Nearly P500 million in pork barrel funds would not have been released to dubious nongovernment organizations (NGOs) in 2011 had Budget Secretary Florencio Abad Jr. removed Philippine Forest Corp. (Philforest) from its list of eligible implementing agencies, according to officials of these groups.
Abad’s decision to retain Philforest among eligible conduits for the legislators’ Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) despite red flags raised by the Commission on Audit (COA) on the legitimacy of these NGOs underscored his central role in the continuation of the racket from the Arroyo to the Aquino administration, they said.
In February 2011, Abad issued National Budget Circular No. 529, which laid down the guidelines in the release and utilization of pork funds.
The circular sanctioned Philforest and its mother agency, the National Resources Development Corp. (NRDC), among several agencies to tap pork funds for rehabilitation and protection projects for forests and watershed areas, as well as upland planting program for jatropha to be used as feedstock for biodiesel.
Abad made Philforest an implementing agency despite an adverse report by the COA in 2010 that roughly P428.5 million in pork releases for jatropha from Philforest to several NGOs were questionable.
In a text message, Abad claimed that the lawmakers inserted Philforest as a pork conduit and that he only listed the NRDC in the budget plan he submitted to Congress for 2011.
“When the GAA (General Appropriations Act) was approved, it became NRDC-Philforest. So the amendment came from Congress. The mandate would be clearer and direct if Philforest was identified. The NDRC would have had reason to decline a PDAF download for project like jatropha cultivation,” said Abad.
Agencies had no choice
But the officials of the implementing agencies that were getting all the blame for the pork barrel scam from implicated senators and representatives claimed that they were left with no choice but to follow the DBM mandate despite lacking the resources to implement, monitor and liquidate these projects. This was confirmed in the COA special audit of pork barrel funds from 2007 to 2009.
These officials, who refused to be named, said that they wrote both Abad and his predecessor, now Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr., on their reluctance to be implementing agencies for the PDAF but they were either ignored or told to just go with the flow.
Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said that as early as 2010, he had already asked the DBM to stop using his agency and its subsidiaries, like Philforest, as pork conduits. This was why he was surprised why the pork funds went directly to Philforest without his knowledge.
Philforest president Erwin Krishan Santos had volunteered to go on indefinite leave while the issue was being investigated. Santos said that Philforest did its best to implement the DBM mandate as implementing agency of pork funds despite its lack of manpower.
Choosing the implementing agencies is just one of the key roles of the DBM in the entire pork barrel scheme.