Ombudsman orders ‘Tesdaman’ dismissal
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales has ordered the dismissal of Sen. Joel Villanueva, aka Tesdaman, for allegedly misusing his pork barrel funds when he was the representative in the House of an anticorruption party-list group.
At the same time, Morales ordered the filing of criminal charges in the Sandiganbayan against the senator and nine others found liable for the release of P10 million of his congressional Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to a “ghost” livelihood project in Compostela Valley.
Villanueva was the representative of the Citizens’ Battle Against Corruption (Cibac) in the House before he was appointed by then President Benigno Aquino III director general of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda) in 2010.
In a statement, Villanueva said he had filed his appeal with the antigraft watchdog, but added he would leave to Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III the matter of his dismissal.
Villanueva said the evidence against him was fabricated. “Up to this day, I maintain my innocence,” he said.
Pimentel said he would await the outcome of Villanueva’s appeal before deciding on the dismissal recommendation.
In ordering the senator’s dismissal from public office, Morales held Villanueva administratively liable for grave misconduct, serious dishonesty and conduct prejudicial to the interest of the service. She directed Pimentel to implement the dismissal.
The case against Villanueva outlined two counts of violation of Section 3(e) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, and one count each for malversation of public funds and malversation through falsification of public documents.
Others ordered charged are former Agriculture Secretary and now Bohol Rep. Arthur Yap, Villanueva’s staffer Ronald Samonte, Department of Agriculture employee Delia Ladera, and National Agribusiness Corp. (Nabcor) officials Alan Javellana, Romulo Relevo, Ma. Julie Villaralvo-Johnson, Rhodora Mendoza, and Maria Ninez Guanizo and Alfredo Ronquillo, president of Aaron Foundation Philippines, Inc. (AFPI).
The Ombudsman filed in August last year an administrative complaint against Villanueva in connection with the alleged irregular purchase, using his PDAF allocation, of vegetable seedlings distributed in Compostela Valley.
The case arose from Villanueva’s request on June 12, 2008, to release P10 million of his PDAF to Nabcor, which was tapped to implement the project together with AFPI as partner nongovernment organization.
The amount was earmarked for agri-based livelihood projects meant to benefit the residents of eight towns in Compostela Valley. It was used to buy various seedlings, liquid fertilizers and threshers from MJ Rickson Trading Corp.
Ombudsman investigators later found that no one on the supposed list of beneficiaries was a registered voter in the province. Local officials attested that no livelihood projects were implemented by AFPI.
It also turned out the chosen localities were not suitable for farming because most of the land was occupied by banana and coconut plantations.
Documents also showed that AFPI had no financial capability to implement the P10-million project considering its capital stock contribution of only P68,000.
Investigators could also not locate the supplier MJ Rickson at its business address and that it was not registered with either the Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority or the Department of Trade and Industry.
The respondents also allegedly submitted fabricated and undated documents, such as accomplishment reports, disbursement reports and liquidation documents, to support the “ghost project.”
The Commission on Audit later issued a notice of disallowance on Aug. 12, 2014, because of the supposed irregularity in the transaction.
Due diligence audit
Morales said that Villanueva disregarded various laws and regulations when he “directly selected Nabcor and AFPI” to implement his livelihood projects.
“Nabcor officers did not even bother to conduct a due diligence audit on AFPI as to its technical and financial capability and simply accepted and relied on the representation of Villanueva and AFPI to undertake the projects in contravention of existing procurement laws,” she said.
Morales stressed that under the congressional pork barrel system, “it is the legislator who exercises actual control and custody of the PDAF share.”
Villanueva has another pending case with the Office of the Ombudsman in connection to a third batch of pork barrel scam cases involving fake foundations allegedly controlled by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles.
During Monday’s session, Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said that under the Ombudsman’s Act, the office could not discipline members of Congress.
Senate President Pro Tempore Franklin Drilon said that the matter should be brought to the courts.
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