TRC director confirms lawmakers’ signatures genuine
Contrary to their claims, lawmakers confirmed their signatures on letters they had sent to the Technology Resource Center (TRC) endorsing dubious nongovernment organization (NGOs), the head of the state agency has told investigators.
TRC Director General Dennis Cunanan, in a sworn statement submitted to the National Bureau of Investigation, specifically referred to Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr., who has claimed that his signature endorsing NGOs controlled by Janet Lim-Napoles, the detained mastermind of an alleged 10-billion pork barrel scam, was forged.
“Normally, the legislators themselves and in rare occasions their chiefs of staff confirmed the signature and endorsement letter in favor of their NGO of choice to implement their PDAF-funded projects through TRC,” Cunanan said.
“I sometimes personally make the calls to verify signatures, and in one occasion Senator Revilla scolded me for the delay in the release of his PDAF to a designated NGO when I called his office,” he said in an interview with the Inquirer.
Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jingoy Estrada and Revilla were among 38 people, including Napoles, charged on Sept. 16 with either plunder or malversation of public funds, in the Office of the Ombudsman in connection with the Napoles-engineered racket in which state funds were allegedly diverted to dummy NGOs and kickbacks to lawmakers.
Cunanan was among the 38 charged. He is expected to be released from the charges and used as a state witness, according to Levito Baligod, counsel of a group of whistle-blowers who revealed the Napoles scam to the NBI.
As a standard procedure in the TRC, signatures and endorsement letters were always validated, Cunanan said. “It is the policy and practice of the TRC to verify signatures through phone calls,” he said.
Cunanan said that the lawmakers or their assigned staff had also called up the TRC to check on the status of the release of the checks for the NGOs and “verify if everything went well, like project proposals and financial plans.”
He disclosed in his affidavit that there were instances between 2007 and 2009 when congressmen personally showed up in the TRC office to follow up the release of checks for the NGOs of Napoles.
“Almost often the mere presence of these visitors caused undue panic among our staff and they have to be welcomed at the lobby in deference to their position in government,” he said.
The Commission on Audit (COA), in a review of pork barrel releases from 2007 to 2009, found that the TRC got the biggest share with P2.613 billion among the five state corporations that were used as pork conduits. The others were National Agribusiness Corp., ZNAC Rubber Estates Corp. (ZREC), Philippine Forest Corp. (Philforest) and National Livelihood Development Corp. (NLDC).
Napoles got P580M
Based on the COA special audit, the TRC reportedly released to eight Napoles NGOs P580.85 million worth of pork barrel funds from Revilla, Enrile and Estrada and 23 representatives, including now Customs Commissioner Rozzano Rufino Biazon and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority Director General Joel Villanueva.
Baligod confirmed Cunanan’s statements. He said that Cunanan was one of his early resource persons in his efforts to confirm statements of the whistle-blowers, all former employees of Napoles.
He explained that Cunanan was included in the plunder case to “preserve the integrity of the case because we know without him coming forward as witness he could be cleared of wrongdoing.”
In his affidavit, Cunanan also said representatives of the Napoles NGOs seemed to have advance information about funds to be received by the TRC.
He added that these representatives had copies of endorsement letters from the lawmakers and requests to fast track the signing of memorandums of agreement (MOA) among the project proponents.
“The usual case was that even before funds from the PDAF were transferred to the center, NGO representatives already were visiting the TRC bringing endorsement letters from legislators and asking that a MOA be prepared so as not to delay implementation,” Cunanan said.
He said that the TRC started receiving PDAF funds in 2005 until 2009 after the center was included in the annual General Appropriations Act (GAA) as one of the authorized implementing agencies for PDAF projects.
Cunanan, who was appointed by President Aquino in 2010 to head the agency, said that his role as deputy director general of TRC in the PDAF projects was “merely perfunctory and ministerial, co-signing disbursement vouchers, checks and other documents relating to the financial transactions of the center.”
All PDAF projects implemented by the TRC were jointly processed, supervised and approved by Director General Antonio Ortiz, legal officer Francisco Figura, and legislative liaison officer Rosalinda Laxamana, Cunanan said.
“They were the ones who actually dealt with the offices of the legislators concerned as well as the NGO that supposedly implemented the projects,” he added.
On Dec. 20, 2007, Ortiz named Laxamana alternate signatory as recommending authority to TRC’s disbursement vouchers for any amount exceeding P1 million. Ortiz was one of the 38 charged in the Ombudsman.
Cunanan claimed that Ortiz issued a memorandum that bypassed him in all pork matters and that it was only when he took over Ortiz’s post that he “realized the magnitude of the transactions involved.”
“I organized a committee to investigate the TRC PDAF project implementation and to write to all the NGOs concerned to rectify all of their deficiencies and liquidate all unliquidated funds,” Cunanan said.
He added that on July 16, 2010, he issued a memorandum that blacklisted 44 NGOs, including eight connected to Napoles.
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