MANILA, Philippines – Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary Proceso Alcala denied dealing with Janet Lim Napoles throughout his career in government, saying his inclusion in the Napoles lists points to a smear campaign against him.
"In my opinion, there is a deliberate attempt to fool our fellow Filipinos by channeling anger to those who are truly serving," he told reporters on Monday, June 2, in a mix of English and Filipino.
Alcala was congressman of the second district of Quezon province before he was appointed by President Benigno Aquino III as agriculture secretary.
Alcala's name was included in a one-page list of government officials who allegedly transacted with alleged pork barrel mastermind Janet Lim Napoles.
The list, submitted by Department of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to Senator Teofisto Guingona III on May 15, is the first such list allegedly signed by Napoles.
Alcala maintained, however, that his inclusion in the list had "no basis in fact." The only possible explanation for the accusations were various "giants" whose toes he had stepped on because of the reforms he introduced in the agricultural sector and the crackdowns on rice smugglers.
"Kung siguro kami'y magpabaya na lang sa posisyon at pinabayaan na lang namin at pinagpatuloy 'yung rice smuggling sa ating bansa, e di sige na lang, wala na sa akin magagalit," he said.
(Maybe if we slacked off in our positions and allowed rice smuggling to continue in our country, then no one would be angry with me.)
It was the President himself who told Alcala the previous week that certain parties may be out to get him.
"Sabi niya sa akin, 'Tandaan mo, 'wag kang mawawala sa focus. Kaya maraming nagagalit sa 'yo dahil marami kang natatapakan na gumagawa ng hindi tama,'" said Alcala.
(He told me, "Remember, don't lose focus. Many people are angry at you because you've stepped on people who are doing wrong things.")
Aquino, in various statements, has reiterated his trust in Alcala despite the issues hounding him and his department.
'Not in my term'
The DA chief said he never dealt with Napoles as a congressman of the second district of Quezon or during his term as agriculture secretary.
"Napoles herself in her affidavit dated May 12 and 26 does not ascribe to me any abuse of the Priority Development Assistance Fund. I was not named in the first Napoles affidavit. There was not even a hint that I was involved in the transactions."
Accusations have been made saying as the signing authority of the DA, Alcala must have known about the dubious transactions with Napoles. But he maintained that the alleged DA transactions did not occur during his term. (READ: Known fake NGOs kept getting funds from DA – Alcala)
The second Napoles affidavit listed down transactions that happened from 2004 to 2005, years when Arthur Yap was secretary. Yap was replaced by Domingo Panganiban in July 2005.
Both Yap and Panganiban allegedly approved the channeling of funds into Napoles NGOs during their terms.
Alcala also pointed out that many of the listed congressmen who supposedly channelled their PDAF into agriculture-related bogus NGOs were no longer in office when Alcala was appointed. (READ: 'Alcala used agri funds for son's gubernatorial bid')
Aside from the 2004 to 2005 DA transactions, some deals listed in Napoles' second affidavit were not dated.
Despite Alcala's defense, a special Commission on Audit (COA) report showed that some P1.35 billion in pork funds from identified and unnamed lawmakers were released through the National Agri-Business Corporation (Nabcor) from 2007 to 2011.
Nabcor is a government-owned and -controlled corporation under the DA. Alcala was appointed into his current position in 2010, well within the timeframe of the alleged PDAF releases.
The COA special report on PDAF also named Alcala as one of the solons who misused his pork while he was congressman from 2007 to 2009.
Happy with Pangilinan
The DA chief brushed off claims that former Senator Francis Pangilinan was appointed Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agricultural Modernization because Alcala was being linked to the pork barrel scam.
"If that was so, the President would have just told me to resign," Alcala said.
Pangilinan's appointment officially placed under the Office of the President the management of 4 major agencies attached to DA, namely, the National Food Authority (NFA), National Irrigation Authority (NIA), Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), the and Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority (FPA).
Since Pangilinan's appointment, the directors of the PCA and NFA have resigned, supposedly to give the new presidential adviser a freehand in reorganizing the agencies.
But Alcala himself has no plans of resigning. Far from feeling threatened, Alcala said he feels relieved about the appointment because it allows him to focus on boosting production of the country's agricultural sector.
"Nakikita ng pangulo ang sobrang laki ng kagawaran. Panay sabay-sabay may mga problema dito so sabi po ng pangulo, siguro mas mabuti nga na bigyan ako ng makakatulong para may focus ako sa production," he said.
(The president sees the department is very big. There were so many problems so the president said maybe it would be good to give me someone to help so I can focus on production.)
Alcala said he is "honored" that the DA is getting help from Pangilinan, whose experience as a senator from 2001 to 2013 and as a former chairman of the Senate committee on agriculture, puts him in a good position to manage the DA agencies.
Audit reports showed that DA agencies and government-owned and controlled corporations under it were used as channels of misused pork barrel.
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at email@example.com.