22 lawmakers gave $2.9m pork to 'fake' NGOs-COA

PHILIPPINES - More than P100 million (S$2.9 million) from the pork barrel entitlements and Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) allocations of two senators (Gregorio Honasan II and Lito Lapid) and 20 House representatives (including ruling Liberal Party (LP) leaders like Lorenzo Tañada III and Rey Umali) were released by the Philippine Forest Corp. to dubious foundations in 2012, according to a newly released Commission on Audit (COA) report.

In its 2012 annual audit report on Philforest released last Thursday, the COA said P100.17 million in funds that Philforest received from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and DAP were released to various nongovernment organisations (NGOs) "without any legal basis" and in complete disregard of COA guidelines in choosing NGOs that were either ill-equipped to handle such funds or had nonexistent addresses or both.

The COA report covered fund releases for 2012 which also included funds that were carried over from 2011.

According to the state audit agency, Philforest was given P162.105 million in allocations between 2011 and 2012, of which P30 million came from DAP.

The PDAF is the official name of the now outlawed congressional pork barrel while the DAP is a stimulus package that the Aquino administration created in 2011 to fast-track public spending and stimulate growth. The PDAF is now mired in scandal because billions of pesos of PDAF funds that were released for projects proposed by legislators allegedly went to line the pockets of certain senators and congressmen.

In addition to allegations that it was used to bribe or reward favoured legislators, the DAP has the additional burden of having its legality and constitutionality questioned before the Supreme Court as it was not approved in a legislated budget but was funded out of ostensibly "realigned savings."

Legislators involved

According to the COA report, the lawmakers involved in the questionable release of PDAF and DAP funds were: Senators Honasan (P31.75 million) and Lapid (P1.25 million); and House Representatives Umali (P13.45 million), Raymond Democrito Mendoza (P9.1 million), Tañada (P7 million from DAP), Fatima Dimaporo (P3.5 million), Isidro Q. Lico (P3.15 million), Antonio Alvarez (P2.8 million), Michael Angelo C. Rivera (P2.25 million), Salvador P. Cabaluna III (P2.25 million), Rodolfo G. Valencia (P1.91 million), Jose S. Aquino II (P1.75 million), Ponciano D. Payuyo (P1.7 million), Hadjiman Hataman-Sulliman (P1.65 million), Joel Roy R. Duavit (P1.5 million), Teodorico T. Haresco (P1.05 million), Nelson Dayanghirang (P1 million), Nicanor M. Briones (P750,000), Jose Benjamin Benaldo (P750,000), Maria Isabelle G. Climaco (P600,000), Yevgeny Vicente B. Emano (P450,000) and Robert Raymund Estrella (P210,000).

Tañada and Climaco are no longer members of Congress. Climaco is now mayor of Zamboanga City while Tañada, the former Quezon congressman, is now the spokesperson of the ruling LP. Umali, the Oriental Mindoro representative, is the party's deputy spokesperson. The COA was unable to complete its audit of P9.225 million worth of checks because their sources could not be traced, only their recipient NGOs.

NGO recipients unqualified

The eight dubious NGOs that COA has recommended for blacklisting and the funds they received were: Kapuso't Kapamilya Foundation Inc. or KKFI (P32.75 million), Focus on Development Goals Foundation Inc. or FDGFI (P28.65 million), Maharlikang Lipi Foundation Inc. or MLPI (P24.87 million), Kaagapay Magpakailanman Foundation Inc. or KMFI (P5.95 million), Pangkabuhayan Foundation Inc. or PFI (P2.9 million), Workphil Foundation Inc. (P2.55 million), Livedures Foundation Inc. or LFI (P1.5 million) and Interactive Training Opportunities on Needs Alleviations Movement Inc. or Itonami (P1 million).

The COA said that while Philforest was designated as the implementing agency for the jatropha planting programme in the 2011 budget (from where some of the funds were carried over to 2012), there was no provision stating that the projects should be contracted out to NGOs. This meant that they should have been awarded through mandatory bidding, the COA said.

The COA said the NGOs were not qualified to implement the projects.

"The documents submitted by [the] NGOs were deficient and defective and [it] appeared that these were submitted for compliance purposes only. It is evident that the Philforest accepted them without reviewing their completeness and correctness," it said.

Filing of charges

The COA found that some of the funds were released mainly on the endorsement of the proponent legislators; that the NGOs lacked the basic requirements, certificate of registration from the Securities and Exchange Commission; the NGOs were operating outside their office location; that some NGOs had nonexistent addresses; that Philforest released the final tranches of the PDAF and DAP despite incomplete liquidation reports from the NGOs; and that the NGOs were paid 3 per cent retention fees even if their projects were not fully implemented.

The COA has recommended the filing of charges, such as dereliction of duty, against accountable officers and employees responsible for releasing the pork and DAP funds.

The Philforest is a state-owned corporation whose mandate includes providing "expert services and management" for agroforestry programs, reforestation programs, providing livelihood to beneficiaries of agrarian reform, establishing and operating ecotourism projects, and participating in activities related to public agricultural and forest land.