‘Ombudsman sitting on cases vs Alcala, Quezon mafia’
PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala were accused of plunder four months ago but the Office of the Ombudsman has taken no action on the complaints since they were filed in October, the Manila Standard learned Sunday.
The President, Abad and Alcala, along with the members of the so-called Quezon mafia, are facing charges of plunder, malversation, graft and corruption, incompetence and collusion in four separate complaints filed before the Ombudsman.
Aquino and Abad were among Alcala’s co-respondents for allegedly colluding with the Quezon mafia to monopolize the importation of rice, vegetables, fish, meat and poultry, and enabled the cartel to dictate prices of these commodities.
The plunder case against the President, Abad, Alcala and the members of the syndicate stemmed from the P191 million in Priority Development Assistance Fund of lawmakers, mostly allies of the President and members of the Liberal Party, that went to the alleged mastermind of the pork barrel scam, Janet Lim Napoles, documents from the Ombudsman and Commission on Audit show.
The complainants, led by the militant lawmakers, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, importers and Sanlakas lawyer Argee Guevarra, demanded that President Aquino sack Alcala and initiate a revamp of the Agriculture Department.
“Alcala, who hails from Quezon is the leader of the Quezon mafia, a virtual monopoly that controls the country’s food security, including rice, vegetables, meat and poultry, fish, onion and garlic importations and disbursement of billions in public funds that were now missing and unaccounted for,” Guevarra said.
The four plunder and graft cases against Alcala involved P6.93 billion that COA reports show was made up of P5.78 billion in unliquidated and missing funds released by the National Agribusiness Corporation (Nabcor) under its president Honesto Baniqued, who is also facing plunder charges; some P160 million in garlic imports; P800 million in overpriced rice imports last year and P191 million in PDAF funds that went to Napoles’ spurious non-government organizations.
“The Ombudsman sat on the plunder cases filed against Alcala and his mafia. We tried to compel him to answer the charges based on the 2012-2013 COA reports. Even the COA tried many times to compel Alcala and his cohorts to explain the missing funds, to no avail,” Guevarra said.
Attached in the plunder cases were the COA findings chiding Alcala and the others for not submitting their explanation on the missing funds. The COA reports were used as evidence against Alcala by the complainants.
The COA reports cited violations and irregularities committed by Alcala and all heads of other agencies under the DA.
“The supposed Quezon mafia, along with the old rice cartel have cornered the rice market in the country and they are essentially dictating the price of rice,” House Senior Deputy Minority Leader Neri Colmenares told the Manila Standard.
Bayan Muna Rep. Isagani Carlos Zarate and Anakpawis Rep. Fernando Hicap claimed due to overpriced rice imports, the price of rice increased by P3 per kilo in Metro Manila and the provinces starting last month.
Local traders also accused Alcala and his province mates of plunder for allegedly allowing their “select dummies” to corner the importation of P160 million worth of garlic by granting the favored ones import permits and denying the complainants the opportunity to do business with government.
Colmenares said along with liberalization in the agricultural sector and smuggling, the mafia was the one responsible for the recent price increases.
“The Quezon mafia’s modus operandi should be investigated,” Colmenares said.
“Why is President Aquino still keeping and protecting Alcala when the latter has strings of plunder and graft and corruption cases before the Ombudsman, with evidence against him that came from the COA?” Guevarra asked.
“Why is the President concentrating only on three opposition senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla? Is it because Alcala is the President’s party mate being a member of the ruling Liberal Party?”
Guevarra said Alcala appointed his province mates, relatives and former close aides to head and run various agencies under the DA and to other strategic and sensitive positions that have to do with national food security.
Guevarra identified the province mates in key positions as National Food Authority Administrator Orlan Calayag, Bureau of Plant Industry Director Clarito Barron, DA Undersecretary for administration and finance Jose Antonio Fleta, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources National Director Asis Perez, National Irrigation Administration chief Claro Maranan, Philippine Coconut Authority Administrator Euclides Forbes, DA Assistant Secretaries Salvador Salacup, Ophelia Agawin and Edilberto de Luna and DA head executive assistant Ariel Manalac.
