PHILIPINES - Pork barrel scam whistle-blower Merlina P. Suñas has implicated the office of Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala as a key facilitator in funneling government funds to at least two dummy nongovernment organisations (NGOs) allegedly formed by Janet Lim-Napoles.
In an interview with the Inquirer, Suñas identified at least three livelihood projects worth a combined P16 million (S$466, 880) that were implemented by a Napoles NGO in Davao City, which used funds of the Department of Agriculture (DA).
"The justification is with Ms. Agawin from the secretary's office and we were able to implement the projects with DA funding," said Suñas, who claimed to be the main creator of the 20 bogus NGOs under the Napoles network.
Suñas claimed that her only contact with the DA was a "Ms. Agawin" as Napoles handled the negotiations. "I believe that the DA secretary would know all the funds at his disposal but I am not sure if he would know who and where the funds would go. Maybe he does not know unless he signed the endorsement letter himself," she said.
She said that the livelihood projects were supposed to be funded by the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab, chair of the powerful House appropriations committee and a stalwart of the ruling Liberal Party (LP), between 2011 and 2012. But since Region XI, or the Davao region, did not allow NGOs as conduits for pork barrel, Suñas said Ungab had to request Alcala to have the three projects bankrolled by the DA instead of his P70 million-a-year pork barrel.
She said the three projects were worth P3 million, P5 million and P8 million, respectively, all of which supposedly involved the distribution of packages that included fertilizer and sprayers that they valued at P15,450 each. She said that only the P3-million project was implemented for show while the two other projects were mere "ghost deliveries."
Suñas, who worked for the JLN Group of Companies for 15 years, said she personally attended to the accreditation of several Napoles NGOs but only one passed the DA's scrutiny: Kaupdanan para sa Mangunguma Foundation Inc. (KMFI) led by John Raymund de Asis, another Napoles staff member.
Earlier, another whistle-blower, Benhur K. Luy, claimed that Ungab used the KMFI as the go-between for a P5-million project in his district using his pork barrel on Nov. 2, 2011.
This was denied by Ungab's office, which gave the Inquirer a copy of a special allotment release order worth P5 million showing that the funds came from Alcala's office and that the NGO used was not KMFI but Agri and Economic Program for Farmers Foundation Inc., another bogus NGO controlled by Napoles.
Ungab's staff said they had a separate project with KMFI but they were still retrieving details from their files.
Alcala found Suñas' claims "impossible" considering that he had never met or spoken to Napoles.
Alcala, a member of the Liberal Party and a close friend of President Aquino when the two were representatives from 2004 to 2007, confirmed that a certain "Opie Agawin" was working with the DA, not under his office but with the agency's finance department.
"I met her there. But I am having it checked, quietly, so she would not be embarrassed if this is untrue," said Alcala, noting that he only brought with him a few appointees when he took over in July 2010 because he could not possibly change the entire 10,000-strong agency.
Alcala said that he was barely familiar with the fine details in the processing and the release of DA funds to NGOs.
He said that he was aware of the red flags raised by the Commission on Audit (COA) as early as 2007 about bogus NGOs taking advantage of DA subsidiaries, specifically the National Agribusiness Corp. (Nabcor), which Napoles' Social Development Program for Farmers Foundation Inc., run by Luy, used to get over P200 million in pork barrel funds.
Acting on the COA reports, Alcala said he imposed a more stringent accreditation process for NGOs starting in 2011 which left only between 15 and 20 NGOs allowed as conduits for DA money. He did not reveal the official list of eligible NGOs.
KMFI, which Suñas claimed was accredited by the DA, was among several Napoles NGOs that were used to siphon P900 million from the Malampaya Fund in 2009. Its listed address in Pampanga province was widely reported as fake.
Alcala explained that the DA had practically no choice when given an endorsement letter from a lawmaker or local government officials to allocate DA funds for a livelihood project.
"We can't just say no to them and the only reason used in giving out funds is whether the NGO they chose is validated or not. If it is not validated, I'm sorry. We can't do a thing," he said.
"But since I took over the agency, there have been fewer funding requests that go through us. Whether PDAF or DA funds, they have to go through accredited NGOs that we check and recheck to see if they have offices," Alcala said.