Return pork, 4 solons told
Senators Ramon Revilla Jr., Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Gregorio Honasan have been sent notices by the Commission on Audit (COA) that they have to return the millions of pesos from their pork barrel allotments that were illegally diverted to bogus nongovernment organizations (NGOs).
Chair Grace Pulido-Tan has confirmed that the COA has sent notices of disallowance to the four senators, and some others, concerning at least P6 billion of their pork barrel entitlements from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) that went to the questionable NGOs from 2007 to 2009.
Claiming that the issue was sensitive, Tan refused to give any more details, except to say that the senators have the right to appeal the notice of disallowance with the COA.
“You have to trust us that we’ve sent them [the notice of disallowance],” said Tan who was interviewed after the Senate blue ribbon committee hearing last Thursday on the pork barrel scam.
Revilla, through his lawyer, said he would appeal the notice, while Enrile’s lawyers said they were studying how to respond to it. Estrada and Honasan did not reply to requests for comments.
While being grilled by Estrada last October at a Senate hearing on the COA’s 2014 budget, Tan stated that the lawmakers implicated in the pork barrel scam were “jointly liable” for the “disallowed funds.” She said they would be getting notices of disallowance.
Estrada scoffed at the prospect of refunding millions of pesos that he said were under the control of the heads of the implementing agencies of their projects, not the lawmakers.
P6.2B transferred to NGOs
“That’s the consequence of a notice of disallowance. Those who will get such notices would become jointly and solidarily liable for the return of the money, and that is a matter of law,” the COA chief shot back.
Tan earlier said that the COA would issue thousands of notices of disallowance after a special audit showed that P6.2 billion in pork barrel funds were illegally transferred to 82 NGOs, including at least eight that had links to alleged scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles, from 2007 to 2009.
Among the sources of the illegally diverted pork funds were Revilla (P413.29 million), Enrile (P332.7 million), Estrada (P191.58 million) and Honasan (P14.55 million).
The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has filed plunder complaints in the Office of the Ombudsman against Revilla, Enrile, Estrada, Napoles and 34 others over the scam. [Since the amounts ascribed to Honasan involved less than P50 million, he was not included in the plunder complaint.]
The NBI filed the complaints based on the testimonies of whistle-blower Benhur Luy and 11 other former employees of Napoles, not on the COA report. The figure involved in the whistle-blowers’ accounts was P10 billion. This was the amount of pork barrel funds that the whistle-blowers said were diverted to bogus projects of the Napoles NGOs and to the lawmakers involved in the form of kickbacks from 2007 to 2009.
‘Nothing to return’
Revilla, through his lawyer, said there was nothing to return to the COA.
“We are contesting that definitely. Senator Bong has nothing to do with the funds illegally withdrawn from the PDAF by Benhur Luy and his cohorts,” said Revilla’s lawyer Joel Bodegon in a text message.
According to Bodegon, Revilla has filed a suit against Luy and the other whistle-blowers for them to return the money they allegedly “stole” from the government.
“Senator Revilla stole no money from the government, much less from the PDAF, and therefore there is nothing for him to return to the government,” Bodegon said.
“The COA disallowance does not apply to him as it is without basis whatsoever,” he said.
In a privilege speech he delivered at the Senate two weeks ago, Revilla maintained that he did not sign documents endorsing dubious foundations as recipients of his pork barrel entitlements.
He claimed that it was Luy who forged the signatures of officials, including lawmakers, in facilitating the racket of converting millions of pesos in pork barrel into kickbacks.
Shift to LGUs
At Thursday’s hearing, Tan said that in 2011 and 2012, there was “less funneling” of pork barrel funds through government corporations. Apparently, the preferred mode shifted to the local government units (LGUs).
She cited cases involving Dinalupihan and Pilar towns in Bataan province, and some municipalities of Nueva Ecija province.
“There were PDAF findings showing the same modus operandi,” Tan told the committee, noting that the COA reported out its pork barrel findings from 2010 onwards in specific agencies.
According to a 2012 audit report of the COA and the Department of Budget and Management, Senators Enrile, Estrada, Revilla, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Vicente Sotto III and Loren Legarda gave millions of pesos from the PDAF entitlements to various LGUs using the same dubious Napoles-linked NGOs. All six senators denied any wrongdoing.
In the same hearing, Tan said the COA was preparing to file malversation charges against officials of government agencies for unliquidated cash advances running into billions of pesos dating back 10 years from 2011.
First posted 1:09 am | Saturday, February 1st, 2014
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