After being uncharacteristically silent over his having been tagged by a Commission on Audit (COA) report as the legislator who cornered the biggest slice of the congressional pork barrel, Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile came out swinging on Friday, questioning the motives and actions of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) with regard to the COA special audit.
In particular, Enrile questioned the “failure or refusal” of the DBM to turn over to the COA the records of P69.261 billion, out of the P115.988 billion, in pork barrel funds released between 2007 and 2009.
“Was and is the DBM protecting some sacred cows or hiding the identity of the legislators concerned as well as its own negligence, incompetence, if not complicity and participation, in what is now known as the pork barrel or PDAF scam?” Enrile said on Friday.
Because of the incomplete records that the DBM provided the COA, some of the erring lawmakers could actually escape accountability, he suggested.
Enrile called a press conference on Friday to comment on the COA special audit of the congressional pork barrel covering the years 2007 and 2009, the results of which have so scandalized the public that various mass actions are being planned throughout the country.
The three-year audit, begun in 2010 after the accession of the Aquino presidency and released on Aug. 16, revealed that at least 74 legislators had exceeded their annual pork barrel allocations of P70 million for representatives and P200 million for senators, how these legislators had illegally allocated funds to dubious nongovernment organizations (NGOs) implementing ghost projects, and how the state agencies concerned failed to monitor the use of the funds, if not being involved in the irregularities themselves.
The report showed Enrile as having availed of P904.5 million, the bulk of which, the COA said, went to dubious NGOs, some of these among the 10 under the control of Janel Lim-Napoles, the businesswoman alleged to have operated a scam that siphoned off P10 billion of the pork barrel funds over a 10-year period.
The pork barrel is a fund allocated for projects identified by legislators which is included in the annual national budget as lump sum appropriations under the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) for “soft” projects—education, health, livelihood, social services, propoor programs, culture, etc.—and the Various Infrastructure including Local Projects (VILP) for “hard” projects under the category of public works.
‘Distorted and misleading’
Enrile denied any wrongdoing in the disposition of his pork barrel funds, saying he was willing to be investigated, even prosecuted, if only to clear his name.
He said he was willing to surrender his wealth and that of his family if it was proven that the funds went to his own pockets.
On the COA findings that he availed of pork barrel funds amounting to P904.5 million between 2007 and 2009, he said the amounts were “distorted and misleading” precisely because they were culled from “missing or incomplete records” from the DBM.
“For 2009 alone, news reports quote the DBM website as showing that I availed of my PDAF to the tune of P727 million,” the senator said.
“Our records of the special allotment release orders (Saro) issued by the DBM, however, show that the amount P325 million representing the following legislators were attributed to me as part of my PDAF in 2009,” Enrile said.
The lawmakers he was referring to and their corresponding funding include: former Sen. Rodolfo Biazon, P20 million; Sen. Francis Escudero, P20 million; Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, P50 million; Sen. Lito Lapid, P42 million; Sen. Loren Legarda, P33 million; former Sen. Manuel Roxas, P20 million; Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, P50 million; and congressmen-members of the Commission on Appointments, P90 million; or a total of P352 million.
Only gave endorsement
“These legislators merely requested for my endorsement as then Senate President for the release of funds for the various projects under their own PDAF, some of which were accommodated under the Economic Stimulus Fund under the 2009 GAA (General Appropriations Act),” Enrile said.
“Yet, the DBM incorrectly accounted for these projects and attributed these to me,” he said.
He said the DBM, especially under the then Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. in the Arroyo administration, has to “explain why it kept and continues to keep COA and the public in the dark regarding this almost P70 billion in legislators’ infrastructure projects?”
“Moreover, why did the DBM fail or refuse to disclose to COA the complete schedule of PDAF releases for soft projects? Who among us senators and congressmen asked for such releases under the VILP? To what kind of projects did this huge amount go? Were these legitimate expenditures?” he added.
Pork even bigger
As to the COA findings that certain legislators had received pork barrel allocations in excess of the standard P200 million a year for a senator and P70 million annually for a House member, Enrile suggested that the funds going to lawmakers could even be bigger.
He cited the remarks of Andaya that these amounts were just the “minimum” and Senate President Franklin Drilon said that actual releases were under the discretion of the President.
“For the sake of transparency,” Enrile revealed that the leaders of both Houses of Congress, including the minority leader and the chairs of the Senate finance panel and House appropriations committee, customarily received additional funds for their own soft and infrastructure projects.
Release depends on president
He disclosed that the leaders of the House appropriations committee and the Senate finance committee confer with each other and with the budget secretary as to the amounts that are to be distributed either as pork barrel allocations or as budgetary insertions.
“This is a fact. The PDAF and the VILP do represent the totality of each legislator’s congressional initiatives,” Enrile said.
But the actual release of pork barrel funds depends on the President.
“Therefore, the PDAF or pork barrel is not really the equalizer that it purports to be. The system confers upon the executive the power and discretion to either deprive or bless any legislator;, to slash his pork barrel, delay its release or to deprive him altogether; or to grant amounts over and above the budgeted amounts for each member of Congress,” Enrile said.
Willing to submit to probe
On allegations that his pork barrel funds went to fake NGOs, Enrile said he was willing to be investigated by his peers.
“I’m ready to answer questions from my peers. In fact during our caucus, I said I’m ready to be investigated by my peers because that is a constitutional mandate,” Enrile said.
“Probably I will inhibit myself so that they will not say that I will influence the proceeding. And if they call me, if they want to call me, then I will appear,” he said.
“If I were to choose something of value to leave to my family when I depart from this world, I would choose to leave honor and a good name, nothing else,” Enrile said.
Enrile said the investigation and subsequent prosecution of the guilty parties based on the evidence as directed by President Aquino “is a welcome opportunity for me to clear my name and that of my office.”
“I had earlier stated that if any of my PDAF or pork barrel funds can be proven to have gone to my own pocket, I am ready to surrender whatever assets my family and I own,” he said.