MANILA, Philippines – Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile’s bloc said the Commission on Audit (COA) is wrong in saying that there is no legal basis for non-governmental organizations to receive public funds.
In a statement signed by all 6 members, the Senate minority bloc also insisted that lawmakers are not obliged to check the legitimacy of NGOs. They said the job is up to implementing government agencies and local government units.
Some of its members were tagged in the multi-billion pork barrel scam.
Enrile and Senators Jinggoy Estrada, Gregorio Honasan II, Vicente Sotto III, Nancy Binay, and JV Ejercito said the national budget of previous and current years have provisions allowing the transfer of funds to civil society organizations, NGOs, and people’s organizations subject to conditions.
“The provisions clearly support our stand that: first, the transfer of funds to NGOs does have legal basis; and second, that it is not the responsibility of the legislators to ascertain the legitimacy of the NGOs which the implementing agencies work with in the implementation of our projects.”
“That burden falls on the implementing agencies and the local government units concerned as provided by law,” the group added.
Enrile, Estrada, and Honasan were among those tagged in the scam, allegedly allowing their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to be siphoned off to finance ghost projects of bogus NGOs in exchange for hefty kickbacks.
The minority bloc said it was “unfortunate” that guidelines and standards on the transfer of funds were not followed.
“It is even more unfortunate that members of the Senate Minority Group have been pilloried and scorned by the media and by the public for this lapse in the implementation of the law.”
In a Senate hearing on the controversy last week, COA Chairperson Grace Pulido-Tan said the agency believes that there is no law or ordinance allowing the transfer of funds from a government agency to private corporations like NGOs.
Senate President Franklin Drilon though expressed a different view.
In an interview on Monday, Drilon said his initial studies show that the General Appropriations Act (GAA) and other COA circulars indicate that granting NGOs public funds is allowed.
“Of course, the NGOs should be valid, authentic,” Drilon said.
Practice first introduced in 2007
In the Senate minority’s statement, the group said the practice of allowing NGOs to participate in the implementation of government projects started in 2007.
The bloc said a special provision in the Education Department’s budget was inserted “to encourage the participation of NGOs in the construction of school buildings.”
The minority also cited the 2009 GAA, which provided a provision on the “Limitation on Fund Transfers to Non-government Organizations and People’s Organizations” stating that:
“It is hereby declared a policy of the government not to allow non-government organizations and people’s organizations to participate in the implementation of any program or project of the national and local government units until such time that any earlier fund releases availed of by the said non-government organizations and people’s organizations shall have been fully liquidated pursuant to pertaining accounting and auditing rules and regulations, as certified by the head of the agency concerned and the Commission on Audit auditor.
The government agency and local government units shall ensure that the non-government organizations and people’s organizations that they deal with are legitimate. A report on the fund releases indicating the names of non-government organizations and people’s organizations shall be prepared by the agency and duly audited by the Commission on Audit and shall be submitted to the Senate Committee on Finance and the House Committee on Appropriations.” (emphasis supplied by Senate minority)
The minority said that the 2013 GAA even amended the rule, now requiring the liquidation of at least 70% of the latest fund transfer availed of by the NGOs before additional transfers can be made.
The liability of lawmakers, government agencies and the NGOs has been the subject of debate.
While lawmakers say they are not responsible for how the funds are used, observers and critics have said they should also be held accountable and may even knowingly pocket the funds.
Senators are entitled to P200 million in PDAF each year while congressmen get P70 million.
In the PDAF scam, the minority senators were among those who allegedly allowed their pork barrel to be transferred to the bogus NGOs, including those of so-called pork barrel queen Janet Lim Napoles.
A Rappler report on PDAF coursed though the National Agri-Business Corporation or Nabcor – the government corporation that got most of the soft allocation of lawmakers – showed that even administration funds went to dubious NGOs.
The senators though have repeatedly denied the charge and said they are open to investigation. They say they either do not know Napoles or only know her in a limited capacity.
The Senate, the Ombudsman, the justice department, and COA are all investigating the controversy.
The agriculture department has acknowledged that, although lawmakers endorse NGOs, it is the agencies that accredit NGOs that receive PDAF.
What do you think? Should lawmakers be held responsible for the legitimacy of NGOs? Let us know in the comments below. – Rappler.com