Calayag, of Dolores, Quezon, was at one time Alcala’s chief political officer when Alcala was congressman. He also headed a non-government organization named after Alcala and called PROCESO, which stands for Progressive Community Ecological Services Organization that was also made recipient of congressional pork barrel.
Calayag’s lack of credentials for such an important agency has been roundly criticized.
Apart from his short stint as a political officer of Alcala, he migrated to the United States in 2006, and took odd jobs and part-time work as a real estate salesman, hotel clerk and caregiver, based on his personal data sheet submitted to the Governance Commission for GOCC’s (GCG) which was supposed to have checked his credentials.
Calayag also renounced his Filipino citizenship and became an American citizen. He admitted sometime in February this year that he came to the country on a Korean Airlines flight on Dec. 19, 2012, and presented his US passport.
He re-acquired Philippine citizenship under the Dual Citizenship Act on Jan. 7, 2013, and a few days after, President Aquino appointed him administrator of the NFA.
Fleta is also from Lucena and Candelaria, Quezon, and is said to be closest to Alcala.
Fleta used to be an executive of Far East Bank and Trust, a commercial bank since absorbed by the Bank of the Philippine Islands.
During the Estrada administration, Fleta worked under Robert Aventajado, who was Estrada’s Flagship Projects administrator.
Fleta has been named by whistle-blower Benhur Luy as Napoles’ contact person in the DA, overseeing the implementation of DA’s lump sum allocations under the Office of the Secretary, as well as PDAF or pork barrel allocations coursed through DA and its implementing agencies by legislators.
Under Fleta is Agawin, who was promoted to assistant secretary by Alcala, and has been charged by the Department of Justice for plunder before the Ombudsman, along with Salacup and Director Allan Javellana, all of whom were appointed or promoted by Alcala.
Perez heads the BFAR. He is also from Quezon, and is an environmental advocate in the province.
Rodrigo Jimenez heads the Philippine Fisheries Development Authority (PFDA) while Clarito Barron is the head of the Bureau of Plant Industry, which has been under fire from garlic, onion and vegetable growers for allegedly allowing the unlimited entry of imported onions and vegetables. He is also from Quezon, and is rumored to be a relative by affinity of Alcala.
De Luna is in charge of the DA’s Corn Development Program. Forbes has been named administrator of the Philippine Coconut Authority, and is also from Alcala’s home province.
Agricultural Training Institute Director Nicomedes Eleazar is also from Quezon. So is Arnulfo Manalac, who is reputed to be a consultant in the Office of the Secretary, and once headed Alcala’s pet project, the Sariaya Bagsakan Center when the latter was a congressman.
The control of the DA by Alcala’s province mates and close friends had been criticized by DA career employees not only because of favoritism but also because of these officials’ incompetence and even corruption.
In October last year, the KMP filed with the Ombudsman charges of plunder, graft, malversation and grave and serious misconduct against the President, Abad, Alcala, Fleta, Manalac, Salacup, Agawin, DBM undersecretary Mario Relampagos, Napoles and her brother John Lim, Merlina Sunas and several John and Jane Does.
“The respondent President Benigno Simeon Aquino III is being charged in this case by virtue of the doctrine of Qualified Political Agency,” the KMP said in its 14-page complaint.
“The acts committed by the department secretaries under the Executive Department are deemed acts of the President. Moreover, since there was no reprobation or disapproval coming from President Aquino regarding their actions, it can be easily inferred that the President acquiesced to such acts,” the KMP complaint said.
“Under the Constitution, the (Ombudsman) has the power to investigate or conduct an independent investigation even of a sitting President to determine his complicity on the offenses charged for purpose later on of filing an impeachment case against him,” the KMP complaint said.