Sunday, December 8, 2013

Philippines Pres. Aquino used agrarian reform funds as pork barrel

More and more, President Aquino seems to deserve the Pork Barrel King moniker

It wasn’t just money from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF)—the official pork-barrel kitty—and later from the Disbursement Acceleration Plan (DAP) that President Aquino used to bribe senators for their support, especially for the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona.

Aquino even converted as pork-barrel funds money from the Agrarian Reform Fund (ARF), set up way back in 1987 and sourced from the proceeds of the sale to private groups of government assets and the recovery of the so-called ill-gotten wealth of the Marcos couple and their cronies.
Booked in the government’s accounting system as “Fund 158,” the ARF money is administered by the Land Bank of the Philippines, and intended mainly for the comprehensive agrarian reform program. It is money basically for peasants.

Sources from the budget department and the Commission on Audit claimed that Aquino could have used about P700 million of the ARF as pork-barrel funds in 2011 and 2012, a big chunk of which ended up in lawmakers’ pockets through “Napoles-type” of scams.

They were referring to the alleged operations of the now infamous Janet Lim-Napoles to siphon pork-barrel funds to fake NGOs, by which lawmakers got part of the money as kickbacks.
Use of ARF money illegal

The use by Aquino of these huge ARF sums however is illegal not only because of one reason the Supreme Court recently gave in declaring all pork barrel funds unconstitutional, which is that lawmakers cannot be involved in the expenditure of the government budget.

More clearly, Aquino’s the use of ARF funds was because these had been released without resolutions by the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council’s Executive Committee, as required by law. The budget department cannot just on its own take money from the ARF; the transaction has to be approved by that committee.

The agrarian reform secretary chairs this committee, whose other members are the Executive Secretary, the secretaries of the departments of agriculture, environment and natural resources, finance, public works and highways as well as the chairman of the Land Bank of the Philippines.
In a full-blown investigation, each of these officials would have to choose whether to lie for Aquino or tell the truth that they didn’t approve or sign any resolution for such use of the funds.

The sources claimed that the P220 million that Agrarian Reform Undersecretary Anthony Parungao recently claimed had been endorsed by Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Gregorio Honasan and released to fund nonexistent “agrarian reform projects” by dubious nongovernment agencies was just a part of the total ARF funds that Aquino used as pork-barrel money.
“It was clearly Budget Secretary Florencio Abad’s idea, as he was familiar with these funds when he was agrarian reform secretary under Cory [President Corazon],” a source said. He probably thought the use of some of these ARF funds, as pork barrel would escape scrutiny.

A COA audit, contained in its Audit Observation Memorandum dated March 25, 2013, concluded that about P170 million of the P220 million was disbursed to fake NGOs, seven of which had been identified as fronts of Napoles by his employee Benhur Luy.

These were supposed to be spent for projects undertaken by “agrarian reform communities” mainly (and strangely) for vermi-composting (the use of certain worms to compost waste without using chemicals) and the distribution of fertilizers and chemicals to farmers.

Ghost projects

A field investigation by the COA, however, found no such projects implemented or being implemented. The mayors who were supposed to be partners in the projects were totally unaware of them.

The sources so far provided actual documents however solely in the case of such projects “endorsed” by Sen. Gregorio Honasan.

Obviously in response to Honasan’s request, Sen. Franklin Drilon, then the chairman of the Senate’s Committee on Finance who allegedly was Aquino’s liaison man in that body to distribute pork-barrel funds of any type, sent an official letter to Honasan, dated February 15, 2011 which read: (see page 1)

Attached to Drilon’s letter was a photocopy of Special Allotment Release Order No. E-11-00282 darted February 8, 2011 for the amount of P100 million. The SARO was signed by Budget Undersecretary Mario L. Relampagos, with the note. “By Authority of the Secretary.” The SARO indicated the fund code: 158, which means it was drawn from the Agrarian Reform Fund, and not from the PDAF, which is a separate item in the appropriations laws.

The COA and the agrarian reform undersecretary for legal affairs followed the paper trail on the use of the P100 million, and undertook actual investigations, and found that the bulk of the money was released to fake NGOs for nonexistent projects.

“What is strange though is why only documents involving Jinggoy and Honasan’s pork barrel from ARF funds are being released by the agrarian reform department,” a budget department source said. Several other senators, including those in Aquino’s camp had availed of this ARF ‘pork-barrel,’ the source added.

Aquino and the Senate apparently had concluded an agreement in late 2010, that for the body to be really supportive, especially of the President’s unprecedented plot to take out Chief Justice Corona that year, the regular PDAF of P200 million yearly for each senator wasn’t enough. After all the senators thought they had a right to it as they make the budget law, and without that PDAF, there wouldn’t be a budget law.

Being a former agrarian reform secretary, Abad knew that the ARF could be tapped as pork barrel funds. But Abad—and probably Relampagos—later thought that the easier way would be to get money from various departments, by simply declaring some of their allocations as “savings.”

As a smokescreen, they used such dubious “savings” for other projects they preferred, and called such impounding and utilization of funds allocated by the budget laws as “Disbursement Acceleration Plan.”

Instead, that scheme, when the Supreme Court rules it as unconstitutional, would probably accelerate the unraveling of Aquino’s regime. ‘Manila Times’

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