MANILA, Philippines – “They can’t say they do not know the NGOs if they signed the liquidation report.”
Senate Blue Ribbon Committee Chairman Teofisto “TG” Guingona III made this statement after a witness revealed that Senators Bong Revilla, Juan Ponce Enrile, and Jinggoy Estrada signed liquidation reports of non-government organizations linked to Janet Napoles.
Napoles is said to be the brains behind the multi-billion peso pork barrel scam, an alleged intricate web of corruption that the committee is investigating. In exchange for hefty kickbacks, the lawmakers reportedly allowed their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to be channeled to ghost projects of fake NGOs.
During the committee’s second hearing on Thursday, September 5, a former official of the National Agribusiness Corp. (NABCOR) said the 3 senators either signed the liquidation reports or authorized representatives to sign on their behalf.
Rhodora Mendoza, former NABCOR vice president for administration and finance, said Enrile, Estrada and Revilla or their representatives would sign the report 4 times because the funds were released in 4 tranches. The next tranche cannot be released without the liquidation report.
“Most of legislators sign themselves. For a few, they assign somebody from their office. Signatures are consistent,” Mendoza said.
Mendoza also expressed certainty in naming the 3 senators as having signed letters endorsing the Napoles-linked NGOs.
“I am very sure of the 3 senators endorsing NGOs: Revilla, Estrada, Enrile. Cong [Conrado] Estrella is one,” she said.
Guingona asked her to produce the documents in the next hearing on September 12.
Mendoza also named at least 10 members of the House of Representatives who made the same request.
The Napoles-linked NGOs discussed in the hearing were the Social Development Program for Farmers Foundations Inc. (SDPFFI), Masaganang Ani Para sa Magsasaka Foundation Inc (MAMFI), and People’s Organization for Progress and Development Foundation (POPDFI).
In an interview after the hearing, Guingona said Mendoza’s statement was relevant amid the 3 senators’ denial of the scam.
“The funds would not be released without liquidation. It reinforces the fact that you knew about it, you were signing in the liquidation. It reinforces that you had knowledge.”
Guingona said the testimony also corroborated the statement of Commission on Audit (COA) chairperson Grace Pulido-Tan in the hearing last week that the 3 senators had their PDAF channeled to Napoles-linked NGOs.
Photo by Rappler/Franz Lopez
Gigi Reyes is Enrile's authoritized rep
Besides NABCOR, the 3 senators also signed endorsement letters for the Napoles-linked NGOs submitted to another implementing agency under the Agriculture Department, the ZNAC Rubber Estate Corp. (ZREC)
Former ZREC head Salvador Salacup said the 3 senators or their authorized representatives signed the endorsement letters.
“I saw signatures of legislators in letters. They mentioned their authorized representatives: Mr Dinglasan for Estrada. For Enrile, a certain Mr Evangelista. It was Sen Revilla [himself] who signed the documents,” said Salacup.
Salacup said he also saw letters from lawyer Lucila Reyes as the authorized representative of Enrile. Enrile’s former chief of staff is Lucila Jessica “Gigi” Reyes.
“Some letters Senator Estrada signed himself,” Salacup said. “I saw notations on the working financial plan by the legislators.”
Salacup also named congressmen Edgardo Valdez and Rene Villarde as having endorsed the Napoles NGOs.
Former NABCOR president Alan Javellana also named the same 3 senators as using his agency as a conduit to transfer PDAF to the Napoles-linked NGOs.
Javellana said Sen Gregorio Honasan II also coursed his pork barrel through NABCOR but the funds were not meant for a Napoles-related NGO.
With Javellana unsure of his recollection, Guingona ordered him to come up with a comprehensive report with documents in the next hearing.
Photo by Rappler/Franz Lopez
In past statements, Enrile, Revilla and Estrada all denied involvement in the scam. The 3 said it was possible that their signatures or those of their staff were faked.
Asked about this, Guingona said, “That will have to be authenticated but I don’t like to comment that this is enough to implicate them. This is a chain. We established the NGOs were fake. What is lacking is to establish that the money went to the legislators. The story is unfolding.”
Guingona though rejected suggestions of inviting a handwriting expert, saying some of the accused senators already verified their signatures with COA.
The committee chairman said he might issue an open invitation to the accused senators “after the next few hearings.”
The Senate is coordinating with the justice department and the National Bureau of Investigation to invite Napoles’ former aide and cousin Benhur Luy and other whistleblowers to its probe.
Guingona said the chamber has yet to receive word from the department on its request.
The senator refused to comment on whether or not Napoles will finally face the Senate but his colleagues have said she should do so.
Napoles is currently in detention in a police camp in Laguna in connection with illegal detention charges filed by Luy. – Rappler.com