Web of lies: Faces behind the pork barrel scam

Natashya Gutierrez

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The probe on the pork barrel scam unveils an intricate web of individuals in and out of government who helped make Janet Napoles' scheme worked

MANILA, Philippines – While Janet Lim Napoles is said to have been the mastermind behind the multi-billion pork barrel scam, many other individuals from government officials to ordinary Filipinos helped make sure the elaborate scheme worked.

On Thursday, September 26, the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee held its 5th hearing on the pork barrel scam that has captured the attention of the nation.

The scheme involved lawmakers conniving with Napoles to channel their Priority Development and Assistance Fund (PDAF) to her fake non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in exchange for hefty kickbacks.

But senators have realized the scam is much bigger than initially thought.

During the hearing, Sen Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III showed a document suggesting Napoles not only siphoned off pork barrel funds but money from other agencies as well, specifically the Department of Agriculture (DA).

Further questions from senators unveiled an intricate web of individuals that allowed Napoles and lawmakers to pocket billions of pesos.

Agency contacts

In the affidavit submitted by whistleblowers, Napoles’ former employees provided various names of people they worked with to facilitate the successful release of PDAF and government funds to Napoles.

Principal whistleblower Benhur Luy, who was Napoles’ personal assistant, mentioned the “Tatlong Maria (Tres Marias)” who were Budget Undersecretary Mario Relampagos’ staff: Leah, Malou and Lalaine.

These 3 were Napoles’ contacts in the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), Luy said, when they needed to follow up on the Special Allotment Release Order (SARO) or the Notice of Cash Allocation (NCA) that they needed to get from the DBM.

Aside from the DBM, Luy also mentioned the name of Agriculture Undersecretary Antonio Fleta. Luy said it was in Fleta’s office that the letter Pimentel was referring to — for an anomalous release of DA funds to Napoles — was prepared.

READ: Napoles got P39M of DA ‘pork’ – Alcala

Both Fleta and Relampagos still hold their positions.

On Friday, September 27, Deputy Presidential Speaker Abigail Valte said the Palace would leave it to the DA to address the supposed irregularities in their agency.

“I’m quite sure that the Secretary of Agriculture has also been made aware already of what Senator Pimentel said during the hearing yesterday and I’m quite sure that Secretary Alcala is also taking the appropriate steps or the appropriate action in light of the revelation by Senator Pimentel,” she said. “They are perfectly capable of knowing what their mandate entails.”

97 fake signatures

Aside from the DA — which has been named as one of the agencies Napoles siphoned the most funds from — and the DBM, whistleblowers also reiterated that Napoles successfully pocketed Malampaya Fund allocations intended for the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR).

To facilitate the release of the Malampaya Fund, which, unlike the PDAF, was available to local government units, another whistleblower, Merlina Suñas, said they forged 97 signatures for letters of request.

She said they also used fake names as beneficiaries, as well as recycled names of real beneficiaries from projects they actually delivered.

READ: How the Malampaya Fund was plundered

“If in one LGU, we’ve already used that name, if we use the same LGU as a beneficiary for another project of a lawmaker, we would use the same names. Sometimes we scramble the names, by using the first name of one and the last name of another,” Suñas explained.

Luy said it was from DAR that Napoles was able to get the cash needed to give their lawmakers their rebates upon listing, even before their PDAF was released.

The details of the revelations stunned lawmakers.

“What we see here Mr Chairman is not only was the Filipino people fried in their own oil, they were fried twice, three times. They made it appear the [Malampaya] money was for farmers but instead they pocketed that and the farmers didn’t get anything,” said Sen Sonny Angara.

“We don’t know how deep [the scam] goes, or how much money was wasted with fictitious accounting such as this.”

Lawyers, auditors

But it was not government officials or agencies alone that facilitated the scam.

Luy also disclosed 4 names of lawyers, who he said voluntarily left copies of their signatures, dry seals, and notarial books for Napoles to use. These were used to notarize documents Napoles needed, even if the lawyers were not present or never met the individuals involved.

They are Mark Oliveros, Edita Talaboc, Reymond Tansip, and Joshua Lapus.

At least one document Rappler obtained — the General Information Sheet of La Roca Enterprises Inc submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission — bore the signature of Tansip. La Roca Enterprises Inc was one of the companies Napoles used as a front to obtain and hide properties.

Aside from lawyers, Napoles also had accountants on her payroll. Luy named two accountants, Marlo dela Cruz and Susan Victorino as two who “take care of liquidation of PDAF.”

Luy explained they prepare the external independent auditors report submitted to implementing agencies, which require liquidation of their releases.

The revelations caused Sen Chiz Escudero to call for action against the mentioned individuals and asked that they, too, be investigated “because without their indispensable cooperation, none of these can be achieved and government and the law relies on the professionalism and the oath taken by these individuals, accountants, and lawyers to perform their job.”

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima gave assurances they were part of the justice department’s ongoing investigation.

Saving Napoles

Napoles’ government contacts did not only help with the release of funds, but they also managed to keep Napoles out of trouble.

Sula told the Senate that around 2009, the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) performed a special audit on one of Napoles’ companies after it received a complaint that the corporation “had a lot of properties but they had no activities.”

Sula said a BIR contact from the head office — a certain Rocky Delson — helped Napoles so she paid only about P300,000 when she should have paid a much bigger amount.

READ: How is Janet Napoles hiding her properties?

On Thursday, BIR Commissioner Kim Henares filed tax evasion charges against Napoles and her husband Jaime.

Luy also said Napoles has contacts within the justice system.

Napoles, who started as a military supplier, cut a deal with the Philippine Marines 15 years ago for the P3.8-million purchase of 500 Kevlar helmets that the Sandiganbayan later found to be dubious.

The court in 2010 punished military officers and civilians who signed the contract, but not Napoles and her relatives who she used as signatories to the deal.

Luy said it was because of Napoles’ connections.

“I know Mrs Napoles fixed it because she has a contact in the Sandiganbayan,” Luy said.

Whistleblower Marina Sula named Associate Justice Gregory Ong, who was a member of the Sandiganbayan’s Fourth Division that handled the Kevlar helmet case, as Napoles’ contact.

READ: Napoles parties with anti-graft court justice

When asked if this may affect Napoles’ future cases that may reach the Sandiganbayan, Valte said she could only assure the charges would be pursued.

“We will ensure, on the side of the executive, that the cases that will proceed will be based on the evidence and it will be prosecuted by the DOJ or in the proper forum,” she said.

“While there may already be fears like that, what we can do, at this point, is to assure that the work that needs to be done on the side of the executive will be done, as far as case building is concerned.”

Whistleblowers also revealed Napoles had contacts with the Commission on Audit, which allowed Napoles to run her business for 10 years. – Rappler.com

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Natashya Gutierrez

Natashya is President of Rappler. Among the pioneers of Rappler, she is an award-winning multimedia journalist and was also former editor-in-chief of Vice News Asia-Pacific. Gutierrez was named one of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders for 2023.