Miriam: Jail ‘guilty’ officials with ‘pork’ lawmakers

Santiago says officials of implementing agencies should also be 'thrown into jail' for allowing lawmakers to choose NGOs as pork barrel conduits

EQUALLY GUILTY. Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago says officials of implementing agencies should also be 'thrown into jail' for allowing lawmakers to choose NGOs as pork barrel conduits. File photo by Marlet Badeo/Office of Senator Santiago

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago said lawmakers should not be the only ones sent to jail for plundering pork barrel funds but also “equally guilty” executive officers.

Santiago said officials of implementing agencies like the Technology Resource Center (TRC) and the National Agribusiness Corporation (Nabcor) should be held liable for allowing lawmakers to funnel their pork barrel funds to questionable non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

“The implementing agency should never have allowed the corrupt politicians to exert pressure in favor of NGOs.  After all, NGOs are supposed to have their own funds from non-governmental sources, such as international donors, international financing institutions, corporate donors, etc,” Santiago said in a speech before the West Visayas State University in Iloilo on Friday, March 28.

“At present, there appears to be no government agency that monitors the flow of public funds to hundreds of NGOs, legitimate or illegitimate.  They could be political NGOs, quasi-NGOs (QUANGOs), NGOs run by socialites, or NGOs run by wives of business tycoons,” she added.

Santiago said she will file a resolution urging the Senate blue ribbon committee to expand its investigation into the pork barrel scam. She said senators must ask the executive officials to explain the criteria they used in choosing “corrupt NGOs” that received pork barrel funds.

“First, we need to establish the criminal liability of their past and present executives. Then we should recover the misappropriated funds.  And then we should throw into jail the liable public officials.  After we have accomplished these measures, it follows that the guilty implementing agencies involved in the pork barrel scandal should be abolished or reformed,” Santiago said.

Despite her statement, the blue ribbon committee already held a hearing last year where it invited current and former heads of implementing agencies that cornered the bulk of the funds in the multi-billion peso scam.

In that hearing in September 2013, senators took the officials to task for failing to vet the NGOs by merely relying on documents instead of site visits and project inspections. The officials also admitted that they allowed funds to be released to NGOs without competitive bidding or negotiated procurement, in violation of procurement laws.

Back then though, only officials of Nabcor and the ZNAC Rubber Estate Corp. (ZREC) faced the Senate. The two agencies are among the government-owned and controlled corporations (GOCCs) that President Benigno Aquino III ordered to be abolished following the scam.

Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr, and congressmen face plunder complaints over the scam where they allegedly connived with mastermind Janet Lim Napoles to channel their pork barrel funds to her bogus NGOs in exchange for kickbacks.

GOCC officials were also charged after whistleblowers said they received commissions as high as 10% of the project cost. The focus in the scam shifted to implementing agencies after former Nabcor officials detailed how their bosses allegedly pressured them to release funds to questionable NGOs.

‘Agency proliferation anomalous’

Santiago said the Senate must also look into the “proliferation” of implementing agencies that Congress did not create. Echoing former Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, she said the creation of these agencies was “highly anomalous” because they even received more funds than those Congress created.

“Many are subsidiary corporations of existing departments or government-owned corporations created by mere administrative orders or created through the [Securities and Exchange Commission],” she said.

Santiago also again questioned the provision in the budget that allowed implementing agencies to release funds to NGOs without full liquidation.

“In the past, the [Commission on Audit] required government agencies to make a full liquidation of public funds prior to any future releases of their funding. But in last year’s budget, the requirement of full liquidation was reduced to merely 70%. Who inserted this corrupt provision? Was it the Senate Finance committee, or was it the bicameral conference committee on the budget?”

She said Budget Secretary Florencio Abad should explain how the provision was implemented.

“In any event, this provision was ‘administratively’ vetoed by President Aquino, leaving its implementation unclear. This question should be answered by the DBM secretary,” Santiago said.

‘Psychopaths in Congress evil’

This is not the first time a lawmaker expressed concern about the monitoring of NGOs receiving public funds. The Senate blue ribbon committee and the Senate finance committee already held separate hearings into the issue.

In the hearings, the Securities and Exchange Commission admitted it is not able to check the background of all NGOs because of a lack of personnel and technology.

After the scam, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) is the agency tasked to oversee all NGOs dealing with the government. The Commission on Audit is set to issue this year stricter guidelines for government transactions with NGOs, which will help the DSWD create a new list of government-accredited NGOs.

Santiago again denounced the pork barrel scam as a “moral evil” and a “failure in moral imagination.” 

“There are many psychopaths in Congress but they are unable to imagine the sufferings that they cause on millions of Filipinos who are poor.” – Rappler.com


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