Sidebar 1, Part 3

What they told PCIJ

PCIJ SENT 20 legislators implicated in the alleged corruption of pork funds separate letters requesting for comments. Only three responded in writing, a fourth had his chief of staff interviewed on cam, and a fifth promised to send his reply via courier.

The three who sent response letters – Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus B. Rodriguez, Bohol Gov. Edgar M. Chatto, and Sagay City, Negros Occidental Mayor Alfredo D. Marañon III – denied allegations that they have misused their Priority Development Assistance (PDAF) funds that went to projects of fake non-government organizations, in exchange for rebates and kickbacks.

Meanwhile, PCIJ also secured a statement posted online by former congresswoman and now Zamboanga City Mayor Maria Isabelle ‘Beng’ G. Climaco-Salazar.

A total of 118 lawmakers had been named as endorsers of projects that the Commission on Audit (COA) had found to be “highly irregular.” But PCIJ had to settle to send queries to just 20 since the other implicated lawmakers had no known address, or had bowed out of Congress and could thus not be located.

The staff of Deputy Speaker and Isabela 4th District Rep. Georgidi B. Aggabao said they had sent their response via courier, but PCIJ has yet to receive it.

Repeated follow-up calls made by the PCIJ team yielded more feedback though. The staff of Senator Vicente C. Sotto said they could only comment once specific details are provided.  A few others said they could not attend to PCIJ’s request because of the ongoing budget hearings at the House of Representatives.

In his reply, Rodriguez said he does not know of and never had any transactions with Janet Lim Napoles or any of her employees or NGOs or functionaries of her NGOs.

A three-term congressman of Cagayan de Oro City, Rodriguez is accused of receiving P2.099 million in kickbacks from 2007 to 2008 by allowing the transfer of his P3.5-million PDAF to the Napoles-owned Philippine Social Development Foundation, Inc.

In 2013, the Commission on Audit (COA) reported adverse findings on these transactions related to the following Special Allotment Release Orders (SAROs) for Rodriguez’s PDAF:

  • ROCS-07-08672 dated November 9, 2007 worth P1.5 million, and
  • ROCS-08-01365 dated February 01, 2008 worth P2 million.

The funds were coursed through the Technology and Livelihood Resource Center (TLRC, now known as the Technology Resource Center or TRC) for the delivery of “agricultural starter sets.” But COA said many of the supposed beneficiaries “were either unknown (or) unlocated at their given addresses.”

Rodriguez’s 11-page reply included copies of a certification from the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) that the specimens of his authentic signature and the signature appearing in the project documents “were not written by one and the same person.”

The certification dated Oct. 27, 2014 was submitted by Carolyn J. Moldez-Pitoy, chief of the Questioned Documents Laboratory Division, and approved by Rafacel Marcos Z. Ragos, deputy director of the Forensic Investigation Unit.

Curiously, in September 2013, a COA team had requested Rodriguez to verify whether or not the signatures appearing on certain pork-project documents were his. But Rodriguez had not responded.

Rodriguez told PCIJ:  “At the outset, I vehemently deny any participation in any manner whatsoever in said transactions and categorically assert that all the signatures purportedly belonging to me allegedly appearing in the documents supposedly evidencing the transactions disallowed in audit are downright false and patent forgeries, as shown herein below.”

Rodriguez described COA’s findings to be “completely bereft of any factual and legal basis,” adding that, “the expert technical and scientific finding and conclusion of the NBPI carry more persuasive weight, value, and credence than the naked eye determination of the COA auditors.”

Like Rodriguez, Bagatsing denied allegations that he had collected kickbacks from his PDAF, and dismissed his supposed signatures on project documents t have been forged.

The COA report said Bagatsing had issued endorsement letters to the TLRC for projects to be awarded to the Napoles-owned Masaganang Ani Para sa Magsasaka Foundation Inc. (MAMFI) to the TLRC.

Bagatsing allegedly received P600,000 in kickbacks in 2007 from the project.  Janet Lim- Napoles’s sworn statement filed with the Sandiganbayan stated that Mina Nieva, daughter of the late Manila 1st District Rep. Ernesto B. Nieva, received the money on behalf of Bagatsing, who has served as Manila’s first district representative since 2007.

The COA report also recorded a number of questionable transactions in the use of Bagatsing’s PDAF by the KABAKA Foundation, Inc., which lists the legislator as an incorporator.

According to COA, KABAKA was among the recipients of Bagatsing’s PDAF funds that were managed by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the National Agribusiness Corp. (NABCOR).

Bagatsing’s chief of staff, Robert B. Jurado, furnished the PCIJ with a copy of the legislator’s complaint-affidavit, saying that he “could not have implemented a project involving the use of PDAF funds in 2007… [because] he only assumed his position as congressman” in June 2007.

He said Bagatsing’s first PDAF allocation “was only released by the DBM (Department of Budget and Management) through (a) LandBank check only on January 2, 2008.”

In his affidavit, Bagatsing said that the endorsement letters “were obviously fictitious since they bear my forged signatures printed on a generic logo of Congress and falsified letterhead of my congressional office.” He also attached Mina Nieva’s sworn statement, denying her involvement with Bagatsing and Napoles.

