Philippine senate to expand probe of pork scam

Sen. Francis Escudero.

PHILIPPINES - Sen. Francis Escudero has raised the possibility that the heads of the government agencies that allowed their offices to be used as conduits for pork barrel to questionable nongovernment organisations (NGOs) will be held liable even if the allocations were endorsed by lawmakers.

Speaking to reporters after Thursday's hearing of the Senate blue ribbon committee, Escudero said he expected the panel to expand its inquiry to include not just the eight NGOs controlled by Janet Lim-Napoles identified by the Commission on Audit (COA) but also the 74 others that figured in its special audit.

On whether senators who were repeatedly mentioned on Thursday in the inquiry into the misuse of their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) were liable, Escudero said, "We have yet to see documents." He stressed that the panel had so far heard only testimonial evidence from the implementing agencies.

"What was clear was the liability of the implementing agencies. They didn't comply with the COA and GPP (General Procurement Procedure) rules as regards procuring the services of NGOs," Escudero said in an interview. "Whether inherited, whether they started the policy, it's still quite wrong. It is still a violation of the law."

On the liability of the implementing agencies, Escudero said: "Definitely, administrative. Definitely, it will fall under the antigraft law, Republic Act No. 3019."

Escudero said the lowest offence would be violation of the antigraft law's Section 3E on giving undue advantage to a particular NGO.

"Depending on how much was lost, they also have a liability for graft, malversation, or if it reaches the threshold amount, plunder," Escudero said.

Assistant Agriculture Secretary Salvador Salacup, former head of Zamboanga Rubber Estates Corp., and Alan Javellana, former president of National Agribusiness Corp., separately testified on Thursday that Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr. endorsed NGOs to their agencies as recipients of their PDAF entitlements.

Escudero, during the hearing, took Salacup and Javellana to task for their failure to follow procurement rules that require either public bidding or negotiated procurement when engaging NGOs in using public funds.

Ignorance no excuse

Salacup during the hearing said he didn't know of such requirements.

Ignorance excuses no one, Escudero said in the interview. He said the blue ribbon inquiry should expand its probe to include all 82 NGOs that figured in the COA special audit of PDAF use from 2007 to 2009 and not just the eight that had been identified in media reports to be those of Napoles.

"The blue ribbon committee has identified eight Napoles NGOs when the basis for the information is just newspaper reports. The committee has yet to find direct evidence on which ones are really identified with Napoles," Escudero said.

"The COA identified 82 NGOs involved in the scam using PDAF. Only eight of these are those of Napoles. There are 74 more that may be owned by her or not," Escudero said.

Escudero said the NGOs in the COA special audit should be investigated whether or not they belonged to Napoles.

"The accusation of the COA is the same. Ghost deliveries, fake receipts, NGOs that you can't locate and nonexistent suppliers," Escudero said.

Senators to explain

Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, the blue ribbon committee chair, said in a radio interview on Sunday the whistle-blowers led by Benhur Luy and Merlina Suñas would fill in the holes on how the money ended up in the pockets of Napoles, the senators and representatives and their senior staff members.

He told dzBB that the committee would continue with its hearings even if the Ombudsman had taken control of the case. The COA, the Department of Justice and the Ombudsman are still reviewing the evidence against Napoles and the NGOs.

This early, Guingona said it was clear that the pork barrel would be abolished. "I think the evil outweighs the good, therefore let's abolish the pork," he said.

The whistle-blowers will be asked to testify only if they submitted affidavits, which will form the basis of tracking the money flow from the government to the fake NGOs, he said.

After completing the "story," Guingona said the panel would have no choice but to compel the implicated senators to answer the charges. "We have yet to establish that the money came back to senators, we have only established that the money went to fake NGOs," he said.