Ombudsman orders dismissal of Joel Villanueva

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 14 2016 10:30 AM | Updated as of Nov 14 2016 11:14 AM

Senator Emmanuel Joel Villanueva reacts during the proclamation of winning senators at the PICC on May 19, 2016. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA (UPDATE) - The Ombudsman has ordered the dismissal from service of former CIBAC party list lawmaker and now Senator Emmanuel Joel Villanueva after he was found guilty of grave misconduct, serious dishonesty and conduct prejudicial to the interest of the service.

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales said the dismissal order was approved after Villanueva and nine others were found liable for the misuse of the lawmaker’s 2008 Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

The Ombudsman has directed Senate President Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III to implement the dismissal order against Villanueva.

Ombudsman investigators found that on 10 June 2008, the Department of Budget and Management released P10 million as part of Villanueva’s PDAF to be used “for the implementation of agri-based livelihood projects in the various congressional districts in Region XI.”

Two days later, or on 12 June 2008, Villanueva requested then Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary Arthur Yap to release the amount to the National Agri-business Corporation (NABCOR), as Implementing Agency (IA), with the AFPI as NGO-partner.

On 19 June 2008, a Memorandum of Agreement was entered into between Yap, as DA representative, and the NABCOR.

To utilize the P10 million PDAF, respondents purchased pechay, radish, sitaw, okra, hybrid yellow corn seedlings, liquid fertilizers and threshers from MJ Rickson Trading Corporation. The items procured were supposed to benefit the residents of the municipalities of Pantukan, Nabunturan, Tambongon, Bongabong, Napnapan, Mipangi, Anislagan and Magsaysay in the Compostela Valley province.

In-depth field validation and investigation, however, disclosed the following: (1) localities were not suitable for farming as the vast majority of land is occupied by banana and coconut plantations; (2) not a single name in the purported list of beneficiaries was a registered voter or resident of the providence; (3) local officials attested and certified that no agri-based livelihood projects were implemented by AFPI.

Documents also disclosed that AFPI had no financial capability to implement the P10million project considering its measly capital stock contribution of only P68,000.00. Ombudsman field investigators also found that the supplier, MJ Rickson could not be located in its business address in Martiniko Street, Malabon City. Neither is the business entity licensed by the Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority nor registered with the Department of Trade and Industry.

Respondents were also found to have submitted fabricated and undated documents to support the “ghost project” such as Accomplishment Reports, Disbursement Reports, Acceptance Reports, and liquidation documents.

The Ombudsman said Villanueva is set to face trial before the Sandiganbayan for two counts of violation of Section 3(e) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (Republic Act No. 3019), one count each for Malversation of Public Funds and Malversation thru Falsification of Public Documents.

Also included in the charge sheet are former DA Secretary Arthur Yap, Villanueva’s staff Ronald Samonte, DA employee Delia Ladera, NABCOR representatives Alan Javellana, Romulo Relevo, Ma. Julie Villaralvo-Johnson, Rhodora Mendoza, and Maria Ninez Guanizo; and Aaron Foundation Philippines, Inc. (AFPI) President Alfredo Ronquillo.

PDAF SCAM

In a previous interview, Villanueva denied pocketing a single centavo from his PDAF while he was a congressman.

"I hope that I am not being used as sacrificial lamb just to say that there is an administration ally involved in the scam. I still believe in what the President said, that the investigation should be evidence-based," he told ABS-CBN News.

The PDAF scam involves the alleged funneling of so-called discretionary pork barrel funds of lawmakers to bogus non-government organizations of Napoles. Whistle-blowers claimed senators and congressmen received as much as 50 percent of their allocated funds as kickbacks.

Over P2 billion in pork barrel funds were allocated to Napoles NGOs from 2007 to 2009, according to a Commission on Audit (COA) special audit.

The COA report earlier revealed Villanueva, party-list representative of Citizens Battle Against Corruption (Cibac), allocated more than P18 million of his PDAF to several non-government organizations from 2007-2009.

The allocations include P9.7 million to Aaron Foundation, P4.8 million to Kaagapay Magpakailanman Foundation, P3.8 million to Masaganang Ani para sa Magsasaka Foundation Inc. (MAMFI), and P1 million to Life Giver Development Foundation.

Technology and Resource Center head Dennis Cunanan later confirmed that P3.4 million of Villanueva's PDAF went to MAMFI, an NGO linked to Napoles.

Villanueva confirmed allocating some of his PDAF to the TRC in 2008 while he was still a party-list lawmaker.

He said the usual process is that he would write a letter to the House of Representatives appropriations committee, saying he is allocating a specific amount for a project.

He said he wrote a letter to the Department of Agriculture which says he wanted to fund a project that would give equipment to farmers in Bulacan.

"Dumaan yung project sa TRC but there was no mention to me of MAMFI. At that time, it was an accredited NGO by the TRC," he said.

He said the TRC later submitted liquidation papers of the project, and that his own staff was present when the farm equipment was distributed to farmers.

Villanueva said he did not write a letter to TRC endorsing MAMFI as his preferred NGO that would implement the project.

This is different from the claim of Cunanan that lawmakers such as Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla picked and endorsed Napoles NGOs as the implementors of their PDAF projects.

"I did not do that. I never did that. Wala akong list ng NGO. During that time when I was a part of the opposition, all you want is a project kasi tag-tuyot [sa oposisyon] nun," he said.

He also denied talking to Napoles, her representatives, or Cunanan while he was still a member of Congress. Cunanan, at that time, was still a deputy director general of the TRC.

"I never talked to him, never met him and never knew him," Villanueva said, referring to Cunanan.

In a press statement, Ombudsman Morales said laws and regulations were disregarded by public respondents "when Villanueva directly selected NABCOR and AFPI to implement his livelihood projects and the IA officers accepted and accommodated Villanueva by facilitating the processing and approval of the PDAF releases.”

She added: "NABCOR officers did not even bother to conduct a due diligence audit on AFPI as to its technical and financial capability and simply accepted and relied on the representation of Villanueva and AFPI to undertake the projects in contravention of existing procurement laws."

Citing Supreme Court jurisprudence, the Ombudsman said that in a congressional pork barrel system, it is the legislator who exercises actual control and custody of the PDAF share."