“We are more than a victim here,” said Jurado. “Nag-suffer na kami ng ilang taon, wala kaming forum na mapuntahan except yung sa Congress na nag-privilege speech siya (We’ve suffered for years already; we didn’t have any forum to attend except in Congress where he delivered his privilege speech.).”

KABAKA Vice President Reinerosa S. Tinoco, meanwhile, told PCIJ that the foundation has had transactions only with the Department of Health (DOH) and Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PSCO).

Hindi nacha-channel sa amin ang PDAF funds mula kay Congressman [Bagatsing] (The Congressman does not channel PDAF funds to us),” Tinoco said.

Kung nakakatulong man kami (When we do help), we course [it] through the DOH. What we do is we recommend patients; no funds pass through us,” she reiterates.

Tinoco said KABAKA obtains funds from both public and private donations, and private individuals who prefer not to be named. “We write letters to raise funds. My time is made up of writing letters almost every day.”

For his part, Sagay City Mayor Alfredo D. Marañon III, told PCIJ that as per his “verification with my Congressional staff, no amount of my PDAF was allocated to the Department of Agriculture.”

“During my stint as a congressman,” he wrote, “I have (sic) not channeled any fund to ‘bogus’ NGO; that all PDAF-funded projects were all implemented and that neither I nor any other person acting on my behalf have (sic) received kickbacks.”

Marañon, who served as representative of the second district of Negros Occidental from 2004 to 2013, allegedly received P300,000 worth of kickbacks in 2005 for allowing the transfer of his PDAF to Napoles NGOs.

Bohol Gov. Edgardo Chatto, Bohol’s first district representative from 2001 to 2010, had the lengthiest written reply in which he referred to himself in the third person.

Said Chatto: “In reply to your letter received by this office on July 31, 2015, in relation to PDAF when the undersigned was serving his three terms as congressman for the 1st district of Bohol, please be informed that he had already made a formal request with proper authorities to conduct inquiry on the matter.”

“As far as he can remember,” continued Chatto, “he has not requested nor entered into any transaction with any NGO, much more a bogus one… he has never illegally allocated funds to the Department of Agriculture (DA) and to the National Agribusiness Corporation (NABCOR).”

Chatto said that “whatever PDAF transaction the undersigned has allegedly entered into” with five bogus NGOs, as reported by COA “is questionable because he has never authorized any PDAF transaction with them.” Too, Chatto said, “the undersigned has no representative, whosoever, authorized to transact in his behalf, in any manner, with those aforementioned NGOs or any NGO for that matter.”

According to Chatto, “the undersigned consistently adheres to the constitutional principle that, ‘Public office is a public trust.. His long years of unblemished public service record is (sic) testimony of his dedicated, transparent & honest work in government.”

Chatto cited a string of public service awards that he had received including the “Presidential LINGKOD BAYAN AWARD (2000), which is conferred to an individual for exceptional or extraordinary contribution resulting from performance that had nationwide impact on public Interest, and (the) DANGAL NG BAYAN AWARD (2011), which is also conferred to an individual for performance of extraordinary public service and consistent demonstration of exemplary ethical behavior.”

Chatto wrote: “He is among the authors of the Anti-Red Tape Act. He always requires compliance to audit rules and regulations in government programs and projects.”

As for Zamboanga City Mayor Climaco, PCIJ found a statement she had posted on the website of the Zamboanga City government regarding the PDAF scam. While it was apparently written months ago, Climaco’s words resonate still for their thoughtful content.

Climaco said that as a neophyte in Congress, it was explained to her “that PDAF allocations had to be coursed through an implementing agency…which in turn (awards) the implementation to various accredited (NGOs)….” She added that as legislators, their role was to “identify the type of project intended for the district and who will be the designated beneficiaries. The implementing agency is supposed to monitor the project, handle the disbursements, and ensure proper liquidation of the funds. Thus we had to rely on the implementing agency to ensure that everything is above board and all disbursements properly accounted for….”

‘This has been the system of how projects have been done,” Climaco said. “At the end of the day, my concern was to ensure that the projects I have identified for my district were implemented and that my constituents directly derive benefit from them.”

Although the system is “far from perfect,” she said, the “controversy could have been avoided had the concerned implementing agencies properly performed their tasks of accrediting NGOs, and monitoring the project implementations to ensure that there no dubious NGOs are accredited or no ghost projects exist.”

According to Climaco, “NGOs that have been proven to have dubious credentials, falsified information and documents, or failed to implement projects and deliver on their undertakings, it is only but proper that these NGOs be BLACKLISTED (sic) and prosecuted in accordance with the law.”

She said “members of Congress have been too complacent and reliant on the implementing agencies that were likewise very lax in the accreditation of NGOs and in the monitoring of the projects.”

“It is now time,” Climaco said, “for our legislators to be more vigilant and mindful of their projects to ensure public funds are not wasted.”

She closed her statement with a proposal: “Full transparency must be made in all transactions involving public funds. In this regard, as co-author, I also call for the passage of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill as this piece of legislation will greatly enhance transparency and accountability in government and how it spends people’s money.”  — Rowena F. Caronan, PCIJ, August 2015