Senators on COA 'pork' order: Nothing to return

By Christina Mendez, The Philippine Star

Posted at Feb 04 2014 03:58 AM | Updated as of Feb 04 2014 12:00 PM

MANILA, Philippines - None of the senators asked by the Commission on Audit (COA) to return pork barrel funds deemed anomalously spent is likely to comply with the order.

COA earlier sent notices of disallowance to Senate minority leader Juan Ponce Enrile, Senators Jinggoy Estrada, Ramon Bong Revilla Jr. and Gregorio Honasan to return funds they had allegedly diverted to non-government organizations linked to businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles from 2007 to 2009.

Enrile, Estrada and Revilla said they cannot be forced to return even a single centavo since their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) had never passed their hands.

The three senators are facing plunder complaints before the Office of the Ombudsman in connection with the pork barrel fund scam.

Honasan has not issued a statement on the matter.

Estrada said the implementing agencies, not him or his colleagues, should be held accountable for the millions of pork barrel funds supposedly siphoned off by the Napoles-linked NGOs.

“We will have to appeal (with COA) as I have mentioned before, we are not the custodian of funds. They should run after implementing agencies,” Estrada said.

He said he hopes to get fair treatment from COA chief Grace Pulido-Tan.

“But knowing the chairperson of COA, it is very obvious that she is biased against me. If my appeal is denied, we will have to elevate it to the Supreme Court,” he said.

For his part, Enrile said he is unfazed by the COA move.

“I will answer them. The only thing that I was issued was a SARO (special allotment release order) but, I did not even receive the SARO, it was received by other agencies of government,” Enrile said. “I am not an accountable person.”

Revilla, speaking through his lawyer Joel Bodegon, echoed his colleagues’ position.

“Sen. Bong Revilla stole no money from the government, much less from the PDAF, and therefore there is nothing for him to return to the government,” the lawyer said.

“The COA disallowance does not apply to him as it is without basis whatsoever,” he said.

“In any event, this matter is already filed before the court in the civil suit filed by Sen. Bong Revilla,” he said.

He was referring to a civil suit filed with a Cavite court seeking to compel pork barrel scam whistle-blower Benhur Luy to return pork funds deemed stolen.

“As admitted by Luy and his co-conspirators, they forged the signatures of Sen. Bong Revilla in the documents falsified by them and which they used in conspiracy with the implementing agencies to successfully steal, as they did, the money from the PDAF and made it appear that Sen. Bong Revilla was the one behind the scam,” Bodegon said.