PUERTO PRINCESA—President Benigno Aquino III said he suspects other personalities are conspiring to confuse the public about the pork barrel scam by including Cabinet officials in the list of former lawmakers who benefited from the misuse of the Priority Development Assistance Fund.
“I don’t have evidence right now. But I know personalities who are actively trying to muddle the issue,” Aquino said. The President, who escorted suspected pork barrel mastermind Janet Lim Napoles to Camp Crame when she surrendered last year in a bid to convince her to tell all that she knew, said he is now surprised that the public appears to take as gospel truth the list of implicated lawmakers and officials that she submitted to the Justice Department. “Before, Mrs. Napoles was hated by the people. Now, when she speaks, it is as if everything that she says is true. How did that happen?” he said.
“Isn’t it ...in her interest to muddle the issue and delay the process in the hope that it will be forgotten as time goes by? Maybe somebody told her: while this drags on, your situation will
improve and people will hate you less and less,” the President said. “Some have observed that since she cannot defend herself, her best defense is to fling mud at everyone else. That delays the prosecution of the case... Maybe she could wait it out and the next President would be kinder to her or easier to strike a deal with. There are such allegations,” Aquino added.
Aquino defended Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, whom Napoles had tagged as her mentor in setting up bogus non-government organizations, and Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, who was also named in the list.
“Secretary Abad has introduced several innovations that made the budget process more transparent. If you are a thief, I think you would want to hide what you are doing. And Secretary Abad has done nothing but make the process more transparent,” Aquino said. “Even Secretary Alcala—again, we are investigating certain things that have happened in the Department of Agriculture, but at this point..., I cannot see where there is direct involvement by Secretary Alcala in areas that are questionable,” he added. In a statement, Abad confirmed that he knew Manuel Jarmin, whom Napoles said acted as his agent when he was still the congressional representative of the lone district of Batanes. In her affidavit, Napoles said she met Abad through Jarmin at a Japanese restaurant in Edsa Shangri-la Hotel in 2000. She said Abad told her that she would need an NGO to be able to transact with government, just as he used the Batanes Electric Cooperative to implement projects.
Abad was also tagged as a conspirator by whistleblower Merlina Suñas, insisted that he has never made dealings with Napoles. “I have never dealt with Janet Lim Napoles in any manner, much less through an agent or a middleman. And while I may be acquainted with Mr. Jarmin, I have never transacted with him in any capacity,” Abad said.
“Ms. Napoles’ claims about me—that I tapped Mr. Jarmin as my ‘agent,’ and that I taught her how to profit illegally from the bureaucracy—are absolutely not true,” he added.
Abad said Napoles’ claim that he showed her a Special Allotment Release Order for the alleged questionable funds channeled through the Batanes Electric Cooperative was a lie.
“None of these things took place—this mysterious P10-million project, the clandestine meetings in the EDSA Shangri-La and Cravings-Katipunan, the crash course on PDAF corruption I supposedly gave her in those two meetings, and finally, the happily generous exchange of millions in cash between us—except in the warped, fevered imagination of Ms. Napoles,” he said.
“It’s unfortunate that despite the countless opportunities she had to reveal the truth, Ms. Napoles resorted instead to blatant, shameless lying. Her claims about me amount to deception of the sorriest caliber, holding up poorly to scrutiny and collapsing in the face of facts,” Abad added.
Another administration official tagged by Napoles was Energy Regulatory Commission chair Zenaida Ducut. Earlier, whistleblower Benhur Luy said Ducut, when she was a congresswoman, received at least P40 million in commissions over the years.
Ducut, who served as representative of Pampanga from 1995 to 2004, also served as Napoles’ agent for Senators Lito Lapid and Miriam Defensor-Santiago and some other congressmen, Napoles said in her sworn statement.
Napoles also tagged the chairman of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), Joel Villanueva, as among the former lawmakers who benefited from the pork barrel scam. All of them have issued their respective denials. According to Napoles’ affidavit, except for two or three senators, most lawmakers received their kickbacks through agents. Napoles added that she did not personally know most of the lawmakers involved. According to her 33-page affidavit, Napoles handed millions of pesos in commissions and other gifts intended for senators to their agents, or persons who claimed to be acting on their behalf. Senators whom she had never met were Senators Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Gregorio Honasan, Loren Legarda and Alan Peter Cayetano, Napoles said. She also said she never dealt directly with former senators Robert Jaworski, Tessie Aquino Oreta and Aqulino Pimentel Jr. Napoles said she had never talked to Marcos, but a certain Maya Santos approached her and offered projects from his pork barrel in exchange for a 50 percent commission.
Santos also acted as an agent for Legarda for the same rate. “I didn’t know how much she gave (to Legarda). I talked to her because I do not know Senator Loren,” said Napoles. “It was only Santos who offered, processed all the papers and had the documents signed for the projects. In my estimate, she got almost 39,500,000 for the senator’s projects,” said Napoles. Napoles also said she never dealt with Honasan, but a certain “Attorney Danny” on his staff, who got P3.75 million for one project. She said Cayetano’s uncle, a certain “Tito Boy” was his agent for a project in the Department of Transportation and Communications, when the senator was still a congressman.
She said other projects did not push through because of disagreements over the commissions.
Napoles also said she did not know Pimentel personally, but dealt with a certain Mon Arcenas.
“I just talked to Mon Arcenas. He brought the SARO (Special Allotment Release Order, signed the papers and got rebates for the projects. I remembered the project implemented by the local government unit in 2003 cost P14 million. Mon got a 45 percent rebate,” she said. She said Tet De Joya and Freddie Villamor acted as agents for Jaworski for a P10 million project in 2004.
For Oreta, Napoles said she dealt with Carlos Reyes, who received a 40 percent commission for projects with a local government unit and the Agriculture Department.
Napoles also listed the names of Cayetano, Senators Francis Escudero and former senator Manny Villar as recipients of campaign contributions from pork barrel funds.
“I gave money for the campaign of Senator Alan Peter Cayetano in the laat elections. We saw each other at SLICE restaurant at Bonifacio Global City. I personally handed to him the money,” Napoles said. She said it was before the 2010 elections when she was introduced to Escudero in a private room inside a Chinese restaurant in the EDSA Shangri-La Hotel.
“There, he convinced me to financially support his candidacy for President. I gave him financial assistance on the same day. We met again at the Taste of LA restaurant months after the elections and he won as senator. We talked about the projects he can give me. That afternoon, I again gave him money but there were no projects that push through,” she said.