DA unit got P30m perks

Disbursements for adviser, bonuses illegal, says COA

THE Agriculture Department unlawfully rewarded board directors of the National Agribusiness Corp. (Nabcor) with hefty bonuses, per diems and allowances, and hired a financial advisor who rendered no service, costing taxpayers P30.6 million shortly before the agency went bankrupt, a lawyer said Monday.

Sanlakas lawyer Argee Guevarra, citing the 2012-2013 Commission on Audit report, said the P30.6 million formed part of the total P5.78 billion in missing and unliquidated funds, which prompted him to file a plunder complaint before the Ombudsman in January against Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala and Nabcor president Honesto Baniqued.

Guevarra attached the COA report as evidence against Alcala and Baniqued in the plunder, malversation and graft complaints.

Alcala, also Nabcor chairman, hired a private lawyer as a financial advisor for P10.3 million without the lawyer delivering any services, in an expense that the COA deemed “irregular, onerous and unnecessary.”

COA said Alcala also granted the board some P23.6 million in bonuses in April 2012 even though the company was hemorrhaging money due to losses.

“This is robbery in plain daylight,” House Senior Deputy Minority Leader Neri Colmenares said after examining the COA report and Guevarra’s plunder complaint.

But Alcala denied knowledge of the bonuses and the hiring of a financial advisor. He said he would summon Baniqued to explain the COA findings.

“I will summon Baniqued to explain all these allegations. You must understand that the department has under it at least 44 GOCCs [government-owned or controlled corporations] and I could not monitor their day-to-day activities and transactions,” Alcala told the Manila Standard.

Alcala said he has yet to see Guevarra’s 66-page plunder complaint, which was filed in January, and the 53-page COA report on Nabcor.

“Most of these Nabcor projects, under respondents’ watch, either incurred huge losses or went bankrupt. In fact, Nabcor’s Agrifreeze Processing Complex abruptly closed down on Feb. 25, 2013 due

to sustained substantial losses amounting to P1.08 million in 2010, P13.77 million in 2011 and P8.75 million in 2012,” Guevarra said.

“All these huge losses occurred under watch of both Alcala and Baniqued,” he said. “Why reward the incompetent that may have caused the agency’s bankruptcy?”

The COA said Alcala doubled Baniqued’s monthly representation allowance from P25,000 to P50,000 effective April 2012, monthly transportation allowance of P25,000, mid-year financial assistance equivalent to one month basic salary, P3,500 in communication allowance, P10,000 in clothing allowance and P30,000 in per diem.

Thus, the department spent P15.52 million in salaries, P3.1 million in transportation allowances, P1.75 million in representation allowances, P2.57 million in financial assistance, P477,500 in clothing allowance and P163,050 in communication allowances or a total of P23.6 million, the COA report showed.

“We noted that the grant of these allowances and benefits was based on various board resolutions but were not submitted to the Office of the President through the DBM and Governance Commission for GOCCs for approval,” the COA report said.

“We have to reiterate that the power of the board of directors to grant allowances and benefits is not absolute since Nabcor still has to comply with the existing laws and regulations as to allowances and other benefits,” the COA said.

The COA also said P5.3 million was “irregularly and unnecessarily disbursed” to hire a private lawyer as financial advisor, at a total contract price of P10.3 million.

“Based on COA report of Nabcor’s accounts as of Dec. 31, 2012, Nabcor president Honest Baniqued, with the blessings of DA Secretary Alcala entered into a contract of services with a private lawyer to be a financial advisor for P10.3 million to obtain the approval of the Philippine Deposit Insurance Corp. for a debt restructuring plan, which will write off all penalties and approximately 50 percent of the interest component of Nabcor’s debt to PDIC,” Calmonares said.

“There was no necessity of hiring a financial advisor and the disbursement of P4.797 million, net of withholding tax, is wanting of legal basis,” the COA said.

“We deem that there is no necessity for the expertise of a financial advisor for the purpose of obtaining debt restructuring plan on Nabco’s’ loan from PDIC,” the COA said.

“Considering that both are government entities, Nabcor could have negotiated directly with PDIC and achieved the same result, at no cost to the government,” the COA  added.

The COA said there would be “no economic benefit” that could be derived from any compromise agreement between Nabcor and PDIC “because the government is, at the same time the debtor and the creditor in this particular transaction.”

“By failure to account for the public funds despite repeated demands by COA, respondents are presumed in law to have converted the same to their personal use,” Guevarra said.

But Malacañang said the fact that the case is under investigation by the Ombudsman and that Technical Education Skills Development Authority director general Joel Villanueva was included in the case should belie speculations that administration allies will be spared.

“That should douse any suspicion or fear that this government is set to protect its allies,” Lacierda said.

“Regardless of whether you are close or not, the President maintains the same principle that where the evidence leads, the DoJ will prosecute,” he added.

Based on the documents were submitted by former Nabcor officials Rhodora Mendoza and Vic Cacal to the Office of the Ombudsman, administration allies were among the 83 lawmakers involved in the pork barrel mess.

These included Oriental Mindoro Gov. Alfonso Umali, treasurer of the Liberal Party and lawmakers Niel Tupas, Isidro Ungab, and Vicente Belmonte, among others.

But Lacierda declined to comment on the plunder case filed against President Benigno Aquino III, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala for colluding with the so-called Quezon Mafia in the illegal importation of agricultural products.

The case was filed before the Office of the Ombudsman in October, but no action has been taken since.

“I have no information on the status of the case before the Ombudsman, so we will defer to the Ombudsman for any comment on that,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.

The case 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 showed.

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.

During a heading at the Senate, Audit Commission chairwoman Grace Pulido-Tan said there is no law authorizing the transfer of government funds to NGOs.

“There is no other law we have seen that really grants authority to government to download money or transfer funds to NGOs for project implementation,” she told the panel.

She said it is only the  Department of Social Welfare and Development, which has this authority under the Administrative Code and an Executive Order issued  in 1998 by former President and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada.

“‘The TLRC (Technology Livelihood Resource Center], NABCOR (National Agribusiness Corp.) and  ZREC  (Zamboanga Rubber Estate Corporation and the implementing agencies they used, they have no authority from law that would authorize them to download or transfer the funds to the NGOs,” she further said.

Tan was referring to agencies found to have served as conduit of PDAF funds to questionable NGOs. - With Joyce Pañares and Macon Ramos-Araneta

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