Senate faceoff: COA chief tells Estrada he may get ‘P200-M bill’ soon
Despite his protestations, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada may yet get a notice to refund close to P200 million of his pork barrel released to questionable nongovernment organizations (NGOs) from 2007 to 2009, Commission on Audit (COA) Chair Grace Pulido-Tan indicated on Wednesday.
Grilled by Estrada for more than an hour over her agency’s report on the pork barrel scam, the COA chair turned the tables on him and said lawmakers were “jointly liable” for the “disallowed fund.”
“Why are we being asked to return the fund? We never received the money,” Estrada protested during the Senate hearing on COA’s 2014 budget after Tan confirmed that lawmakers would be asked to refund the money.
Tan replied: “That’s the consequence of a notice of disallowance (ND). Those who will get such a notice would become jointly and solidarily liable for the return of the money, and that is a matter of law.”
She earlier said that NDs would be issued over some P6 billion worth of pork barrel that a special audit from 2007 to 2009 found was illegally funneled to questionable NGOs.
In that special audit, the COA reported that P6.2 billion in the congressional Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) was transferred to 82 NGOs from 2007 to 2009, including at least eight controlled by Janet Lim-Napoles, the alleged brains of a P10-billion pork barrel scam.
The funds were sourced from Senators Bong Revilla (P413.29 million), Juan Ponce Enrile (P332.7 million), Estrada (P191.58 million) and Gregorio Honasan (P14.55 million), among others.
At the hearing, Estrada told Tan it was premature for her to announce the issuance of NDs for legislators. He insisted that it was the heads of implementing agencies, not the lawmakers, who had control of the funds.
“Why gang up on the legislators who don’t have control of the funds?” said the senator, who was charged in the Office of the Ombudsman with plunder together with Revilla and Enrile over the Napoles racket.
At this point, Tan indicated that Estrada might get one such notice.
Tan replied: “Sir, with due respect, I can’t answer your question now because once the notices of disallowance are issued, you have the right to appeal in the event that you get one of these. And it will come to the commission proper, so I don’t want to prejudge.”
Taken aback, Estrada asked why she was giving such a statement. Tan retorted that she was just replying to his question.
“It is our function to issue notices of disallowance, and the effect of a notice of disallowance is that we’re asking you to return the money,” Tan said.
When Estrada pressed her on why the COA was bent on issuing the notices to legislators, Tan said this was a “proper matter for appeal.”
Estrada’s questioning used up close to one and a half hours of the finance committee’s hearing on the COA budget to grill Tan, who held her ground.
Nobody in the committee, chaired by Sen. Francis Escudero, managed to ask about the COA’s budget. Another hearing was set for this.
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