CITY OF SAN FERNANDO—At least 500 farmers and fisherfolk in Pampanga who were listed as recipients of four projects by two nongovernment organizations (NGO) linked to detained businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles can seek legal aid from the Archdiocese of San Fernando.
“They may approach us any time through our social action center,” Archbishop Paciano Aniceto told reporters after he led the celebration of Mass for the 57th anniversary of the canonical coronation of the Virgen de los Remedios and Sto. Cristo del Perdon, patrons of Pampanga, on Sunday.
Through the center’s Fr. Francis Dizon, legal assistance could be extended to victims in Masantol, Macabebe, San Luis and Guagua towns, Aniceto said.
The Roman Catholic Church, he said, “is always constant in its protection of the underprivileged, those who are victimized by injustice, calamities and poverty.”
The four projects by Kaupdanan para sa Mangunguma Foundation Inc. and Gintong Pangkabuhayan Foundation in Pampanga were among the 124 alleged bogus projects funded through a P900-million share of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) from the Malampaya funds between November 2009 and May 2010, documents accompanying the affidavits of whistle-blowers showed.
The projects in Masantol and San Luis, worth P7.5 million each, were attributed to Kaupdanan while those in Macabebe and Guagua, also worth P7.5 million each, were traced to Gintong Pangkabuhayan.
Former and incumbent mayors said they did not solicit or implement the projects. Former Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman did not answer the Inquirer’s calls.
Registered in 2008, Kaupdanan is still an active NGO based on the general information it filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on May 30.
An amended sworn statement it filed with the SEC showed that its project in 2011, worth P4.8 million, was funded by the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), the official name of congressional pork barrel, of Sen. Jinggoy Estrada.
Done in Calasiao town in Pangasinan province, the project consisted of farm supplies, sprayers, seeds and fertilizers, similar to what were distributed in Masantol.
Only the supposed recipients in Masantol came out in November when they learned about the scam through a verification letter by Director Susan Garcia of the Commission on Audit’s (COA) Special Audit Office.
They denied receiving the post-Typhoon “Ondoy” Farming Yield Emergency Contingency Project of the DAR, worth P35,781 per package, in December 2009, saying they had no use for the inputs since there were no farmlands or land reform areas in the coastal towns of Pampanga.
They claimed their signatures were forged.
Their leaders have appealed to the DAR and COA to free them from any liabilities by removing their names as beneficiaries.
Without any explanation, the provincial board in 2012 canceled a planned investigation into the anomaly.
National Bureau of Investigation agents met with Masantol fishers in July and asked them to sign affidavits, the leaders said.
Aniceto said the social action center had a social justice committee, which could assist the victims. It may get official word from the DAR or COA that the supposed beneficiaries were actually victims and should be free from any legal case, he said.
In his homily, the prelate urged lawmakers who funneled their PDAF to bogus projects of NGOs used by Napoles to return the money to the national treasury.
“I think that is very just. I don’t know the way but justice demands that it should go back to the real recipients, since these are the taxes of the people,” he told reporters.
“Let’s not cry only. Let’s grieve because [these erring senators and congressmen and their cohorts] insulted God. They hurt God because they stole taxes from the poor, the money for the poor,” he said in his homily. “Patriotism should take the better of government leaders and employees to protect the poor and liberate them from poverty.
Aniceto asked prayers for government leaders and employees so they may emulate the Virgin Mary, whose hallmark was obedience to God.
“Our public leaders should live among farmers, fisherfolk, Aetas and workers so that they may know what poverty really means,” he said.