A Technology Resource Center (TRC) executive has been forced to take a leave of absence after whistle-blower Benhur Luy identified him as one of the conduits of detained businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles in facilitating the release of pork barrel funds.
TRC Director General Dennis L. Cunanan, a holdover official from the Arroyo administration, has taken an “indefinite leave of absence without prejudice to the investigation,” according to Science and Technology Secretary Mario Montejo.
In its series on the alleged Napoles-run P10 billion pork barrel scam, the Inquirer reported that Cunanan (the TRC deputy director general at the time) and his boss, former Director General Antonio Y. Ortiz, were Napoles’ main contacts at the state agency.
The TRC reportedly released P580.85 million worth of pork barrel funds from three senators—Ramon Revilla Jr., Juan Ponce Enrile and Jinggoy Estrada—and 23 representatives, including Customs Commissioner Rozzano Rufino Biazon and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority Director General Joel Villanueva, to eight bogus NGOs allegedly controlled by Napoles.
Before Cunanan, two other holdover executives from the Arroyo administration have been suspended after being tagged as Napoles contacts—assistant secretary Ophelia Agawin (a Department of Agriculture official) and Erwin Krishna Santos, the president of the Philippine Forest Corp.
44 NGOs blacklisted
Montejo said that his department would conduct a thorough probe of the TRC’s pork barrel dealings which he had ordered stopped when he took over in 2010.
“We have rejected all requests to use TRC as implementing agency of pork barrel funds. We are also cooperating with the Commission on Audit which had uncovered these dubious transactions,” said Montejo even as he noted that the Napoles connections to these NGOs were only revealed a few weeks ago.
In the COA special audit of pork barrel releases from 2007 to 2009, TRC got the biggest share with P2.613 billion among the five state corporations that were used as pork conduits and have been recommended for abolition—National Agribusiness Corp., ZNAC Rubber Estates Corp. (ZREC), Philippine Forest Corp. (Philforest) and National Livelihood Development Corp. (NLDC).
Montejo said that as a result of the TRC’s own investigation of the pork barrel releases, the agency had blacklisted 44 NGOs, including the 8 Napoles-linked NGOs, which failed to liquidate the funds that they had received from various lawmakers’ Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).
In a letter dated Sept. 6, Cunanan said: “I believe this is the right course of action so as not to disrupt the operations of the center and to allow a full and unbiased inquiry. I do maintain that the allegations are based on pure hearsay and that no wrongdoing was committed on my part.”
Cunanan claimed that his role from 2007 to 2009 was largely “ministerial” as he had “limited official authority without capacity for involvement in any substantial transaction” under the Arroyo administration.
He claimed that Ortiz issued a memorandum that bypassed him (Cunanan) in all pork matters and that it was only when he took over Ortiz’s post that he “realized the magnitude of the transactions involved.”
According to Montejo, Cunanan has been cooperating with the National Bureau of Investigation probe of the Napoles pork barrel scam and has already appeared before the NBI special task force handling the investigation.
Montejo said that the TRC has already initiated reforms in its operations, specifically a reduction in manpower from 699 to 101, which has allowed it to remain financially sustainable for the last three years after being in the red for years.
He said the TRC has an important role in the DOST’s commercialization of technology invented by Filipino scientists, relating to medicine, nutrition, weather information dissemination, alternative transportation, and technology incubation centers.
The lawmakers who reportedly used the TRC as a conduit for their pork funds that went to Napoles NGOs were: Senators Revilla (P140 million), Enrile (P70 million) and Estrada (P50 million); and former and incumbent Representatives Villanueva (P4.3 million), Biazon (P5 million), Erwin Chiongbian (P43.55 million), Conrado Estrella III (P37 million), Samuel Dangwa (P36 million), Manuel Ortega (P34 million), Constantino Jaraula (P30 million), Rizalina S. Lanete (P24 million), Rizalina Seachon (P20 million), Edgar Valdez (P20 million), Marc Douglas Cagas (P19 million), Arthur Pingoy (P19 million), Federico Sandoval (P11 million), Salacnib Baterina (P10 million), Antonio Serapio (P6 million), Isidro Real (P5 million), Rodolfo Valencia (P4 million), Rufus Rodriguez (P3.5 million), Victor Francisco Ortega (P3 million), Arrel Olano (P2.5 million), Ernesto Nieva (P2 million), and Amado S. Bagatsing (P1 million).