Aquino allies excluded from COA report

The Commission on Audit’s Special Audit that points to massive corruption of pork barrel funds will go down in our history as a breakthrough in exposing how our Congress—in most nations a pillar of democracy and an engine for change—has become a gigantic printing press for legislators’ money.

Now I truly understand why it is so important for some people to spend tens and even hundreds of millions of money to get into Congress.

The fact that senators asked that their pork barrel funds, officially known as Priority Development Assistance Funds, to be given to NGOs which mostly turned out to be sham entities, obviously meant that their arrangement with these groups, was for the bulk of this money, 70 percent reportedly, to be reverted back to them. “Kicked” back, really, which is the origin of that particular graft term.

The complete list of legislators and these mostly fake NGOS, including the amounts given, is contained in Annex A of the COA report (posted in many internet site), pages 137 to 153. A staggering amount of P6 billion was given to these fake NGOs. Some P1.5 billion was “unliquidated”, that is, no receipts or any other documents were even submitted to prove that they were utilized.

Cover of the “historic” COA report

Cover of the “historic” COA report

I found sad that even such an esteemed senator, the former University of the Philippines president Edgardo Angara, whose prestige has been so high that people voted his son to replace him in the Senate, would seem to have slept with these shadowy NGOs.

According to the COA report, he gave P81 million out of his pork barrel to READ Foundation, P25 million to the Assembly of Gracious Samaritans Foundation, P19 million to Kagandahan ng Kapaligiran Foundation, Inc., and P14 million to Kalusugan ng Bata, Karunungan ng Bayan .

Those NGOs received such substantial amounts of funds without any references to them even in the Internet. I may be wrong, though, and I’d be more than willing to be corrected by the Senator.

What the heck is “Aaron Foundation Philippines, Inc.” that it enjoyed the largesse of such legislators as former Speaker Jose de Venecia who gave it P19 million of his pork barrel; Prospero and his brother Philip Pichay who gave it a staggering P210 million; Aurelio Umali, P24 million; Rolex Suplico , P25 million; and 22 other politicians—for a total of P524 million?

The COA tried tracking down Aaron. It found that its address is “a vacant lot storing various equipment, and did not have a business permit.”

Aaron Foundation got the third largest pork barrel funds from the politicians, totaling P525 million.

The fake NGO that got the biggest, P585 million, was Social Development Program for Farmers Foundations, Inc., which, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported, was handled by the now infamous Janet Napoles. The second biggest recipient was Kabuhayan at Kalusugan Alay sa Masa Foundation, with P526 million. For a purported NGO handling half a billion pesos, the COA found that its office at 99 Reliance Center Building in Pasig had a staff of three and one computer.

Who the hell is Dr. Rodolfo A. Ignacio, Sr. after whom a foundation, to which 16 legislators gave P146 million of their pork barrel? The only reference I could find on the man is his obituary which described him as a former governor of Oriental Mindoro who died at 93 in 2004.

The COA report shows that our esteemed legislators were into some kind of conspiracy, since they crowded into particular dubious NGOs. Thus 27 politicians had their pork barrel put into Aaron Foundation and 23 into Social Developemnt Program for Farmers. Kabuhayan at Kalusugan Alay sa Masa Foundation was a clear favorite of the House, with 50 of its members allocating their pork barrel for this dubious entity.

Congressman Matias Defensor, Jr. however should be given some award for sheer gall: Rather than bothering with other NGOs, he allocated P100 million of his pork barrel to the Matias Defensor, Sr. Foundation that he had set up, and of which he was still a stockholder.

According to the COA data, the senators who had the biggest allocations to the dubious NGOs were Juan Ponce Enrile, Ramon “Bong” Revilla, Jinggoy Estrada, Lito Lapid, and Gregorio Honasan—all of whom are known not to be President Aquino’s willing allies.

I wouldn’t doubt the COA data on these senators. However, how did President Aquino—a senator from 2007 until he was elected President in 2010, which covers the years 2002 to 2009 which were the subject of the COA’s investigation—use his pork barrel?

For that matter, how did the senators now known to be Aquino loyalists and allies use theirs? Foremost among these are Aquino side-kick Mar Roxas, senator from 2004 to 2010, the Cayetano siblings Alan and Pia, Francis Escudero, Francisco Pangilinan, Antonio Trillanes, Loren Legarda, Rodolfo G. Biazon, and even Jamby Madrigal.

Were these legislators saints?

Maybe yes. Like Senators Joker Arroyo and Panfilo Lacson, a few of these pro-Aquino senators reportedly didn’t touch their pork barrel allocations for certain years. I cannot confirm these though since the department of budget and management’s website contains data only for years starting 2009.

However, there is a more likely reason why the COA report did not have details on these pro-Aquino senators’ use of their pork barrel. This is indicated in page 34 of the COA report:

“Despite repeated requests, the DBM did not provide the (COA) Team with the schedule of releases from PDAF per legislator. Thus, total releases for each legislator out of PDAF cannot be established.”

Because of this, the COA report involved only P12 billion or less than half of the P29 billion “soft” pork barrel uses , or mainly those given to NGOs. What has been disclosed in effect is only half of the corruption.

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, said to be Aquino’s political strategist, likely simply refused to provide the DBM with data on the pork barrel use of these senators allied with Mr. Aquino. I wonder if there was even a quid-pro-quo arrangement for Abad’s putting data on these senators’ pork barrel in his safe.

There is another aspect to the COA report that is important to note.

The COA-audited pork barrel covers only for the years 2007 to 2009. An unsung hero here is former COA chairman Rey Villar, whom Aquino forced out of office even if his term was until 2011.

It was Villar who issued Office Order No. 2010-309, dated May 13, 2010, which directed the special audit on pork barrel funds by a team of about 20 officers headed by auditor Gloria Silverio. Quite ironically, Villar was included among the accused —and ordered arrested—in the preposterous case against President Arroyo involving the confidential funds of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office. If I am not mistaken, since the case was deemed “non-bailable,” Villar has been in jail since late last year.

COA chairman Grace Pulido-Tan should be gracious enough to give credit where credit is due. Just for his contribution to the country’s fight against graft, Aquino should order that Villar be excluded from the case.

COA Chair Pulido-Tan claimed she was horrified at the scale of corruption over pork-barrel funds.

If she really is, and if she is not beholden to the incumbent administration, she should be following her predecessor’s precedent and order a similar audit of pork-barrel funds from 2011 to 2013, or during Aquino’s term. She may faint on seeing this new report, given that pork barrel formal allocations averaged P25 billion during these years, about three times that for 2007-2009.