Massive cover-ups: Mystery NGOs and Abad’s obstructionist role

There’s more than meets the eye in this pork barrel scandal engulfing the nation. After nearly a year, the narrative has been firmly set but there are major, suspicious gaps. So far this is how it’s been played out in the media:

The operator of this gargantuan pork barrel scam is Janet Lim-Napoles, a businesswoman from Basilan province who didn’t even go to college. Her accomplices: Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla; it’s just coincidental that they’re the leaders of the opposition. The long hand of justice is finally onto them, a milestone in our history.

And there is a particularly sweet but angry kind of schadenfreude stirred in us when we see the high and mighty fall. Even history shows that the most timid of peasants and most loyal of subjects can be roused to a murderous frenzy to demand the beheading of kings, nobles, and dictators, if the right emotional buttons are pushed.

But something is terribly wrong in this pork barrel narrative, if you look at the facts.

Behind this national spectacle of three senators (for the first time in our history) being arrested and jailed like common criminals are three huge cover-ups. I’ll cover two in this column, with the third on Monday.

The first involves a shadowy figure or group getting away, so to speak, with murder, probably laughing at how we can be so easily fooled.

Based on the testimonies of whistle-blowers Benhur Luy and his associates, Napoles operated 10 fake non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that managed to receive pork-barrel funds totaling P2.2 billion from 2007 to 2009, purportedly for 131 “livelihood” projects.

The Ombudsman has filed charges against the three senators for pocketing P581 million of these funds, for which the two have been jailed (with the elderly third, most likely in a police hospital).

Cover-up No. 1

The amount of P2.2 billion is certainly huge, a scandalous theft of taxpayers’ money on an unprecedented scale by Napoles’ NGOs.

But nearly double that, P4 billion, were given to 18 other NGOs*, which Napoles had nothing to do with.

This is based on the Commission on Audit’s (COA) 462-page special audit of the Priority Development Assistant Fund (PDAF) from 2007 to 2009 (Special Audits Report No. 2012-13, August 23, 2013).

These even had the same set of “implementing agencies” (i.e. the agencies which actually turned over the money to the NGO) as Napoles’ operations: mainly, National Agribusiness Corp., Technology Resource Corp, Zamboanga del Norte Agricultural College Rubber Estate Corp., National Livelihood Development Corp., and the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

Details of the operations of these “non-Napoles” NGOs the COA uncovered were similar to those of Napoles’ NGOs, as described by the whistleblowers.

The NGO “Kabuhayan at Kalusugan ng Masa,” got P527 million in PDAF money, but according to the COA field investigation, and it was in a hole-in-the-wall office with three clerks, one computer, and three office tables. Two other addresses listed as its offices, upon investigation, were non-existent.

The address of Aaron Foundation, which got P525 million in PDAF funds, turned out to be a vacant lot. Aaron, in fact, has the distinction of having the biggest “unliquidated” balance of P187 million. This means no government office was informed how it used the taxpayers’ money given to it for its “livelihood” projects. The COA found that the addresses given by 15 of the 18 NGOs were either vacant lots, non-existent or high-end residences whose caretakers denied knowledge of the NGOs.

The COA could not find Pangkabuhayan Foundation, which received P396 million in pork barrel funds, or any of its officers. Owners of the dilapidated apartments that were supposed to be the NGO’s offices reported it had long vacated.

Do we know who operated these 18 NGOs that got double the amount that Napoles’ NGOs got?

We don’t have a clue. And why don’t we have any ideas who are behind these NGOs?

The Justice department and the National Bureau of Investigation, which investigated the Napoles NGOs, and whose findings are the basis for the charges against her and the senators, didn’t spend even an hour investigating these non-Napoles NGOs.

Luy and his associates, and the Philippine Daily Inquirer, pointed to Napoles as the pork barrel queen. Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, the NBI, the press, and the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee nodded furiously, and went after her. That was the narrative they decided on.

And it was not that there were no leads, or suspects to interrogate as the COA had the list of presidents and incorporators of the questionable NGOs.

Table 20 of the COA report even had a list of ten people who were suspiciously connected to two or more of the NGOs. BenHur Luy is on this list as president of Napoles’ Social Development Program for Farmers’ Foundation, which had the biggest pork barrel proceeds of P585 million.

But have you ever heard of, or is the NBI looking for, the following persons who were involved in at least two NGOs that got nearly as big PDAF as that of Luy’s: France Mercado, Genely Belleza, Godofredo Roque, “Joel L.”, one “Soriano”, Malou C. Ferrer, Myra Villanueva, and Mary Ann A. Exito? (Email me please, if you know these people so we can try finding out who is behind them.)

Do you think those behind these non-Napoles NGOs, especially the 18 which got the biggest pork-barrel funds, are still in the country, that any document linking them to the scam still intact?

I hope so, though I doubt that very much. But because of all these leads and evidence on mystery NGOs that were conveniently just left behind, at the very least, the DOJ led by Secretary Leila de Lima and the NBI should be indicted for obstruction of justice, or at least for criminal negligence in the performance of their duties.

If the police raids an illegal drug factory, and just looks the other way as the majority of the criminals make their escape, what do you call that?

The pork scam “business” is really a very small industry (it involved only eight government enties). It is impossible for Napoles not to know who the other operator or operators, and their patron in government was.

Is her information the reason that she exuded such confidence when she was brought to the Senate, and why she had to be brought to Malacanang for the President himself to talk to her privately?

Cover-up No. 2

The COA audit listed 325 House of Representatives members and 17 senators (of the 13th and 14th Congress) who allocated their PDAF to the questionable NGOs and/or small infrastructure projects in which it also found serious anomalies.

The Justice department though has singled out in its investigation and prosecution the three senators, and at the most—we will have to see—six other legislators, notably senators Gregorio Honasan, Enrile’s protege. The amount the Ombudsman claimed the three stole from the PDAF totals P581 million—or 9 percent of the total P6.2 billion PDAF disbursements the COA investigated.

Why such patently selective investigation?

The reason is in black and white in the COA report itself, and I have written about this before, even in September last year right after the audit was publicly released (“Aquino allies excluded from COA report,” August 18, 2013, and “DBM cover-up in COA ‘s pork barrel report,” September 2, 2013):

“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, ” the team investigators complained early in its report on page 5.

It repeated the complaint on page 28: “The total funds released for PDAF cannot be fully established by the Team because despite repeated requests from the DBM, the Team was not provided with total releases per legislator and per implementing agency. The Team was provided only with lists of releases out of VILP (Various Infrastructures Including Local Projects), which were not even complete.”

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad—by all accounts Aquino’s brain and main operator—derailed the COA’s investigation by refusing to release documents that could have implicated their allies.

But he freely released data on the three opposition senators. Abad provided data on 79 to 100 percent of the pork barrel funds of Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, and Ramon Revilla.

In contrast, no documents at all were provided in the case of Senators Francis Escudero and Jamby Madrigal, who in fact were not mentioned in the entire COA report, as if they were not members of that 14th Congress.

Abad’s cover-up also raises a very serious question: Does he have in his possession documents that could show that other legislators stole huge amounts from the pork-barrel fund, and therefore could be charged and arrested just as the three senators have been?

Doesn’t these constitute blackmail material he could use to browbeat these former and current legislators to follow his and Aquino’s bidding?

No wonder Congress, even with no pork barrel (at least in the scale and kind in the past) and no Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) moneys to bribe them, appears to be still a timid lot, with Aquino laughing off any talk of his impeachment.