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DBM cover-up in COA ‘s pork barrel report

Imagine if the school principal clamps down on cheating by this class of 24 students, which had become an open secret on campus.

An investigator is called and asks for the exam papers for him to pin down the cheating. The teacher submits only the documents for this particular gang of four he doesn’t like, and simply ignores the investigator’s demand to provide him with the exam papers of the others.

True enough, the papers show the gang of four cheating, and there’s a mob raised to go against them. Everyone forgets that the rest of the 21 most probably were cheaters too. The teacher just didn’t provide the investigator with their papers.

Source: COA, Special Audits Office, Report No. 2012-03

Source: COA, Special Audits Office, Report No. 2012-03

That’s exactly what the Commission on Audit’s controversial report on legislators’ pork barrel involves. The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) refused to provide the auditors the documents involving certain legislators, most likely allies and supporters of President Aquino.

Let’s be clear what the COA’s audit of the pork-barrel funds, officially called the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), is.

It is a special audit on the use of the PDAF by both houses of Congress for the years 2007 up to 2009. The audit was undertaken from June 15, 2010 to September 13, 2012 during which period President Aquino’s ideologue Florencio Abad headed the budget and management department, which kept the records on the disbursement so the pork barrel funds.

The COA report itself complained about a big obstacle to its special audit:

“The DBM could not provide the team, despite repeated requests, with complete schedule of releases per legislator from PDAF for soft projects . . .” (page 5).

And how much of the total PDAF releases of P29 billion during the period was the COA able to get data and documents on?

It received documents from DBM tracking how the pork-barrel funds were actually reimbursed covering only P8.4 billion, or 29 percent of the PDAF released. As the COA report’s paragraph “e” on page 1 put it: “Out of the total releases gathered by the Team, P8.374 Billion . . . (See Table 7) out of PDAF were covered in the Audit.”

So how was the remaining P21 billion, or 71 percent of the total pork barrel used?

We don’t have an idea. As the COA put it, the DBM simply did not provide data on these “despite repeated requests.” To call a spade a spade, there was cover-up by the DBM on certain legislators’ pork-barrel use.

A recent report by the Philippine Star is worrying, that allegedly pork-barrel scam operator Janet Lim-Napoles had destroyed her documents in January that could have linked politicians to her racket. Could a similar, parallel operation have been done in the DBM, so records on the use of PDAF disbursements for certain senators especially would forever be lost?

It is just too coincidental that the senators whose pork barrel were audited by the COA, which found gross misuse and even fund malversation, were nearly all those in the opposition or those who are presidential or vice presidential timber for 2016: Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, Gregorio Honasan, Ramon Revilla and Lito Lapid.

It’s a brilliant move by Aquino’s operators. How can Enrile and company defend themselves by just claiming, “Why only us?”.

Other than Senator Edgardo Angara, the COA audit did not have any data (or very little data) on the following senators of that period to evaluate whether or not they properly used their PDAF: Mar Roxas, Rodolfo Biazon, Alan Cayetano, Pia Cayetano, Francis Escudero, Loren Legarda and Antonio Trillianes.

The most glaring omission of course involves the pork-barrel data on Mr. Aquino, who was a senator during that period. The report did not have any amount listed for his PDAF. Aquino though has never claimed that he didn’t touch his pork barrel allocations. Only two senators are known to have refused any PDAF money: Joker Arroyo and Panfilo Lacson.

The COA also reported: “The Audit covered releases by the DBM Central Office and Regional Offices Nos. III, V, XI and National Capital Region and utilization of funds and implementation of projects during CYs 2007 to 2009.” It also listed the three implementing agencies it investigated, which consisted of three departments, four state firms, nine cities and municipalities, and four provincial governments.

How did the COA choose these implementing agencies which it audited?

At random? Or was it tipped that pork-barrel misuse by Enrile’s gang was rampant in these state entities? Why did it choose for instance to investigate the National Agribusiness Corp. and Zamboanga del Norte Agricultural College Rubber Estate Corp., entities few people—I would think even COA officials—even knew existed?

Or did the DBM and Aquino’s strategists already undertake their own probe and found that these entities were the favorite venues of Enrile and company to siphon off into their pockets pork barrel funds?

Consider the regions the COA decided to investigate: III (Central Luzon), V (Bicol). XI (Davao) and the National Capital Region. Why weren’t the bailiwick region of Liberal Party leaders Franklin Drilon and Mar Roxas—which is Region VI (Western Visayas)—included in the COA’s probe?

It is the fact that the COA report was based on documents which DBM head Abad chose which destroys its credibility. This wouldn’t be a problem if the audit were entirely a diagnostic tool for the COA to tighten up its auditors’ protocols and procedures. But it just hasn’t been so.

The COA audit did expose how legislators have been stealing taxpayers’ money, consequently igniting people’s outrage calling for its total abolition. That’s certainly a laudable accomplishment.

But the COA report obviously has also become a political tool for destroying—validly or not—the prestige of the opposition’s leaders, seriously weakening them in their bid to take over power in 2016. That’s not how a nation should build its institutions.

That the COA has become partisan, rather than sticking to its constitutional mandate as an independent body, was obvious in last week’s Senate hearing. COA chair Grace Pulido-Tan nearly gleefully testified that “based on the COA’s report,” senators Enrile, Honasan, Revilla and Lapid allocated pork-barrel amounts to dubious “eight NGOs linked to Janet Lim-Napoles,” widely believed now to have headed a scam for lawmakers to pocket the PDAF funds.

But the COA report had no reference at all to a “Janet Lim-Napoles.” What the COA report had data on was on Benhur Luy, whom its auditors found was president in one NGO and director in another both of which appeared ghost entities but which received substantial pork barrel fund.

Yes, Luy had been linked to Napoles, that he was her staff who accused her of running the pork barrel racket. But that is according to the newspapers which broke the mammoth racket, which based its reportage on claims of Luy and other alleged whistle-blowers. So far there isn’t any other confirmation of those allegations.

Luy’s claim may likely prove accurate, but his allegations regarding Lim aren’t in the COA report. Would you consider professional an auditor who refers to a newspaper report as a basis for her audit of your company?

By testifying in the Senate that the COA report found that several senators were linked to “Janet Lim-Napoles,” Tan was technically lying, as Napoles’ name didn’t appear anywhere in the report.

She has become a partisan in this controversy, and sadly has transformed the COA—which like the Supreme Court is supposed to be above the fray—into a political weapon. It has become another institution politicized and damaged by this administration.