Former Sen. Edgardo Angara, one of the biggest pork users under the Arroyo administration, said that most lawmakers had been unfairly “prejudged” in the media-induced “frenzy” on the pork barrel scam.
He said the media should not be quick to label the controversy a “scandal” as it tarred lawmakers as “evil” and NGOs as “fakes.”
Angara, who exceeded his pork barrel allocations by P384.375 million from 2007 to 2009, also refused to call it a “scandal,” saying “controversy” was the more apt term.
He said the findings of the Commission on Audit (COA) in its special report on pork barrel releases from 2007 to 2009 had yet to be validated.
Angara, who was elected chair of the Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption in February, added that no case had been filed against any senator or representative who were named in the COA report.
He was identified by the COA report as one of six lawmakers who gave their pork to an NGO they had put up. “They did not qualify the report. They did not say any irregularity. Even if they mentioned my name, don’t jump into conclusion that I pocketed money from that,” he said over dzBB.
Angara gave P14.4 million of his pork to an NGO, Kalusugan ng Bata, Karunungan ng Bayan Inc., where he was an incorporator, stockholder and board member.
In its findings, the COA said P9 million of the food packages distributed by Jeverps Enterprises was unliquidated while 20,625 of the 50,000 packs distributed were not supported by documents.
Angara said he met Janet Lim-Napoles only once in one social function.
While he believed that she would not qualify as a state witness, Angara said Napoles, as an “ordinary citizen,” should be spared from “prejudicial publicity” to ensure a fair trial.
He claimed that NGOs had been allowed as beneficiaries of government funds even before martial law (1972). But Angara said that early on, the Department of Budget and Management had made it a point that only government agencies or local government units should be allowed as implementing agencies (IAs) for a “practical reason.” They have resident auditors outside of the regular COA.
He said it was for this reason that the lawmakers were not responsible for checking the legitimacy of NGOs as the IAs had resident auditors designated for that role.
The IAs, Angara said, were also obliged to make a report to the Senate finance committee chair or the House appropriations committee chair.
“Why are senators being blamed? The world has been overturned. The implementing agencies should not pass on their responsibilities to the lawmakers,” Angara said.
But Angara said that while lawmakers were allowed to endorse projects, they should not handpick NGOs (as most of them did which some IAs said left them with no choice but to follow). “But that is a matter of proof. Not all senators or congressmen are shameless,” he said.
He acknowledged that lawmakers could not “wash their hands of” the pork misuse because they were “morally” responsible in ensuring that taxpayers’ money was put to good use.
COA not a judge
He pointed out that the COA was not a “judge” but a mere financial watchdog whose findings have yet to be validated.
“They should have embargoed [the report] because that is prejudicial publicity. The documents are incomplete. There are steps that it should take before declaring an NGO is indeed fake. This has created a feeding frenzy because this juicy news, both local and international,” he said.
In the end, he said he agreed that pork should be abolished to remove these “self-interest” provisions in the budget.