Biazon in pork scam raps
THE government on Friday filed malversation, bribery and graft and corruption charges against Customs Commissioner Rozzano Rufino Biazon, six other former lawmakers and 27 others in connection with the pork barrel scam.
Biazon, who belongs to President Benigno Aquino III’s ruling Liberal Party, was the congressional representative of Muntinlupa.
Other former lawmakers named as respondents in the second batch of criminal complaints filed by the Justice Department were Salacnib Baterina (1st District of Ilocos Sur); Douglas Cagas (1st District of Davao del Sur); Marc Douglas Cagas (1st District of Davao del Sur); Arrel Olano (1st District of Davao del Norte); Arthur Pingoy Jr. (2nd District of South Cotabato); and Rodolfo Valencia (1st District of Oriental Mindoro).
|34 more in the dock. Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and private prosecutor Levito Baligod field questions from journalists after filing malversation, bribery and graft charges against 34 government officials and employees over misused pork barrel funds. DANNY PATA|
Political affiliation was not a consideration in the filing of complaints, she said.
However, she added that Biazon’s inclusion in the charge list would not affect his incumbency as Customs chief because the case will still undergo a fact-finding investigation by the Ombudsman before the preliminary investigation.
Biazon said he is ready to face the criminal complaint filed against him.
“Accounting for public funds comes with the territory of serving in government, whether it be at the lowest levels of local government or at the highest levels of national office. Therefore, I am willing and ready to face the allegations raised today pertaining to the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) allocated to my congressional district during my term as representative of the lone district of Muntinlupa,” he said.
In a statement, Biazon said he had always exercised prudence and fidelity in the performance of his duty as representative of Muntinlupa as well as in other responsibilities to the public, and pursued “projects and programs” that benefited his constituents.
He added that he welcomed the opportunity to answer the accusations against him.
Also named respondents were the heads and other officials of two implementing agencies—
Technology Resource Center (TRC) and National Agribusiness Corp. (Nabcor) – their respective resident auditors from the Commission on Audit (COA), and presidents of five non-government organizations (NGOs) established by the alleged mastermind behind the pork barrel scam, Janet Lim Napoles.
De Lima said the Napoles NGOs – Philippine Social Development Foundation, Inc. (PSDFI), Countrywide Agri and Rural Economic Development Foundation, Inc. (CARED), Social Development
Program for Farmers Foundation, Inc. (SDPFFI), People’s Organization for Progress and Development Foundation, Inc. (POPDFI) and Masaganang Ani Para sa Magsasaka Foundation, Inc. (MAMFI) -- were used by the lawmakers to unlawfully funnel their pork barrel allotments in exchange for kickbacks.
Justice Department investigators also recommended charges be filed against agents or representatives of the lawmakers, including Zenaida Cruz-Ducut, former congresswoman of Pampanga’s 2nd
District, now chairperson of the Energy Regulatory Commission, and Celia Cuasay, representative of Valencia.
De Lima said the respondent congressmen received their kickbacks from Napoles through Cruz-Ducut.
“The crimes of malversation, bribery, and other graft and corrupt practices were thus committed when said lawmakers received from Napoles kickbacks in substantial percentages of the SARO (Special allotment Release Orders) amounts for every project endorsed by the lawmaker to a Napoles NGO,” the National Bureau of Investigation said in its complaint.
“These kickbacks are the lawmakers’ bribe for giving undue favor to a Napoles NGO, or represent his illegally contracted share from a malversation scheme designed to misuse and misappropriate public funds entrusted to him, and which he appropriates instead for private gain rather than the public benefit intended by law,” it added.
NBI probers said that the lawmakers coursed their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel through one or two of the Napoles NGOs, using either the TRC or the Nabcor, or both, as implementing agencies.
The NBI alleged that Baterina received a total of P7.5 million in kickbacks; Biazon, P1.95 million; Cagas, P9.3 million; Cagas IV, P5.54 million; Olano, P3.17 million; Pingoy, P7.05 million; and Valencia, P2.4 million.
No plunder charges were filed because none of the amounts reached the threshold of P50 million, De Lima said.
The NBI said based on its investigation, the scheme starts with an agreement between Naples and the lawmaker where the latter promises to designate Napoles’ NGOs as the recipient of his PDAF for purposes of supposedly implementing projects in the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) menu of projects that can be financed with the use of pork barrel.
In exchange for selecting the Napoles NGOs, the lawmaker in turn will receive from Napoles his agreed share of kickback.
