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Ex-COA chief ordered pork-barrel probe. Now he’s in jail

We have lost the capacity for outrage against injustice in this country.

This isn’t really unusual as it has happened often in history, when holier-than-thou fanatics captured state power and undertook the most horrible crimes against human beings, all in the name either of God or country. From the Spanish Inquisition’s witch-hunters to the Jacobins of the French Revolution, to Mao’s Red Guards to Pol Pot’s teen-aged cadres—they committed atrocities for some higher cause they believed they were the champions of.

I am of course exaggerating, but it is the same mindset of President Aquino and his yellow cultists, different only by a matter of degree: As crusaders for the straight path, they can dispense with decency and fairness.

“Former COA chief arrested for plunder,” the newspapers the other day screamed, and several papers even published his mug shot as if he were a common criminal, or a plunderer like former President Joseph Estrada who was convicted of the charge.

And who is the former head of the Commission on Audit allegedly captured by a police SWAT team armed to the teeth?

The 72-year-old Reynaldo Villar, a career auditor who rose to the COA’s ranks after 30 years and got appointed COA chairman in 2008. Since the COA is a constitutional commission, he was supposed to have a term until 2015. President Aquino however, didn’t like him—since his predecessor Gloria Arroyo appointed him just like Chief Justice Renato Corona—and pressured him to resign in 2011.

Former COA head Villar and the explosive PDAF special audit he ordered.

Former COA head Villar and the explosive PDAF special audit he ordered.

Why was Villar accused of “plunder”?

He was included among the accused—mostly the state firm’s board members at that time—as conspirators in the charge against Arroyo, that she authorized during her term the release of P366 million of the confidential funds of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office.

And what was Villar’s purported role in this?

Entirely this: That as COA chairman, he should have declared the release of the funds was anomalous, and that he should have filed charges against the PCSO officials and Arroyo. My sources claim that even government’s prosecutors were aware of how ridiculous such a charge was, and were ordered to do it by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who thought that such a move could force Villar to testify against Arroyo.

The complaint was filed in 2011 by Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel and ex-general Danilo Lim who thought that helping Aquino put Arroyo in jail would enhance their chances of being picked by the President for his senatorial slate in the 2013 elections. The evidence they presented? Minutes of the lynch-mob hearings of the Senate on the issue, which actually didn’t establish evidence but produced only for-the-gallery accusations.

The charge against Villar is so preposterous it shocked the bureaucracy and the legal community. This is because according to our Constitution, the COA is the only entity in this Republic that can determine whether a government entity’s disbursement of funds comply with government regulations. The Ombudsman claims that Villar is liable for plunder because he cleared the PCSO’s books. That would have the effect of putting the blame on any and all instances of graft on the COA chairman.

But never mind these legal, abstract arguments.

The case was filed in mid-2012, as Plan B to keep Arroyo in jail, in case the electoral sabotage case against her gets dismissed, which is very likely since it entirely rests on the claim of one individual involved in the Maguindanao massacre.

In January 2013, after several postponements on grounds that she was ill, one of PCSO’s Aquino-appointed board director, a former NGO official, Aleta Tolentino—whom the Ombudsman claimed was its star-witness—testified that she had no personal knowledge of the allegations, and that the PCSO had not found any single evidence that Arroyo even had access to the state-firms’ confidential funds.

In January 21, 2014, after a year of Arroyo’s suffering in incarceration, and because of the prosecutors’ requests for postponement of hearings, the Ombudsman presented as witness against Arroyo Flerida Africa Jimenez, chief of the COA’s Intelligence and Confidential Funds Audit Unit (ICAU).

However, Jimenez cleared Arroyo of any wrongdoing, testifying that the confidential and intelligence funds the former president was accused of “plundering” was fully liquidated in 2008, 2009 and 2010, with the COA finding no anomaly or irregularity in their use.

Jimenez also stated that the conclusion of the ICAU audit is final and binding unless it is questioned by any party within three years after it was issued. She said that no one has done so in the case of the PCSO’s intelligence funds for those years.

After that hearing, the Philippine National Police, headed by President Aquino’s former bodyguard Alan Purisima, intensified its hunt for Villar, who like many of the accused and like former Senator Panfilo Lacson, opted to be fugitives in the face of their being unjustly persecuted. Villar was captured the other day in his residence in Merville Park in Paranaque.

Did Purisima intensify the hunt under orders of Aquino who is hoping that Villar’s suffering in some city jail would be too much for the 72-year old senior, so he would say anything the prosecutors want him to say against Arroyo, as Benhur Luy and his pork-barrel whistle blowers gang have been doing?

And why did I say at the outset that we have lost the capacity for outrage, which is reflected in a “detail” the press didn’t bother to point out in its reports on the ex-COA chief’s arrest?

It was Villar, when he was COA chairman who issued Office Order No. 2010-309, dated May 13, 2010, which directed a “government-wide” special audit by a team of about 20 officers headed by auditor Gloria Silverio “on the allocation and utilization of the Priority Development Assistance Fund and Various Infrastructure including Local Projects. “

But it must have been only Villar’s “midnight” action, a few would claim. But Villar was expecting to have, as the Constitution puts it, a seven-year term, and stepped down in 2011 only after intense pressure of the President.

I was told that incumbent COA chair Grace Pulido-Tan had very little contribution to the report, and was alerted to it only when the pork-barrel controversy started to break out in July. However, she did provide the histrionics when the audit was released to the press, which she probably thinks earns her a seat in the Supreme Court when a slot is available May 22.

Four years after Villar’s directive, and, as pointed out in the report, “the refusal, despite repeated requests of the Budget Department (under Secretary Florencio Abad) to “provide the Team with complete schedule of releases per legislator,” the audit was completed in August 2013, and constitutes the documented evidence for legislators’ robbery of pork barrel funds.

It was publicly released a week after the Philippine Daily Inquirer run its exclusive series on the claims by the staff of alleged scam brains Janet Napoles that senators and congressmen were involved in massive theft of pork barrel money. The whistle-blowers’ claims obviously would have been mostly hearsay if not for the COA report.

The expose of the pork-barrel robbery would be the biggest initiative against corruption in this country so far, even if it is limited mostly to the legislative branch, and only superficially affecting the bureaucracy, through which the bulk of graft in this country (think of Customs, DPWH, BIR, and local governments) is undertaken.

Last week, the issue intensified, even putting Aquino’s brain-trust budget secretary Florencio Abad, and his political lieutenant Senate President Franklin Drilon under a cloud of suspicion, since the alleged scam-operator Napoles apparently has decided to tell all, beyond the script laid down to her when she spent hours in Malacañang after her surrender in August.

Yet Aquino’s shock troops handcuffed and threw to jail like a common criminal Villar, who had the brains and guts to order the pork-barrel investigation in 2009. What does that say of the ruthlessness of this administration, and our country’s shameless nonchalance over injustice?