Sunday, August 18, 2013

NBI to expand probe into pork barrel misuse - Sun.Star

MANILA -- Government investigators will soon look into other anomalies in the use of pork barrel funds aside from the controversy involving businesswoman Janet Napoles and 28 lawmakers who allegedly channeled taxpayer's money to bogus non-government organizations (NGOs).

This developed after the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) received copies of the findings of the Commission on Audit (COA) on its special audit of the priority development assistance fund (PDAF) from 2007 to 2009.

COA report found that at least 12 senators and 180 congressmen earmarked their P6-billion pork barrel funds to 82 questionable nongovernment organizations, including those allegedly formed by fugitive Janet Lim-Napoles, from 2007 to 2009.

"Given the fact that the COA report covers a much wider web of anomalies surrounding the PDAF releases, NBI can always and will in fact expand its probe. But for now, the focus is on JLN and JLN-related transactions and NGOs, as well as the lawmakers, executive officials/personnel and other individuals implicated by the whistleblowers," said Justice Secretary Leila de Lima in a text message Sunday.

De Lima admitted the report would have an impact on the NBI probe as this will be used as "major reference" for the "needed evidentiary support" to the case build up.

She said documents in COA's possession (e.g., lawmakers' letters designating implementing agencies and NGOs, requests for release of funds, special allotment release order, memorandum of agreement, etc.) will corroborate and strengthen the whistleblowers' statements and their documentary evidence.

Under the report, COA noted ghost recipients, excessive allocations, lack of public bidding and release of PDAF to a non-lawmaker and NGOs whose incorporators are relatives of members of Congress.

Napoles allegedly has 10 NGOs, which received P2.157 billion during the audit period. She has eluded arrest for keeping whistleblower Benhur Luy against his will for three months.

Meanwhile, de Lima called for a joint probe with the Office of the Ombudsman and COA that will look into the racket.

So far, the agencies have been undergoing a parallel but coordinated investigation.

"Because of the audit report, we are all under clout of doubt. Even if our names were not in the report, the people have the tendency to generalize and suspect us to be doing illegal in the use of our pork barrel," said Senate President Franklin Drilon, who was not a senator during the audit period.

He asked for a speedy release of the probe results so that involved lawmakers can answer allegations against them in the proper venue. Drilon is in favor of abolishing the pork barrel system.

Malacanang distanced Sunday on what should be done on the findings of the COA regarding the alleged misuse of the multi-billion Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), saying it did not want to be accused of pressuring an independent body on the action it should take.

In an interview over dzRB Radyo ng Bayan, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said that like what COA Chairman Grace Pulido-Tan has stated, it is now up to the prosecutorial arm and the investigation arms of the government to move on the COA findings.

"We will defer to the Ombudsman, to the independent constitutional commission that it is, because we do not also want to be accused of pressuring any independent agency into acting a certain way," she said when asked if the lawmakers mentioned in the COA report should be charged.

Valte also reiterated that the Palace supports any investigation on the pork barrel scam whoever would be affected.

"Let's go through the entire report and what is clear here is that we go where the evidence will take us," she said.

Amid the growing outrage over the alleged misuse of PDAF and the strong call on its abolition, Valte said that she has yet to talk to President Benigno Aquino IIII if his position not to abolish the pork barrel was still the same.

"Perhaps this is something that we can discuss with the President. We haven't had the opportunity to discuss it with him again in light of the recent findings of the COA (Commission on Audit) and maybe it's something that we can raise with him," she said.

Aquino earlier said that PDAF could be helpful to those places, which could not be reached by the national government. (Virgil Lopez/SDR/Sunnex)
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