MANILA - Joel Villanueva, former party-list lawmaker and now chief of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda), is hoping that he will not be used as a sacrificial lamb in the ongoing investigation into the pork barrel scam.
Speaking to ABS-CBNnews.com, Villanueva denied pocketing a single centavo from his Priority Development Assistance Fund while he was a congressman after being linked to the alleged P10 billion PDAF scam of Janet Lim Napoles.
"I hope that I am not being used as sacrificial lamb just to say that there is an administration ally involved in the scam. I still believe in what the President said, that the investigation should be evidence-based," he said.
The PDAF scam involves the alleged funneling of so-called discretionary pork barrel funds of lawmakers to bogus non-government organizations of Napoles. Whistle-blowers claimed senators and congressmen received as much as 50 percent of their allocated funds as kickbacks.
Over P2 billion in pork barrel funds were allocated to Napoles NGOs from 2007 to 2009, according to a Commission on Audit (COA) special audit.
The COA report earlier revealed Villanueva, party-list representative of Citizens Battle Against Corruption (Cibac), allocated more than P18 million of his PDAF to several non-government organizations from 2007-2009.
The allocations include P9.7 million to Aaron Foundation, P4.8 million to Kaagapay Magpakailanman Foundation, P3.8 million to Masaganang Ani para sa Magsasaka Foundation Inc. (MAMFI), and P1 million to Life Giver Development Foundation.
Technology and Resource Center head Dennis Cunanan later confirmed that P3.4 million of Villanueva's PDAF went to MAMFI, an NGO linked to Napoles.
Villanueva confirmed allocating some of his PDAF to the TRC in 2008 while he was still a party-list lawmaker.
He said the usual process is that he would write a letter to the House of Representatives appropriations committee, saying he is allocating a specific amount for a project.
He said he wrote a letter to the Department of Agriculture which says he wanted to fund a project that would give equipment to farmers in Bulacan.
"Dumaan yung project sa TRC but there was no mention to me of MAMFI. At that time, it was an accredited NGO by the TRC," he said.
He said the TRC later submitted liquidation papers of the project, and that his own staff was present when the farm equipment was distributed to farmers.
Villanueva said he did not write a letter to TRC endorsing MAMFI as his preferred NGO that would implement the project.
This is different from the claim of Cunanan that lawmakers such as Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla picked and endorsed Napoles NGOs as the implementors of their PDAF projects.
"I did not do that. I never did that. Wala akong list ng NGO. During that time when I was a part of the opposition, all you want is a project kasi tag-tuyot [sa oposisyon] nun," he said.
He also denied talking to Napoles, her representatives, or Cunanan while he was still a member of Congress. Cunanan, at that time, was still a deputy director general of the TRC.
"I never talked to him, never met him and never knew him," Villanueva said, referring to Cunanan.
He said he also heard from other lawmakers that Napoles used to visit congressmen in the House of Representatives but that he had never met her.
Villanueva said he has already replied to inquiries from the National Bureau of Investigation about some of his pork barrel allocations listed in the COA report.
'NO GHOST PROJECTS'
He said his office has complete documentation of all his PDAF allocations, and that none of the funds went to his pocket.
"Hindi po nagkaroon ng ghost projects ang CIBAC party-list dahil yan po ay cardinal sin sa amin," he added.
So far, no case has been filed against him since the COA report came out.
The TESDA chief said he texted President Aquino around August 2013 after the COA report linking him to the scam came out.
"Before September, I texted him and sabi niya: 'Just tell the truth. I believe in you.' Alam naman niya," he said.
He said he has decided to speak out because his name keeps being dragged into the controversy.
"The hardest thing is that you are kept hanging, no case has been filed but this issue is dangling over your head. It would be better if a case is filed so you can answer," he said.
Asked why he has been linked to the scam, he said: "It's politics. I don't know who but I already said, if you find any wrongdoing, any thing that says I received kickbacks, then I am willing to go to jail. None of the whistle-blowers since Day 1 have said they met me or talked to me. Not Benhur Luy, no one."
The Palace earlier defended Villanueva, saying the TESDA chief has already given relevant information about the use of his PDAF.
Aside from Villanueva, other administration allies being linked to the scam are former congressman Ruffy Biazon, and incumbent Congressmen Amado Bagatsing, Conrado Estrella III, Rufus Rodriguez, and Victor Ortega.
'SWIMMING IN PDAF'
Villanueva said his own track record as an anti-corruption advocate will show that he did not pocket any kickbacks from his PDAF.
While he was congressman, Villanueva authored the Anti-Red Tape Act and joined in the filing of 4 consecutive impeachment complaints against then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
This was after Arroyo was accused of rigging the 2004 presidential election, as shown in the "Hello, Garci" wiretapping controversy. In the controversy, a woman, allegedly the President, called up a poll commissioner to ask about padding her tally by a million votes.
President Arroyo apologized for calling up an elections commissioner but denied any wrongdoing.
The impeachment move proved costly for Villanueva. He said his PDAF was withheld, and his father, evangelist Bro. Eddie Villanueva, faced a warrant of arrest over an estafa case filed by a cousin of former First Gentleman Mike Arroyo.
He was also criticized by allies of the President in Congress as well as Palace officials.
The former congressman said Congress was "swimming in PDAF" during the impeachment campaign, with many lawmakers offered bribes not to support the move.
None of the impeachment complaints prospered after failing to get the one-third vote needed to send the complaint to the Senate.
"In the end, there was just me, party-list and a few leftist lawmakers signing the complaint," Villanueva said.
'BEING PART OF SOMETHING GREAT'
Villanueva confirmed that "temptation" will always be a challenge to any sitting government official. In TESDA, he said he has had to turn down offers to meet with school officials asking for TESDA scholarships.
He pointed out that under his leadership, TESDA is now ISO-certified for the past years. The certification has allowed some TESDA scholars to be hired in companies that would usually ask for job experience first.
Villanueva said one good thing that could come out of being linked to the pork barrel scam is that he will become part of "something great that God is doing in this country."
"When you are confident that you will be cleared, that is not the end goal. I had a good name before I came here and I will just go back to that. The end goal is that dapat malinis at maparusahan ang mga nagkasala. The PDAF is no longer there and accountability has been set at his highest level in government," he said.