DENR eyes legal action vs NGOs, Philforest staff in ‘pork barrel’ scam
MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Environment and Natural Resources plans to take legal action against 11 dubious non-governmental organizations that used the Philippine Forest Corp. (Philforest) to access the pork barrel of legislators, as well as Philforest officials themselves who were in on the scam.
Environment Undersecretary Annaliza Teh, who was tasked to gather documents on P471 million in Priority Development Assistance Fund allocations that went to the NGOs through Philforest, said her office was studying the liability of the NGOs and the Philforest officials involved.
“We will really have to… institute legal action against the NGOs. So that’s what we’re trying to establish now – what their liabilities are, and of course, even within Philforest, so we can pursue the filing of necessary actions,” she said in an interview.
But Teh clarified that her role was not to conduct an investigation, but to cooperate with the ongoing audit of the Commission on Audit and to compel the NGOs and Philforest to respond to the COA’s questions on the scam.
“So far, of the 11 NGOs involved with Philforest PDAF, we have collected seven of them…. We’re gathering these documents for submission to COA, [including] the disbursement vouchers,” she said.
Through the disbursement vouchers, “at least we can show from the documents that the money was released to the NGOs, and it was properly received,” Teh said.
As to how the money was actually spent, it was the NGOs that must now explain, she added.
Paje said Philforest was one of five government agencies that Malacañang planned to abolish for allegedly serving as conduits in the funneling of pork barrel money to bogus NGOs.
Philforest president Erwin Krishna N. Santos was forced to go on leave while the DENR was investigating the questionable deals the company had entered into with the bogus NGOs and members of Congress.
Paje said the President was “extremely disappointed” with how the pork barrel scam continued into his administration, specifically the release of P470.7 million in PDAF funds to the NGOs through Philforest.
Three senators and at least 24 representatives released their PDAF to the NGOs via Philforest, according to Teh. Senator Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada gave P10 million in 2009; Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan P55 million in 2010 and 2011, and P40 million in 2012; and Lito Lapid P5 million in 2011.
The 11 NGOs are the Philippine Environmental and Ecological Development Association Inc., Kabuhayan at Kalusugan Alay sa Masa Foundation Inc., Pangkabuhayan Foundation Inc., Kapuso’t Kapamilya Foundation Inc., Maharlikang Lipi Foundation Inc., Workphil Foundation Inc., Focus on Development Goals Foundation Inc., Itonami Foundation Inc., Livedures Foundation Inc., Kaagapay Magpakailanman, and Kasama Foundation.
The 11 NGOs do not belong to the network of fake ones allegedly put up by detained businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, who stands accused of masterminding a P10-billion pork scam over 10 years.
Teh said she had so far found no links so far between the Napoles NGOs and the Philforest NGOs.
“Actually, even we have not established if any of those NGOs are Napoles NGOs, so we are still trying to determine based on their incorporators whether they have links to the Napoles NGOs. None so far,” she said.
Even so, Teh said, there was no doubt that the Philforest deals, most of which were for Jatropha plantations for the production of biofuels, were highly irregular and questionable.
“You can see lapses (on the part of the Philforest). Under the COA rules on the disbursement of funds to NGOs, it should go through the bids and awards committee that will really screen the qualifications of the NGOs. And under the guidelines, they should have a track record of at least three years, and it turned out some of those NGOs do not. So how were they able to pass” Teh said.
The guidelines also indicated that they should conduct site inspections, but supporting documents to the memorandums of agreement did not indicate any site inspections, she noted.
She added that many of the NGOs also failed to establish proof of their presence in the project sites. “Some of the project areas are in Mindanao, or in Isabela, but their office is in Pasig or in Quezon City. They weren’t able to establish proof of their presence there,” she said.
When the Philforest officials were questioned as to why they had not screened the NGOs, the reply was “Ma’am, the congressman endorsed them to us,” Teh said.
“It’s like they had a level of comfort and confidence that the congressman is endorsing the appropriate NGO to them,” she said.
Teh also found suspicious the actual releases of the funds.
“If you look at the release of funds, the first tranche is already 70 percent,” she said. “Your flexibility to compel or ensure that the NGO complies with its obligations becomes small because you’ve already released 70 percent of the fund. If at the end of six months, it fails to accomplish anything, you can’t hold anything anymore.”