Aquino defends agri chief Alcala over pork barrel ‘links’

'The primary function of Secretary Alcala is to ensure the progress of our agriculture, food security...[not the] assistance to NGOs and the channeling of PDAF from congressmen'

MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III on Tuesday, August 6, came to the defense of Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala after the Department of Agriculture (DA) was linked to the multi-billion-peso pork barrel scam.

Aquino said there has already been a “very marked difference” in the DA between the past administration and now, specifically in the “opportunities for misuse of public funds.”

He said he has ordered Alcala and Budget Secretary Butch Abad to explain the steps the Aquino administration has taken to decrease the chances of corruption in the agency and in the release of Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to non-government organizations (NGO).

Despite the more stringent processes, Aquino acknowldged that the government cannot assure it will be perfect and there may still be “opportunities for the corrupt to take advantage.”

“Let’s not forget the primary function of Secretary Alcala is to ensure the progress of our agriculture, food security. This assistance to NGOs and the channeling of PDAF from congressmen is not their primary function,” he said.

He conceded “it is possible” Alcala is connected to the scam, but said “the record will speak for itself.”

“Contrast the corruption in the past versus those that got through now. That alone, is a dramatic change to my understanding,” he said, citing the fertilizer fund scam, a scheme worth about P728-million.

Rappler reports based on state audits of one government corporation under the DA shows P1.35 billion in pork barrel were misused, but this was over 5 years spanning both the Arroyo and Aquino administrations, from 2007 to 2011.

Reports and exposés in the past years have mostly identified the DA and agencies or corporations under it as channels of misused pork barrel.

Alcala has denied accusations that he has anything to do with the scam run by a syndicate allegedly headed by Janet Lim-Napoles. A whistleblower linked Alcala to the scam, saying he facilitated funding for two dummy NGOs created by Napoles.

Napoles allegedly used pork barrel money for ghost projects. In exchange for endorsing her NGOs as PDAF recipients, senators and congressmen allegedly got kickbacks.

Alcala meanwhile has initiated a probe into his department relating to the allegations, and studying employees who may have ties to the scheme.

‘Sorry’ not enough

Despite Aquino’s explanation however, he gave assurances he would follow the evidence wherever the probe into the pork barrel scam leads, even if it includes allies.

“We will not file weak cases. What’s important is the evidence so we can be sure that whoever is guilty will surely face punishment,” he said.

While he said the government is stricter now in distributing funds to non-governmental organizations, he also vowed to look at transactions that have raised doubts in order to continue to improve the regulation of the pork barrel.

“Having said that, I still remind them that with the dubious transactions, sorry is not enough. We can further tighten the rules to prevent this situation, if it really did happen,” he said. – Rappler.com

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