Senators feel like cold cuts in front of COA chief

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Commission on Audit (COA) Chair Grace Pulido-Tan’s presence at the Senate blue ribbon committee inquiry into the P10-billion pork barrel funds scam last week was enough for senators to break out in a cold sweat.

There is no stopping Tan from revealing the senators who have been tagged in a post- 2010 COA report on the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) finding their way to fake nongovernment organizations (NGOs).

COA Chair Tan said the misuse of the pork barrel funds continued well into the Aquino administration, with the same implementing agencies and the same legislators involved.

Tan said during the hearing that a total of P1.093 billion from the PDAF of Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile and Senators Ramon Revilla Jr., Jinggoy Estrada and Gregorio Honasan went to the fake NGOs of businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles between 2007 and 2009.

All four have inhibited themselves from the inquiry but have denied any involvement in the misuse of pork barrel funds.

Sen. Francis Escudero, who sought the inquiry into the pork barrel scam, asked Tan if there was already a COA report on the alleged PDAF misuse in 2010 and onward, citing criticisms that the special audit only dealt with the latter years of the Arroyo administration.

“[I] would say that we find the same implementing agencies. [The National Agribusiness Corp.] is pretty notorious when it comes to that. [The Zamboanga del Norte College Rubber Estates Corp.] in 2011, it’s the same story about the PDAF being given to NGOs and the NGOs implementing the so-called projects but upon inspection and validation, there are a lot of deficiencies,” Tan told the inquiry.

Escudero then asked if the irregularities involved the same legislators.

“If I remember right, we’re coming up with the [audit of the] Philippine Forest Corp. It should have been released one or two weeks ago but we wanted to be careful with the validation because some might say it’s again wrong,” Tan said.

“Hopefully, by next week we can come out with it. It’s [about] PDAF allocation in 2011 and 2012 so it’s is very current. Some members are in this report and I think two additional ones,” Tan added.

It was at this point that Senate President Franklin Drilon interrupted Escudero’s questioning.

“It is unfair for you to say that there’s one or two more. Can you tell us who this one is or these two are…? They might be among those seated here,” said Drilon.

Tan told the inquiry that it was against the COA policy to divulge details of the report before it was released in full.

“Would it be sufficient for now to say that the two are not in this hall right now?” Tan said, eliciting some laughter from those present.

“That would do, as a start,” Drilon said, apparently satisfied with Tan’s response.

Drilon on Friday called on the public to give the senators implicated in the scandal a chance to explain themselves before passing judgment on them.

According to the COA special audit report, among the senators, Revilla poured the most into the Napoles NGOs cited by Tan, with P483.49 million. Enrile came in second with P332.7 million, followed by Estrada with P262.575 million.

Honasan had the least amount given to the questioned NGOs, with just P14.55 million.

 First posted 12:41 am | Sunday, September 1st, 2013

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