MANILA - Budget Secretary Florencio Abad yesterday slammed alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles for saying that he mentored her on how to skim billions from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of lawmakers.
For his part, President Aquino urged the public not to fall for Napoles’ tricks and warned of persons trying to muddle the issue by pinning the blame on others to save themselves from charges and delay the investigation.
But the search for truth continues, Aquino said even as he defended Abad and Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, who were named in the extended affidavit of Napoles.
Abad said it was unfortunate that despite the countless opportunities she had to reveal the truth, Napoles resorted instead to “blatant, shameless lying.”
“Her claims about me amount to deception of the sorriest caliber, holding up poorly to scrutiny and collapsing in the face of facts. What a disservice her statement is to the people who have been waiting to hear the truth all these months. But should we be surprised? Ms. Napoles’ history has made one thing clear to all of us: the Filipino people’s best interests mean nothing to her,” he said in a statement.
The former congressman reiterated he had never dealt with Napoles in any manner, much less through an agent or a middleman.
While he may be acquainted with Manuel Jarmin, Abad said he had never transacted with him in any capacity.
“Ms. Napoles’ claims about me – that I tapped Mr. Jarmin as my agent, and that I taught her how to profit illegally from the bureaucracy – are absolutely not true,” he said.
The budget secretary said even the lawyer for some pork barrel scam whistle-blowers, Levito Baligod, in various interviews attested to the fact that he had never transacted with Napoles.
Abad said a number of Department of Budget and Management employees had informed him that in 2010, Napoles dropped by his office in an attempt to introduce herself, but was unsuccessful in securing an appointment with him.
“How is it possible for Ms. Napoles to have a close professional relationship with me when she has been trying – with great effort, it appears – to make my acquaintance for years now? It’s nothing short of ridiculous,” he said.
“It gets worse. She claims that when she met me in 2000, I showed her a SARO (Special Allotment Release Order) for a P10-million project, for which the Batanes Electric Cooperative would serve as the implementing arm. But no such project exists in the DBM’s records. Neither does it exist in the records of the National Electrification Administration and BatanElCo. Both NEA and BatanElCo had confirmed this,” he added.
Abad denied the mysterious P10-million project, secret meetings at EDSA Shangri-La and Cravings-Katipunan where he supposedly gave Napoles a crash course in the ways of doing business with lawmakers.
“These things never took place and (neither did) the happily generous exchange of millions in cash between us – except in the warped, fevered imagination of Ms. Napoles,” he said.
No hook, line and sinker
Aquino said Napoles has no hard evidence to back her “expanded affidavit.”
“Before, Mrs. Napoles was abhorred. Now, when she says something it’s as if they are true, how did that happen? And isn’t it that it is in her interest to muddle the issue to delay the process and make it forgotten in time? Who knows someone must have told her, ‘The more this drags on, the better for you.’ The people’s abhorrence toward you is lessened,” he said.
“Now if we fall for her misleading (lies) then it is up to us. For our part, look for the evidence, and if sufficient evidence is there, file the appropriate case. It’s very simple,” the President told reporters in a chance interview after attending the Navy’s 116th anniversary in Palawan.
Aquino said the claims of Napoles were not only confusing and a delaying tactic but also meant to save herself from the charges she is facing.
The President noted that based on some reports, 25 senators were implicated in the combined lists of Napoles and whistle-blower Benhur Luy.
The list submitted to him at first contained the names of 14 senators. The next list was minus three or 11, Aquino said.
There is a possibility that Napoles is just muddling the story, he said.
Resign or take leave of absence
Meanwhile, the independent bloc in the House of Representatives yesterday asked Abad and other Cabinet officials allegedly involved in the pork barrel scam to take a leave of absence or resign to spare their offices from further dishonor.
Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, leader of the bloc, said while the matter of resigning or taking a leave of absence until the scandal is resolved is a personal matter, the officials tagged by Napoles should have a sense of delicadeza.
“Against the backdrop of the high moral standards that have been espoused by this administration, that (resigning or taking a leave of absence) is a worthwhile option for those implicated,” Romualdez said.
“I pity the President because he is constantly defending his men. I find that quite unusual, and not the other way around. In other jurisdictions, if the President’s policies fail, the Cabinet defend or resign,” he said.
He said Aquino is spending a lot of his political capital in defending his allies allegedly involved in the scam.
“The President said let the evidence speak for itself or lead us to where it should, so I’d like to believe that. If he doesn’t do what he says, that means he’s doing the opposite, which means he’s covering up,” he said.
Romualdez said the public would be more forgiving if officials of the administration were not sanctimonious, as no one is perfect.
“We will give more allowances to those who are just trying their best. But those portraying themselves to be clean and on the daang matuwid (straight path) and are not, there is a higher penalty to pay because they have raised the standards,” he said.
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., however, said the matter must be left to the discretion of Aquino.
“So far, the President has seen no evidence against them so he is solidly behind them, but I think the moment an evidence appears against them, I’m sure he will take action on it,” Belmonte said.
Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza said Abad has no choice but to resign.
“Can he still function in his office under this cloud of national suspicion? He cannot. So if he has a little sense of patriotism – as he claims he is patriotic – and delicadeza now dictates that he step aside, clean up this mess that involves the DBM,” he said. – With Paolo Romero, Kathleen Martin