It's clearly political, says UNA's Toby Tiangco
No politics in COA findings, says Chair Grace Tan
Blame DA, not me, says Sen. Jinggoy Estrada
MANILA – Commission on Audit (COA) Chairperson Ma. Gracia Pulido Tan denied allegations that the reports on the release of pork barrel funds of 4 lawmakers, including Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Senator Jinggoy Estrada, to a bogus non-government organization (NGO) are politically-motivated.
Tan said the findings came out in COA’s audit report as early as 2009, under then-Chairman Reynaldo Villar, an appointee of then-President Gloria Arroyo.
“Hindi naman siguro tama na sabihing pulitika iyan kasi noon pa ‘yan eh. Ngayon lang nilalabas at hindi kami ang naglalabas,” she told dzMM on Thursday.
Tan stressed that the agency is only doing its job and is not involved in any campaign to harass candidates in the May 13 elections.
“Huwag naman sa amin ibato na ito ay nilalabas namin dahil gusto naming mamulitika. No way,” she said.
The United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) has accused the Aquino administration of using the COA reports to harass opposition leaders during the campaign season.
Tan, who was appointed by President Aquino in 2011, dismissed the allegations, saying her loyalty is to the Constitution and not to political personalities.
“Ang aking sinumpaan ay ang Konstitusyon ng Pilipinas, hindi ang loyalty to the President or loyalty to Congress. These are the hazards of the trade and we just have to take it. It comes with the territory,” she said.
The COA report showed that almost P206 million of pork barrel funds of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla, and Buhay party-list Rep. Rene Velarde went to the bogus non-government organization (NGO) Pangkabuhayan Foundation Inc. (PFI) in 2009 and 2010.
Their priority development assistance funds (PDAF) were released by the Department of Agriculture (DA) to ZNAC Rubber Estate Corp. (ZREC), a government-owned and -controlled corporation, which then appropriated the funds to PFI.
However, a COA investigation showed not one area in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) reported by PFI had a project.
Jinggoy claims innocence
Estrada denied any knowledge of the fund mess, saying he should not be blamed for the release of pork barrel funds to PFI.
Estrada said he only released the funds after the Department of Agriculture (DA) assured him that it was a legitimate NGO.
The senator also denied that he received kickbacks from the bogus projects of PFI, saying he felt very upset after reading the findings of COA from news reports.
"Up to this point, bago ko nabasa 'yung dyaryo kanina, I thought 'yung pera ko napunta sa mga magsasaka... I really feel very, very upset and I feel very, very bad about it,” said Estrada.
"We were made to believe na accredited NGO 'yung PFI ng Department of Agriculture... Ako naman nagmamalasakit lang sa kapakanan ng mga magsasaka [kaya] binigay ko," he added.
Estrada also questioned the timing of the release of the COA report, noting that some of the relatives of officials named in the report are running in the May mid-term elections.
His father, former President Joseph "Erap" Estrada, is running for mayor in the city of Manila while his brother, JV Ejercito, is running for senator under UNA.
Enrile's son, Jack, is also part of UNA's senatorial slate.
Tan said that of the total PDAF released to PFI in 2009, about P100 million came from the office of Estrada.
She said P77 million came from the office of Enrile, P10 million from Revilla and P4 million from Velarde.
In 2010, Estrada released another P8.2 million to the agriculture department for PFI.
Estrada said he is determined to investigate the case.
Meanwhile, Rep. Tobias Tiangco, spokesman and campaign manager of UNA, claimed that the COA reports are being used by Palace-backed political operators to go after the opposition.
"Without fail, COA reports are released to media during the election season for obvious political purposes. Without fail, complaints are filed before the Ombudsman against political personalities and candidates based on COA reports," Tiangco said in a press statement.
He compared the Aquino administration's alleged "trash politics" to the Arroyo administration's "gimmicks" to gain "mileage in the elections."
"This year is no exception, But what this election year apart from the previous election years is the eagerness with which the Liberal Party--the so-called party espousing a righteous path-has embraced the discredited practices of the Arroyo regime of harassing political enemies with trumped up allegations which will not stand in a court of law," Tiangco said.
He also claimed that the ruling Liberal Party and its allies are "desperate."
"The demolition work against UNA leaders has intensified because the LP cannot deny what is happening on the ground. Big crowds are attending UNA rallies and sorties, while their political events are 'nilalangaw'," he said.
"Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Senate pro-tempore Jinggoy Estrada are not candidates. But they are leaders of UNA, and the clear intent is to hit our leaders hoping it would affect UNA candidates," he added.
"We could just as easily ask Senator Franklin Drilon, their campaign manager, to answer the long-festering questions about his purchase of a property in Forbes Park, but we won't because he is not a candidate," Tiangco said. -- Reports from Karen Davila and Zyann Ambrosio, ABS-CBN News; Kathlyn dela Cruz, ABS-CBNnews.com