Agriculture official named by Benhur Luy back on the job
MANILA, Philippines—Ophelia Agawin, identified by whistle-blower Benhur Luy as alleged P10-billion pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles’ conduit in the Department of Agriculture (DA) under the Arroyo and Aquino administrations, is back at her job as assistant secretary at the DA despite lingering questions on her role in the scam.
Agawin, the public accountant also at the heart of an alleged P432-million fertilizer fund scam engineered by then Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn “Joc-joc” Bolante in 2003, went on leave last October to give way to the DA’s investigation into the department funds she channeled to bogus nongovernment organizations (NGOs) allegedly controlled by Napoles.
Agawin claimed, however, that she went on leave to take care of a sick parent.
Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala said Agawin could not be suspended for her alleged ties to Napoles since she has not been named in the two sets of charges filed by the Department of Justice and National Bureau of Investigation with the Ombudsman in the pork scam case.
Both Agawin and Alcala, however, have been charged with plunder in a case filed by the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas.
Agawin was a treasurer and director of ZNAC Rubber Estate Corp. (ZREC) from 2006 to 2010. Based on a Commission on Audit (COA) report, ZREC was used as a conduit for the release of P282-million in pork barrel funds of Senators Jinggoy Estrada, Juan Ponce Enrile and Ramon Revilla Jr. and former APEC party-list Rep. Edgar Valdez and former Buhay party-list Rep. Rene Velarde.
In his September 2013 affidavit to the NBI, Luy said that Agawin received 10 percent in commissions from the pork barrel funds that went through ZREC.
Agriculture Assistant Secretary Salvador Salacup, who was ZREC president from 2006 to 2010, was the only ZREC official named in the pork barrel scam case.
Salacup, who has been on leave since October, has filed a counter-affidavit with the Ombudsman claiming that he had no contact or ties with Napoles as Luy and other whistle-blowers had only mentioned Agawin as Napoles’ broker in ZREC.
Salacup also said his role in the transactions were only “ministerial” as the pork funds were pushed for by former Agriculture Undersecretary Berni C. Fondevilla and former Assistant Secretary Eduardo Nolasco.
Despite the alarm raised by the COA on ZREC’s failure to liquidate the Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF) during her watch, Agawin apparently continued her business dealings with Napoles, as reported by Luy.
In November 2012, Agawin took charge of the paper work for Alcala’s order reprogramming P174.381 million in idle funds (from 2011 to 2012) from the Bureau of Agriculture and Fisheries Product Standards to the organic agriculture-related projects of local government units.
The funds were to be disposed of by Alcala’s province mate and Agawin’s boss, Undersecretary Antonio Fleta, who signed most of the agreements with the NGOs. Alcala said his department would release its audit of the funds soon.
In Luy’s testimony, he claimed that these organic farming projects were among the last transactions he concluded with Agawin before he and Napoles had a falling out. Napoles held Luy in detention because she suspected him of making the same deals with other operators.
During this period, Agawin was also in charge of vetting the NGOs accredited by the DA for its fund releases, which was the reason Napoles’ NGOs were able to obtain government funds in the Aquino administration.