MANILA, Philippines – Resigned Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile denied receiving kickbacks for the use of his pork barrel, branding news reports about a scam as “obviously selective and incomplete.”
In a statement Monday afternoon, July 15, Enrile said he is submitting himself to a full investigation and audit of his pork barrel.
Enrile was one of 5 senators named in a Philippine Daily Inquirer report as giving a syndicate access to their pork barrel to fund ghost projects of dummy NGOs in exchange for hefty kickbacks.
The other senators linked to the P10-billion scheme are Senators Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, Jinggoy Estrada, and Gregorio Honasan II. Of the 5, only Estrada has yet to comment on the allegations.
The former Senate President said he does not know Janet Lim-Napoles, the alleged brains behind the scam, and he does not have business transactions with her company.
Enrile said he abided by guidelines of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) on the use of the pork barrel, despite revisions in the rules over the years under different administrations.
The pork barrel is officially called the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). Each senator is allotted 200 million in PDAF every year to fund projects for their constituents. These projects are in the form of infrastructure, health, education and social aid packages. Congressmen get a pork barrel of P70 million per year.
“I have not received any bribe or in any way financially benefitted from nor in exchange for the utilization of my PDAF,” Enrile said.
“All the fund releases from mine and other legislators’ PDAFs and other infrastructure projects are of public record. The Special Allotment Release Orders (SAROs) or releases being cited, with myself and other legislators being singled out in the affidavits of supposed ‘whistle-blowers’ are made public by the DBM and are obviously selective and incomplete,” he added.
Enrile said he stands by his record of directing the distribution and use of his pork barrel to identify projects to be funded.
‘COA must release full report’
Enrile said he has long called on the Commission on Audit (COA) to release its full report on the pork barrel of lawmakers but the agency has yet to do so.
“The COA must officially release its findings in full and without fear or favor, if it were to perform its constitutional duty, lest it be accused of allowing the piece-meal or selective disclosure of parts of its report to serve political or partisan ends.”
Enrile said that last year, he met with COA Chairperson Grace Pulido-Tan along with Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr, and congressmen Bem Noel and House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales Jr to discuss the COA’s special audit of the PDAF.
Enrile said he sought the meeting after the congressmen asked him to arrange it because they were concerned that they were being singled out in the audit.
“Chairman Tan acceded and met us at the EDSA Shangri-La Hotel and confirmed that the COA was conducting a ‘special audit’ of the PDAF. But she clarified, in answer to Cong Gonzales’ concern, that the special audit was not directed at the lawmakers but at the implementing agencies,” Enrile said.
“I said that for my part, I understood it was a job COA must do and I personally had no worries about the utilization of my PDAF being scrutinized by the COA.”
Enrile said Tan assured him and Belmonte that she will inform them when the report on the audit was finished but until now, the COA has yet to fully disclose its findings.
Now that the justice department and the National Bureau of Investigation are probing the scam, Enrile said it is high time for the COA to release the report.
“In the interest of transparency, and to bring to justice all parties, public or private, who, with their illegal machinations, may have financially benefited from the PDAF funds which are meant to help our constituents, I reiterate my call to the Commission on Audit to disclose its findings and the parameters and the scope of its audit,” he said.
‘Not first time Inquirer dragged our names’
In seeking to clear his name, Enrile said that the Inquirer’s series of reports including a story it released on Feb 28, 2013 singled him, his close ally Sen Jinggoy Estrada and Sen Bong Revilla out.
In February, the COA released a 2011 report that showed that Enrile, Estrada, Revilla and former Buhay Rep Rene Velarde used their pork barrel to help a dubious NGO.
The report said a total of P194.7 million in PDAF was funneled to a certain Pangkabuhayan Foundation Inc (PFI), which the COA found questionable because the NGO had several tax identification numbers.
Its address was also questionable, according to COA. The report covered PDAF disbursements in 2009 and 2010.
In his statement Monday, Enrile took issue with the Inquirer’s February story on the 2011 COA report, highlighting its title, “COA: Senators’ pork went to bogus NGO” and subtitle, “JPE, Estrada, Revilla tied to P195-M scam.”
“Hence, it is not the first time that my name and the names of Senators Estrada and Revilla had been dragged and singled out as being involved in PDAF ‘scams’ such as what is now headline news.”
Honasan, another Enrile ally, has also said that the February report and the current Inquirer series are related. Honasan branded them as “politically motivated.”
During the campaign period, Honasan was also named in reports as having allegedly funded fake NGOs.
The former Senate President said documents COA earlier sent his office for verification showed that the signatures of his staff members were forged, prompting him to call for a full investigation.
He said the documents were signed by a certain Petronila Balmaceda of PFI.
“Sadly, the issue was soon drowned by the last political campaign,” Enrile said.
In his statement, Enrile did not respond to his critic Sen Miriam Defensor Santiago’s call for the 5 senators to take a leave of absence pending the results of an independent investigation.
Santiago, who Enrile clashed with over the Senate fund controversy, called on President Benigno Aquino III to form a panel of special prosecutors composed of retired Supreme Court justices to investigate the issue.
Blasting Enrile over both the pork barrel scam and his selective distribution of Senate funds last December, Santiago called Enrile’s use of Senate funds “a partisan political act” in a speech Monday morning.
Enrile has yet to respond to Santiago’s tirades.
Likely Senate President Franklin Drilon proposed limitations on the use of the pork barrel to avoid abuse while Sen Francis Escudero filed a resolution for a Senate probe on the issue.
Enrile is expected to return to the Senate when the 16th Congress opens on July 22. He said he will vie for the post of Senate Minority Leader. – Rappler.com