Dares CoA to name lawmakers linked to lost funds
Opposition Senator Jinggoy Estrada on Friday pressed Commission on Audit Chairman Gracia Pulido Tan to name the legislators responsible for P69.2 billion in Priority Development Assistance Fund or pork barrel releases for infrastructure projects from 2007 to 2009.
Estrada, who is facing plunder charges along with Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile and Senator Ramon Revilla Jr. for their alleged involvement in the P10 billion pork barrel scam, said the COA report for those years was peppered with remarks such as “unidentified legislator.”
“We do not know where the more than P69 billion PDAF releases from the taxpayers’ money went,” said Estrada.
Protest. Members of various organizations trooped to the House of Representatives before the legislators’ two-week break to call for the abolition of the pork barrel. Manny Palmero
He added that the public had a right to know who these legislators were.
“Can they [COA] not identify these legislators or does COA Chairman Grace Pulido Tan just deliberately refuse to identify them?” asked Estrada, who again accused the administration of singling out its political enemies for prosecution.
The National Bureau of Investigation accused Revilla, Estrada and Enrile of accumulating P224.51 million, P183.79 million and P172.83 million in kickbacks, respectively.
Revilla and Estrada are expected to run for president and vice president in 2016, in a challenge to the ruling Liberal Party.
The 89-year-old Enrile is a top leader of the opposition, along with Vice President Jejomar Binay and Estrada’s father, ousted President and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada.
Continuing his attack on the COA report, Estrada said of the P115.987 billion in releases for PDAF and other discretionary funds, the COA was able to audit only P41 billion.
“What happened? Where did the more than P75 billion go?” Estrada said.
Of the soft projects worth P29 billion, COA was able to audit only P8 billion, he added.
“Where is the P21 billion. Was this released? Where did it go? Why was it not audited?” he said.
Estrada also said Tan’s testimony before the Blue Ribbon Committee hearing was also deliberately selective and blatantly incomplete, like her “special audit report.”
That report covered 82 non-government organizations (NGOs) that received pork barrel.
“But what was conveniently presented by Pulido Tan during the hearing were only eight. She even classified these eight as Napoles NGOs,” said Estrada, referring to the alleged mastermind in the P10 billion pork barrel scam, Janet Lim Napoles, who was charged with plunder alongside the three opposition senators.
Estrada questioned Tan’s characterization of the NGOs as “Napoles NGOs” and said this was not in the COA special audit report.
“How and where did Chairman Pulido Tan get this information? Does she have first-hand information on the NGOs of Ms. Napoles?” asked Estrada.
He also said the special audit report covered the PDAF releases of 371 legislators, but during the Senate hearing, all she mentioned were Estrada, Revilla, Enrile and Senator Gregorio Honasan.
“What is puzzling was when she was ordered to mention the names of the other legislators, Chairman Pulido Tan suddenly excused herself, suddenly felt dizzy and left the Senate,” Estrada said.
“Why the propensity for selective reporting? Why are certain pieces of information readily released
while others are conveniently kept hidden?”
Estrada also observed that the COA did not have a single disallowance or even a suspension for the releases of pork in the 450 pages of its special audit report.
He recalled how Tan pronounced her findings of excessive releases and anomalous transactions were “shocking.”
“But why [was there] no disallowance from COA? Not a single disallowance.... Our people must know, [this] is the most blatant, inept defect in the special audit report,” Estrada said.
Under the Constitution, he said COA has exclusive power to disallow expenses, yet it did not have a single disallowance in its PDAF audit.
“Very clearly, Chairman Pulido Tan failed to obey the constitutional mandate reposed on COA, and that is a compliance audit [that] focuses on public accountability [and] that disallows irregular, unnecessary, excessive and extravagant or unconscionable expenditures or uses of government funds,” Estrada said.
Reacting to Tan’s observation that he did not once deny the accusations during his privilege speech this week, Estrada said the Senate was not the proper forum to defend himself.
He said he and the other senators accused in the pork barrel scandal were ready to defend themselves in court.
Estrada also called on the Senate’s Legislative Budget Research and Monitoring Office under Director Yolanda Doblon to fully disclose not only the PDAF allocations but all the budgetary amendments or insertions and extra amounts authorized by the Finance committee chairman for each senator over the years starting from the 12th Congress to the present.
He also dared Budget Secretary Florencio Abad to turn over all the documents to COA so that it can complete its audit of the years 2007 to 2009.
On Friday, the Palace insisted that pork barrel given to senators in October 2012 were part of the “normal releases” and not meant to reward lawmakers who voted to convict Chief Justice Renato Corona during the impeachment trial at the Senate.
“There was a release...The releases to the Senate as an institution came around October. I understand that the verdict against Corona was handed out in May,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said.
“Again, these were part of the normal releases to them,” Valte added.
Valte said President Benigno Aquino III was able to monitor parts of Estrada’s expose and called
up Abad to tell him to “say what you have to say.”
Former Senator Panfilo Lacson confirmed that senators who voted for conviction were given an extra P50 million allocation, but said he was not aware of the confidential memo Estrada referred to in his speech.
Lacson said Senator Franklin Drilon, then chairman of the Senate finance committee, announced the additional pork allocations at a caucus and even joked that he would take Lacson’s share if he did not want it.
Confronted with Lacson’s confirmation, Valte would not say that Estrada or Valte was a liar.
“I cannot answer for both senators,” she said.
“Senator Lacson was talking about a conversation inside a caucus which we are not party to. So, you’ll have to go to him and ask about the particular circumstances,” she said.
“About the letter that is being waved around by Senator Estrada, does anybody have copy of it? Because we were not also able to see it. As far as we are concerned, we have no knowledge of that particular letter that he was referring to, and its contents. So, as far as the Executive is concerned, we can categorically tell you that there was no P50 million that was given to the senators as a bribe, as a reward, or as an incentive for the conviction of the former chief justice.”
Valte also refused to comment on Corona’s statement that the expose on the P50 million reward was a vindication of his view that there was a conspiracy to have him ousted.
“Let us not go back to that. That’s beating a dead horse already. I have no opinion on his opinion,” Valte added.
Also on Friday, House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. appealed to critics of the administration allies who were dragged in the pork barrel mess to wait for the results of the investigation being conducted by an inter-agency body tasked to probe the irregularities.
Belmonte made the appeal after Estrada’s privilege speech, which attacked the administration for selective prosecution.
In his speech, Estrada named several Aquino allies that he said were spared in the investigation because they were members of the President’s Liberal Party. – With Joyce Pangco Panares and Maricel V. Cruz