MANILA, Philippines (Updated) – Despite state audit findings that nearly half a billion pesos of his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) was misused over 3 years, House Majority Floor Leader Neptali "Boyet" Gonzales II said there was no basis to file plunder charges against him.
Gonzales was reacting to the privilege speech delivered by Senator Jinggoy Estrada on Wednesday, September 25. The senator accused investigators of pursuing only opposition lawmakers allegedly involved in the pork barrel scam, while leaving out administration allies like Gonzales.
Estrada was among the 3 senators and 5 former House members charged with either plunder or corruption for conniving with non-governmental organizations to misuse their funds.
In the special audit of lawmakers' PDAF from 2007 to 2009, the Commission on Audit (COA) noted deficiencies in how P550.41 million of PDAF of 3 lawmakers – mostly of Gonzales – was spent on his city, Mandaluyong.
Gonzales said he wasn't included in the plunder case filed by the justice department with the Ombudsman against lawmakers because the complaint was based on testimonies by the whistleblowers, who didn't name him as among those colluding with pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles.
"Kung ang pagbabasehan mo naman ay ang COA report...if you say that it is incomplete at merong violation nang konti pero 'yun din ang nagiging basis niya ngayon of delivering his privilege speech..." Gonzales said.
(The COA report is his basis of his compaint about my exclusion from the charges, but he himself is saying the report is incomplete and have a few violations. Then why is he using it as basis for his privilege speech?)
Besides, Gonzales said, the COA report cannot be used as evidence for a criminal case. "The COA report is not yet final. Even the Ombudsman said that the report, as it is, is hearsay evidence. It cannot be the basis of a criminal prosecution," the House Majority Leader told reporters.
Citing the COA report, Estrada said Gonzales committed the following irregularities:
"Mr President, napakalinaw ng report na COA na hindi nagamit sa tama ang PDAF ni Congressman Gonzales, ngunit ang mga ito ay hindi lumalabas sa pahayagan o ni napag-uusapan," Estrada said. "Ito kaya ay dahil siya ay miyembro ng makapangyarihang Liberal Party?"
(Mr President, the COA report is very clear that Congressman Gonzales' PDAF was not properly utilized, but this has not been reported in the media nor discussed. Is it because he's a member of the powerful Liberal Party?)
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has said complaints against more lawmakers and government officials will be filed with the Ombudsman in the coming weeks. A minimum amount of P50 million is required to charge with plunder a public official and those who collude with him.
A matter of poor documentation?
In the aftermath of the COA report, Gonzales said his office is now in the process of securing the documents used for the COA report, and he will explain the alleged anomalous transactions once he has finished evaluating the documents.
"As far as Mandaluyong is concerned, we are now in the process of securing the documents. Until such time that I see it personally, that's only when I can comment," Gonzales said.
On COA's findings that he used P6.6 million of his PDAF for Jollibee transactions, the lawmaker said the amount represents 190 transactions spread out over 3 years.
"That's why we want to see the [documents]," Gonzales said. "Based on memory alone I wouldn't even know. Is it because of the daycare centers? Me, it's likely during my birthday, I feed daycare centers, up to 5,00 right away," Gonzales said.
On findings that 28 suppliers denied undertaking 167 transactions, Gonzales said it is possible that those suppliers did not necessarily deny the transaction but only failed to reply to the letter of confirmation.
"Ang inaano lang namin, may mga nakalagay ito na let's say, let's confirm. Tinanong namin bakit naman hindi kayo nagconfirm? Pag tinanong ka ng COA na nagnenegosyo ka talaga the likelihood naman di ka aamin e. Let's face it maraming negosyante who's trying to avoid taxes," Gonzales said.
(Our point is, what's included there is let's say, let's confirm. We asked them 'Why did you not confirm?' When COA asks you and you have a business the likelihood is you will not admit. Let's face it, there are lots of businessmen who are trying to avoid taxes.)
An Waray's constituents in Mandaluyong
In his speech, Estrada also questioned why former An Waray Rep Florencio Noel, chairman of the committee on accounts in the 15th Congress, infused P25 million of his PDAF to Mandaluyong.
Of the 25 million, the COA report showed P23.9 million worth of transactions did not comply with the procurement law, while P19.6 million were with suppliers of questionable existence.
Noel, who was at House of Representatives while Estrada delivered his speech at the Senate, said there was no law prohibiting him from doing so.
"Bakit ko po 'nilagay sa Mandaluyong 'yung pondo? Because po, pwede naman. Unang-una, P23 million lang po ang binanggit niya sa 6 na taon akong nakaupo. Hindi niya chineck na halos lahat ng LGUs meron po," Noel told reporters.
Asked why he chose to award P25 million to Mandaluyong in particular, Noel said he did not know the mayors of other LGUs in too well.
According to the former lawmaker, he also used his PDAF for Region 8, Calamba (in Laguna), Aurora, and some provinces in Mindanao.
"Kung nararamdaman po niya na nasi-single out siya, gano'n din po ang nararamdaman ko. Nararamdaman ko ang nararamdaman ni Senator Estrada." (If he feels singled out, I feel the same way. I am also feeling what Senator Estrada is feeling.)
Gonzales took a swipe against Estrada for not respecting parliamentary courtesy.
"Let it be known that I am more of a gentleman than to attack anybody belonging to the other chamber," Gonzales said. – Rappler.com