MANILA, Philippines – While other personalities and characters will choose to keep miles away from alleged pork barrel scam queen Janet Lim Napoles, one official at the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) is not about to abandon her.
Teresita Panlilio, former DAR finance management director and now head of the DAR’s Presidential Agrarian Reform Council Secretariat, said she does not regret knowing and being friends with Napoles. This, despite her being dragged in the alleged scam involving the P900-million Malampaya Fund diverted to the DAR in 2009.
“I do not regret knowing Janet. Because of her, I was closer to priests and to God,” Panlilio said.
“She has been nice to me. She has not done anything wrong against me,” she replied when asked if she’d blame Napoles for the tight situation she has found herself in.
Rappler sought out Panililio a few weeks before the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed Thursday, October 3, plunder charges against her in connection with the alleged abuse of the Malampaya Fund. Also charged were former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, former Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya, former DAR Secretart Nasser Pangandaman and other lower ranking officials.
Based on the testimonies of whistleblowers and other evidence, the DOJ said Panlilio got P14 million in kickbacks from the Malampaya heist.
Those who know Napoles say she has the ability to identify people who could help her carry out her scheme. She’d befriend them and later invite them to parties.
She’s also a generous hostess, giving away expensive gifts to her circle of friends, especially those who have been helpful.
Panlilio said she first met Napoles in one feeding program that the latter usually hosts for children. “She’d invite me to masses celebrated by priests who are her friends. I was impressed with her religiosity. She’d host and sponsor priests from China,” Panlilio said.
It was also through Napoles that Panlilio got close to Monsignor Josefino Ramirez, who, she said, was also a beneficiary of Napoles’ generosity. During Rappler’s interview, Panlilio showed letters from Ramirez.
Panlilio said she did not suspect that Napoles was up to something irregular or anomalous during those times that they were still developing their friendship. How could she when everything that Napoles had shown to her were all kindness and her strong faith, she asked.
In fact, she was able to attend some of the special masses that Napoles sponsored for her (Napoles’) late mother.
Panlilio said she was not aware that the non-governmental organizations that secured the P900-million Malampaya Fund were run by Napoles’ staff. The 12 NGOS that cornered all the funding were known to be controlled by Napoles.
Napoles is also in the center of the scam involving billions of pesos of lawmakers’ Priority Development Assistance Fund. Napoles, along with her dummies, were also included in the plunder complaint before the Ombudsman.
In the Malampaya Fund scam, Panlilio insisted that she only signed, in an acting capacity, the checks for payment to the NGOs. At the time that she signed the checks amounting to P587.5 million in total, between December 22 to 23 , she was officer-in-charge of the DAR’s finance department.
The Undersecretary for Finance then, Rafael Nieto, had taken a leave of absence. Nieto is also charged with plunder, having allegedly received P6 million in kickbacks. Before he took a leave, Nieto signed 33 checks amounting to P312 million.
Not knowing that all the pertinent documents submitted by the NGOs were all fabricated, Panlilio said she signed the checks in good faith. “ If I had known that the documents were fake, I would not have signed them.”
She added: “The documents as it appeared, were all above board.”
Pork barrel whistleblower Benhur Luy, along with other staff of Napoles, admitted they forged signatures and tampered with the official seals of the local government units when they entered into a tripartite agreement with the DAR for the supposed implementation of projects funded by the Malampaya Fund.
Panlilio said she had no inkling that the P900 million came from the Malampaya Fund. It was only in February 2012 that she found out about the funding source — when the Commission on Audit started asking for liquidation documents pertaining to the fund.
At first, she said she thought she signed only two checks. Panlilio signed 64 checks.
Confrontation with whistleblowers
When Rappler first contacted Panlilio, she said she was cooperating with the National Bureau of Investigation which was investigating the scam. Summoned to explain her side, she said she submitted all the documents pertaining to the Malampaya Fund.
At the NBI, she was able to confront some of Napoles’ employees who had turned whistleblowers. “I cursed them for what they did, for fooling us. They were repentant. They said sorry.”
Thanks to her renewed faith, Panlilio said she is hopeful that she would weather the storm she’s embroiled in.
“God prevails in the end,” she said. – Rappler.com