MANILA, Philippines - At least two senators had given funds to Philippine Forest Corp. (Philforest), the latest among state agencies linked by the Commission on Audit (COA) to the expanding multibillion-peso pork barrel scam.
The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) website shows that Senators Gregorio Honasan and Jinggoy Estrada funneled a total of P105 million to Philforest over a three-year period, from 2009 to 2011.
The website does not show any other senator who had used the corporation attached to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) as a fund conduit or implementing agency.
Estrada has a single allocation of P10 million released to Philforest on July 7, 2009.
The DBM website identifies the recipient-implementing agency as “Natural Resources Development Corp.-Philippine Forest Corp.” It is not clear if the two are one and the same entity.
Some P111 million of Estrada’s P191.1-million Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) allocation for 2009 went to the National Livelihood Development Corp. (NLDC), one of four to five state corporations the COA had earlier linked to the pork barrel scam.
Honasan gave Philforest a total of P55 million in five tranches in 2010 and P40 million in four parts in 2011.
The DBM website identifies the implementing agency in 2010 as “(National Resources Development Corp.) Philippine Forest Corp.”
In the 2011 entries, it is identified only as Natural Resources Development Corp.
Honasan’s P40 million in 2011 was for the planting of jatropha, a plant that is supposed to be a source of alternative fuel.
At that time, however, then Energy Secretary Jose Rene Almendras announced that the Aquino government had junked the jatropha propagation program it had inherited from the Arroyo administration because jatropha was found to be not a viable alternative fuel source.
Almendras said more than P1 billion spent by the previous leadership for the program went down the drain.
The Arroyo administration official who handled the program was Peter Anthony Abaya, who was then chairman of the Philippine National Oil Co.-Alternative Fuels Corp.
Shortly after assuming office in June 2010, President Aquino appointed Abaya, younger brother of Transportation and Communications Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya, as chief executive officer-general manager of the Philippine Reclamation Authority (formerly Public Estates Authority).
During her testimony before the Senate Blue Ribbon committee on Thursday, COA Chairman Grace Pulido-Tan said two senators gave part of their PDAF allocations to Philforest. The funds, she said, were misused.
She did not say if the funds ended up with non-government organizations (NGOs).
Estrada and Honasan are among several senators who, Tan said, gave more than P1 billion to NGOs, including those identified with detained businesswoman and alleged pork barrel scam brains Janet Lim-Napoles, from 2007 to 2009.
The others include Ramon Revilla Jr. and Juan Ponce Enrile. The two, along with Estrada, gave the biggest amounts to NGOs.
NLDC was among politicians’ favorite fund conduits. The others were National Agribusiness Corp., Technology Resource Center, Department of Agriculture (DA), Department of Social Welfare and Development, and Zamboanga del Norte Rubber Estate Corp.
In 2009, for instance, out of his P727-million PDAF, Enrile allocated P200 million to NLDC and P120 million to DA, according to the DBM website.
That same year, Revilla funneled P205 million of his P266-million PDAF to NLDC.
In 2010, Enrile gave all of his P161.7-million “pork” to NLDC, while Estrada alloted P92 million of his P99-million PDAF to the corporation, which is apparently a subsidiary of state-owned Land Bank of the Philippines.
That same year, the Land Bank subsidiary received an additional P45 million from Honasan and P50 million from Sen. Vicente Sotto III.
The STAR checked the NLDC website and found out that its current chairperson is Land Bank president Gilda Pico and its president, Gondelina Amata.
President Aquino has vowed to abolish state corporations and agencies involved in the pork barrel scam and make their former or current officials answer for the irregularities.
Give them a chance
Meanwhile, Senate President Franklin Drilon appealed to the public not to be too quick to condemn senators linked to the pork controversy.
“That (identification of senators) has come out long before the COA report was released. They are prepared to explain this and so we should give them that opportunity,” Drilon said on the sidelines of the commemoration of the 117th anniversary of the Araw ng Pinaglabanan held in San Juan City yesterday.
“Let us wait for their explanations. Let us not condemn before they are given an opportunity to explain themselves,” he added.
The names of Enrile, Revilla, Honasan, Estrada and Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. were mentioned in the COA report. They did not attend the first Blue Ribbon committee hearing on the issue last Thursday. Estrada showed up but only to announce that he was inhibiting from the proceedings.
Sen. Ralph Recto was also mentioned in the report, but was assured by COA director Susan Garcia during the hearing that it was only due to some unliquidated releases.
“I thank the Commission on Audit for clearing my name twice. First, on the COA report itself when it categorically stated that I did not sign any documents. And second, in today’s (Thursday) hearing when the COA auditor-in-charge confirmed that indeed I did not sign any request, endorsement, contract or for that matter, any piece of paper, related to the fund release erroneously attributed to me,” Recto said.
“We have also made inquiries with the Department of Budget and Management and a search of their records showed that they do not have on file any official request I signed. This supports our initial belief that funds were released with neither our request nor knowledge,” he added.
Drilon said the hearing would help clear the names of the senators who may have been unfairly portrayed as corrupt.
Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano, meanwhile, renewed his call for his colleagues mentioned in the COA report to attend the committee’s hearings on the issue if they want to prove they have done nothing wrong.
“I believe that their presence will not be seen as interfering with the investigation. On the contrary, they might be able to help shed light on the case,” he added.
He cited the case of Recto, who was able to ask for clarification regarding his being mentioned in the COA report.
“Right after the COA mentioned his name, Sen. Recto was able to raise questions. This kind of exchange of information can be useful in unearthing the truth,” Cayetano said.
Cayetano said he is ready to let his colleagues as well as state auditors check and double check his PDAF use.