dubious existence” or with addresses that led to shanties or to posh residences of their real owners.
The names of some beneficiaries of the pork funds were taken from the list of passers of bar or board exams.
The COA report, started in 2010 and released on Friday, identified 371 legislators who accounted for P8.374 billion worth of “soft” projects such as livelihood programs under the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and P32.347 billion worth of pork barrel that went to “hard component” (called various infrastructure including local projects or VILP) that were released from 2007 to 2009.
The audit, which included the years 2007 to 2009, was by no means comprehensive as it covered only 68 percent of the P12.013 billion worth of soft pork granted during the period and 32 percent of the hard pork.
The list was topped by former Compostela Valley Rep. Manuel “Way Kurat (No Fear)” Zamora who is listed as receiving P3.114 billion worth of pork barrel from 2007 to 2009.
Zamora yesterday was aghast that he was listed as having received more than P3 billion. “It’s impossible that I got P3 billion because I did not,” he said in a phone interview.
He said he only got a total of P210 million for three years, or P70 million per year.
“That’s my computation. Now, I’m asking ‘what is the breakdown of that P3 billion?’” he said in a phone interview.
He said the P3 billion may have included projects that were funded by other “government agencies or foreign donors.”
“If that were the case, then it’s not PDAF,” he said.
Zamora said all his PDAF, a total of P630 million that he got in the nine years that he served as Compostela Valley representative, went to projects like road-concreting, water systems and school buildings.
The list includes a “Luis Abalos” who was not a member of Congress but got P20 million in allocations.
Jimmy Isidro, the public information officer of the office of Mandaluyong Mayor Benhur Abalos said they “don’t know of any Luis Abalos being related to the mayor or to his family.”
The COA said P6.156 billion of the soft pork funneled to 772 projects undertaken by 82 NGOs (10 of which were traced as being linked to the fugitive Janet Lim-Napoles) from 2007 to 2009 “was not proper and highly irregular.” (See related story on Page A11.)
The Inquirer has obtained documents that Napoles set up 20 NGOs based on the affidavits of six whistle-blowers who were her former employees.
“[The legislators] violated a lot of laws in the release of their PDAF, but these legislators denied their participation or making those signatures. The [implementing] agencies barely monitored the projects, if at all, and yet some of them charged a management fee of 3 or 3.5 percent,” said Tan.
According to Tan, the implementing agencies ignored the rules and regulations as they transferred the soft pork solely on the recommendation of the lawmaker (no biddings) without any appropriation law or ordinance to ineligible projects to NGOs with spurious or questionable documents while some of the hard projects were illegaly built on private lots.
The 2007 to 2009 audit covered four implementing agencies (IAs)—Department of Budget and Management, Department of Agriculture, Department of Public Works and Highways, Department of Social Welfare and Development; four government-owned and -controlled corporations, Technology and Livelihood Resource Center (TLRC), National Livelihood Development Corp. (NLDC), National Agribusiness Development Corp.. and ZNAC Rubber Estate Corp. (ZREC); the cities of Mandaluyong, Manila, Quezon City, Taguig, Tabaco, Iriga, Naga and Panabo; and the provinces of Tarlac, Bataan, Nueva Ecija, Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental.
The audit showed that the 82 NGOs and their suppliers had fake addresses and did not have the proper business permits and registration papers.
Legislators as incorporators
“Most of the NGOs are owned by the same person (some were connected to as many as 6 NGOs); about P123 million of the pork was used by some NGOs for the payment of salaries and administration expenses. It’s like the public paid for the salaries of their staff, parang bayan ang nagsweldo sa tauhan,” said Tan. The COA noted that six of the NGOs were even incorporated by the legislators themselves or their relatives.
The COA said that P1.531 billion worth of soft pork remained unliquidated but even the PDAF money that was audited had “deficient or irregular” documents, such as receipts with covered or identical control numbers.
Tan said that the majority of the listed recipients denied getting any livelihood packages or attending seminars while the rest were either fake or dead or nonresidents of the districts served.
“I was driven to tears when I learned that some NGOs used the list of board exam passers in making up the recipient lists,” said Tan who noted that numerous training sessions were attended by the same sets of people which she said was “neither effective or realistic.”
Most common abuses
The COA noted that the DBM could only verify the recipients for P32.347 of the pork barrel funds from 2007 to 2009 because the DPWH could not identify the legislators who were given a combined P69.261 billion during the same period.
This meant that the DPWH released a total P101.608 billion from 2007 to 2009 to lawmakers, which was double their regular appropriation for this period.
Tan said the most common abuses in hard pork projects were overpricing, building below specifications, splitting contracts.
Aside from hard and soft pork projects, the audit also covered pork barrel given as financial assistance to local government units which reached P2.361 billion from 2007 to 2009.
The COA said more than half, or P1.289 billion, were “not compliant with existing rules and regulations” specifically awarding contracts to non-existent suppliers and failure to account for the purchased items.
Tan said she would leave it to the lawmakers and the Department of Justice and Ombudsman to decide what action to take on the COA findings, noting that her agency’s role was only to find the evidence in building a case.
She said she trusted Congress as an institution of government and personally was not in favor of abolishing or suspending the pork barrel despite what she described as the “appalling” results of the pork barrel audit.
“I don’t think (the PDAF is a total failure). I believe that controls were completely lost. How was it possible that the DBM would release P3 billion to one congressman?” she said.
Although she would not say that all of the NGOs involved were bogus, she noted that “some are more questionable than others.” She also could not say whether the funds for the ghost projects went to the NGOs because this was not covered by the audit.
While the legislators clearly chose the NGOs despite their questionable status, Tan said the accountability for the funds remained with the implementing agencies.
“They were tossing the responsibility to the legislators. The agencies claimed that the ones who should manage (the funds) should be the office of the legislator or the staff. There were names mentioned, like who was acting on behalf of the office,” Tan said.
Tan, however, refused to say whether the billions were stolen by corrupt officials and their associates.
She said it was up to the Department of Justice and the Ombudsman to determine this.
But she admitted that almost 100 percent of the NGO projects were dependent on the legislator’s endorsement.
She said President Aquino was given a copy of the report on Thursday and that he did not give any specific orders.
“I think he said that he wants us to go over the evidence. We have to do what we have to do,” she said.
With the release of the report, Tan said that COA would issue a notice of disallowances to each legislator to recover the money for projects that could not be liquidated. She said the process could take one year because of the numerous transactions and personalities involved. With reports from Juliet Labog-Javellana and Nico Alconaba, Inquirer Mindanao