Palace hands off on COA order to 4 senators

by Aurea Calica, The Philippine Star

Posted at Feb 02 2014 11:20 AM | Updated as of Feb 02 2014 07:20 PM

MANILA - Malacañang is keeping its hands off the Commission on Audit (COA)’s order to four senators to return their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) allocations, saying this is strictly a matter between the lawmakers and the audit agency.

The COA sent notices to Senators Ramon Revilla Jr., Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Gregorio Honasan ordering them to return millions of pesos from their PDAF, or congressional pork barrel, allegedly diverted to bogus non-government organizations (NGOs).

“We respect COA’s independence as a constitutional body and we have no participation in this particular matter,” Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said yesterday.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte also said over dzRB that the Palace could not compel the four senators to comply with the COA’s order since they were from a separate, coequal branch of government.

“We do not have the power of compulsion... This is a matter between the COA and the four senators who were issued notices of disallowance,” she added.

COA chairperson Grace Pulido-Tan confirmed that her agency sent notices of disallowance to the four senators and some others concerning at least P6 billion in PDAF that went to the questionable NGOs from 2007 to 2009.

Saying the issue is sensitive, Tan refused to give details except that the senators have the right to appeal the notice of disallowance with the COA.

While being grilled by Estrada at the Senate hearing on the COA’s 2014 budget last October, Tan said that the lawmakers implicated in the pork barrel scam were “jointly liable” for the “disallowed funds” and they would be getting notices of disallowance.

Estrada scoffed at the prospect of refunding millions of pesos that he said were under the control of the heads of the implementing agencies of their projects, not the lawmakers.

“That’s the consequence of a notice of disallowance. Those who will get such notices would become jointly and solidarily liable for the return of the money, and that is a matter of law,” Tan shot back.

Tan said the COA would issue thousands of notices of disal-lowance after a special audit showed that P6.2 billion in pork barrel funds were illegally transferred to 82 NGOs, including at least eight linked to alleged scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles, from 2007 to 2009.

Among the sources of the illegally diverted pork funds were Revilla (P413.29 million), Enrile (P332.7 million), Estrada (P191.58 million) and Honasan (P14.55 million).

The National Bureau of Investigation filed plunder complaints with the Office of the Ombudsman against the senators, Napoles and 34 others over the scam.