The DBM in turn issues a SARO to the lawmaker who then endorses a selected Napoles NGO to the implementing agency, which in turn, without any public bidding, enters into a memorandum of agreement with the NGO for the implementation of the project.
The representative of the lawmaker who facilitates documents and follows up with agencies gets from 1 percent to 5 percent of the project cost also as kickback.
“In the end, there is really nothing to monitor, because all the funds that were supposed to be used for the project had in reality already been pocketed by the lawmaker, Napoles, the head of the implementing agency, the lawmaker’s representative, and other officials whose signatures were needed to facilitate the scam and are bribed to look the other way,” the NBI said.
De Lima said the scheme could not have been perpetrated without the connivance of the heads and officials of the implementing agencies as well as their resident COA auditors.
Thus, the NBI also charged Alan Javellana, Nabcor former president; Antonio Ortiz, former director general of TRC; Dennis Cunanan, former deputy director general of TRC; Victor Cacal, Romulo Relevo, Ma. Ninez Guanizo, Ma. Julie Villaralvo-Johnson and Rhodora Mendoza, all belonging to Nabcor; and Francisco Figura and Marivic Jover of TRC.
The resident auditors of Nabcor, namely Annie Recabo, Rebecca Aquino, Bella Tesorero, Susan Guardian, Elizabeth Savella, Merle Valentin, Diana Casado, Aida Villania, Laarni Lyn Torres and Herminia Aquino and TRC resident auditors identified as Jerry Calayan and Sylvia Montes, also face charges.
The NBI also charged Napoles NGO presidents namely Mylene Encarnacion (CARED) and Evelyn de Leon (PSDFI).
“In order to accomplish all this, the lawmakers took advantage and abused their official position and authority as congressmen of the Republic, thereby unjustly enriching themselves at the expense and to the damage and prejudice of the people and the Republic,” the NBI said.
“The acts constituting the offenses were performed willfully, deliberately, and maliciously with the legislators knowing fully well that their act of receiving the large amounts of cash from Napoles for their private use resulted in the corresponding diminution of the funds actually expended for the public purpose intended by law,” it added.
In September, the NBI filed plunder, malversation and bribery charges with the Ombudsman against 38 people implicated in the pork barrel scam, including opposition Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr. and Napoles.
Deputy presidential spokeswoman Abigail Valte said the Palace would remain impartial in the investigation.
“From the President’s point-of-view, he has always said that you go where the evidence takes you. We’ve always said that there is no partiality. I think that has been repeated, not just by the President, but by the investigators themselves, by the secretary of Justice.”
Asked if Biazon would need to file a leave, Valte said she had yet to receive word from President Aquino.
She said, however, that the filing of charges against Biazon would dispel allegations that the government was selective in its prosecution.
Valte also said that the inclusion of COA auditors in the charges suggested that the audit agency has “started looking into the possibility that some auditors or resident auditors may be part of the crimes that have happened.”
Last August, Biazon admitted that a portion of his P70 million pork barrel allocation when he was Mutinlupa City congressman went to a non-government organization project.
He said just like any other legistrator who implement projects in their respective districts, “we implement projects in our district. All of these things [are] subject to review by the authorities.”
Biazon said the implementing agencies had the responsibility to check the backgrounds of NGOs supported by the government.
“They have the fund, they disburse and implement it. The role of the legislators is to recommend what projects could be done. In fact, the COA report says the implementing agency has the primary responsibility.”
A COA report showed that Biazon and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) director general Joel Villanueva were the two former congressmen aligned with President
Aquino who received excess pork barrel allocations from 2007 to 2008.
The COA audit revealed that Biazon in 2007 exceeded his P70 million pork barrel allocation as a Muntinlupa City representative by P3.9 million.
On the other hand, Villanueva, then party list representative of the Citizens’ Battle Against Corruption (CIBAC) received P7.35 million additional pork in 2008, COA said.
Biazon said he only knew Napoles by her reputation.
Valencia slammed government prosecutors for filing charges against him, saying he had already answered the allegations and complaints before the COA.
Valencia told the Manila Standard that he was surprised that the Justice Department filed charges against him in relation to the pork barrel scam.
“I do not know any Napoles at all, and I believe that this Napoles should be prosecuted immediately for so many fake or bogus projects that had been undertaken that had unduly implicated innocent people like me,” Valencia said.
Valencia expressed confidence that the charges filed against him would be dismissed.
He said that since 2012 he had already sent a letter to the COA saying that his signature on the documents were fake.
The Manila Standard was unable to reach the other former lawmakers who were in the charge list. – With Merck Maguddayao, Ronald O. Reyes, Joel E. Zurbano and Maricel V. Cruz