Project stopped but funds released
DAVAO CITY–At least P9 million of public funds, credited to the pork barrel of a legislator accused of once being an operator of alleged pork scam queen Janet Lim-Napoles, have been withdrawn for a nonexistent project to grow jathropa, according to a former congressman and the incumbent legislator’s political rival.
Bernardo “Jun” Piñol Jr., former North Cotabato representative, said part of Rep. Nancy Catamco’s pork was spent supposedly on a jathropa plantation in President Roxas town in North Cotabato.
For indigenous peoples
Catamco, described by Piñol as an operator of Napoles before she won a seat in the House of Representatives, had supposedly wanted the plantation to benefit and “uplift the condition of the indigenous peoples” in the villages of Bato-bato and Lanao Kuran in Arakan, a town next to President Roxas.
By end of 2012, Piñol said a Commission on Audit (COA) report confirmed that P9 million of public funds had been withdrawn through Catamco’s pork for the supposed P13-million jathropa project.
“But there was no jathropa plantation,” said Piñol.
Isaac Bangcaya, President Roxas town agriculturist, said he had issued a certification to the COA that no jathropa plantation existed in the town supposedly funded through Catamco’s pork. The certification was issued when the COA conducted a physical audit of the supposed project.
Bangcaya said the certification that he issued, and another one issued by the municipal agriculturist of Arakan also saying that no jathropa plantation existed in Arakan, prompted the COA to stop the release of another P3 million for Catamco’s project, which Catamco had been following up.
Piñol said this was one example of the scam that Catamco allegedly perpetrated under the pork barrel system.
“Her scam involving other agencies, such as the National Irrigation Administration, the Department of Health and the Department of Agriculture, should also be investigated,” said Piñol.
“She should not hide behind (Interior Secretary) Mar Roxas,” he said.
Piñol said he received a call from some lawmakers castigating him for ratting on Catamco.
Catamco said other legislators expressed concern over Piñol’s “politically motivated tirades.”
“Can he not wait until the next elections? These are lies,” she said.
Catamco, however, said she indeed proposed a jathropa plantation in President Roxas town. The project is supposed to be for implementation by the Philippine Environmental and Ecological Development Association (Peeda), a nongovernment organization (NGO) based in Cagayan de Oro City and headed by Butch Canoy.
The project, however, has been put on hold after a study showed that indigenous peoples in Arakan would not benefit from it, that the supposed beneficiaries have no technical expertise to handle it and that the project would become just a “white elephant,” or useless.
The partner of Peeda in the project was Philippine Forest Corp., which was also allegedly bled of hundreds of millions of pesos by the Napoles network of bogus NGOs.
“I had thought that a rubber plantation would be more appropriate for them (indigenous peoples),” she said.
Catamco said she had written the COA to say the project is being modified from jathropa to one that people really wanted.
She said people who had been identified as beneficiaries of the jathropa project actually wanted a plantation for rubber, coffee, cacao or coconuts.
Catamco, in a letter to the COA on Sept. 13, said she had been waiting for a reply from Philforest and Peeda to her request to amend the contract for the jathropa plantation.
Catamco said money had been withdrawn for the project but the funds are “intact.”
“I don’t know why this issue is being resurrected,” said Catamco. She said she believed Piñol is just trying to get “media mileage.”
“I already explained why the jathropa project had been shelved many times in the past and I answered all the questions, even by the COA,” she said.
Catamco said she does not worry about being dragged into the pork scandal because she can account for all her projects.
Turning to Piñol, Catamco said, “Whatever he did to his PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund, the official name of pork), he is accountable to that.”
“Regarding my PDAF, I am fully accountable for it,” she said.
Piñol said since funds had already been withdrawn, “you have to submit accomplishment reports.”
“Why the revision now when funds had already been withdrawn?” said Piñol. “Meaning, they had presented accomplishment reports for the original project. Meaning, it must have been implemented already,” he said.
Catamco said should Piñol continue to attack her with claims, she would answer only if the former lawmaker is able to present hard evidence.
“Civility dictates that since Jun Piñol is the one throwing allegations, it is his sole obligation to prove the same,” said Catamco.
Piñol had linked Catamco to Napoles, saying the female legislator is behind the Aaron Foundation, an NGO that figured prominently in the fertilizer scam that also allegedly involved Napoles and the scam’s alleged architect, former Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn “Joc-joc” Bolante.
Catamco had denied any direct link with Aaron, saying the NGO was just a client of her company, Perzebos, which distributes fertilizers.
Piñol said she is challenging Catamco to make her denial “under oath.” Allan Nawal, Inquirer Mindanao