Christmas

Napoles’ DAR connection

Marites Dañguilan Vitug
She could spot, in the layers of the arcane government bureaucracy, whom to tap and keep in her wide network of contacts

Marites Dañguilan Vitug

Quietly, the Department of Agrarian Reform or DAR has been doing its own sleuthing on the P900 million from the Malampaya Fund that ended up with fake NGOs associated with pork barrel queen Janet Napoles. This huge sum was released in 2009, under the watch of Secretary Nasser Pangandaman (who is a former party-list representative), supposedly to help farmers in 97 towns damaged by typhoons.

The devastating news is: none of the P900 million went to these towns.

But can the government still recover the money?  That’s what Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes hopes to happen.

His office was alerted to this fraud in 2011 when the Commission on Audit started inquiring from provincial agrarian reform officers about projects that ostensibly benefited farmers in their areas. All of these officers didn’t have a clue what these multi-million peso projects, which were run by 12 NGOs, were.

“We were blind,” De los Reyes told us in an interview. “We didn’t know about Napoles yet.”

The DAR internal audit team then began its probe parallel to COA’s investigation. To their horror, the listed addresses of the NGOs, which entered into memorandum of agreements (MOA) with DAR and the local governments, were non-existent. One such address was an empty lot. And these NGOs, which were registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission, were not known in any of the 97 municipalities. Besides, DAR does not have a roster of accredited NGOs.

What was startling was that the MOAs of 10 NGOs were signed by one notary public while the 2 NGOs had a common notary public.   

Moreover, the beneficiaries were not even residents in these areas. One town which supposedly benefited from the project was Masantol, Pampanga, wherein livelihood revolves around a fishpond. “There are hardly any agrarian reform beneficiaries there,” De los Reyes said.

For their part, the mayors denied signing any of the MOAs with the NGOs; some have executed affidavits saying so.

De los Reyes then smelled a big rat. Late last year, before the multi-billion pork barrel scandal blew up, he requested the Land Bank for scanned copies of the return checks issued to the NGOs because the physical copies were not with DAR. Each municipality was supposed to receive about P9 million to P10 million.

The DAR has now, in its possession, scanned copies of the 97 checks. This is the most substantial evidence they have, showing where the money was deposited. The DAR has shared the money trail with the COA and NBI and the latter has already started its probe.

DAR personalities

The request for P900 million as rehabilitation fund was made by Narciso Nieto, who was OIC of the DAR at the time. Nieto was an undersecretary. (Pangandaman was abroad then.)

How Nieto came up with the amount of P900 million is unclear. Another gray area is: does an OIC have the authority to decide on such a big amount and where it should go? The P75 million which went to each of the 12 NGOs was released in one tranche.   

Nieto, a career official, has since retired. He ran for mayor in San Isidro, Nueva Ecija but lost.

All the disbursements passed through the director of finance and management, Teresita Panlilio. She has been with the DAR for 35 years.

Last month, De los Reyes took out Panlilio from her cushy post and moved her as OIC of the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council secretariat which is mainly a coordinating job. In the past, she was considered “untouchable,” some in DAR say.

Nieto and Panlilio, among others, are subjects of an Ombudsman investigation on a similar fraud case involving P200 million allotted for agri-business development but which, apparently, went to the pockets of 7 NGOs linked to Napoles.

Network of contacts

In running her multi-billion enterprise, Napoles had one skill going for her: she could spot, in the layers of the arcane government bureaucracy, whom to tap and keep in her wide network of contacts. They ended up in her social circle, attending her now-famous parties.

One such person was Panlilio of DAR. She attended the 21st birthday of Jeane, Napoles’ daughter, in a Beverly Hills hotel in June. Wearing white, like most other guests, she danced with a woman in what looked like a boogie number.

TIME TO BOOGIE. DAR director of finance and management Teresita Panlilio is seen dancing in this screengrab from a video of Jeane Napoles' 21st birthday party reposted on YouTube.

Some of the staff at the DAR have viewed the video of this ostentatious party—which is on YouTube—and spotted Panlilio 4 times. 

“Yes, I was there,” Panlilio told me in a telephone interview. “I was invited to a wedding in LA, together with Msgr. [Josefino] Ramirez, and the birthday party happened at about the same time.” (Msgr. Ramirez was also in the video.)

She says she met Napoles in “religious activities” with Msgr. Ramirez. “I am guilty by association,” she adds.

Panlilio says she showed Secretary de los Reyes all her travel documents when asked about this trip.

In the DAR, Panlilio appears to be liked because she plays Santa Claus during Christmas. People usually make a beeline to her and partake of her generosity.

But the ties of Panlilio to Napoles appear to run deep, beyond the pale of the Catholic Church. The Inquirer reported, quoting whistleblower Benhur Luy, that a daughter of Panlilio (Karen Panlilio-Pantoja) made a P30-million placement in 2010 in the Air Materiel Wing Savings and Loan Association, the cooperative of the Philippine Air Force, where Napoles allegedly has P510 million worth of accounts. (The P200-million and P900-million scams in DAR took place in 2007, 2008, and 2009.)

With the groundwork done by the DAR, the NBI should be able to get to the bottom of the P900-million fraud and the justice department should file charges soonest with the Ombudsman.

Justice should be served. – Rappler.com

 

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Marites Dañguilan Vitug

Marites is one of the Philippines’ most accomplished journalists and authors. For close to a decade, Vitug – a Nieman fellow – edited 'Newsbreak' magazine, a trailblazer in Philippine investigative journalism. Her recent book, 'Rock Solid: How the Philippines Won Its Maritime Case Against China,' has become a bestseller.