POSTSCRIPT / July 1, 2014 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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Abad has PDAF data to control lawmakers?

RESIGN NOW!: What is Budget Secretary Florencio Abad waiting for? He should resign before the sun sets on the Palace or before he earns another minus point for his boss President Noynoy Aquino, whichever tipping point comes first.

President Aquino has amply demonstrated his protective concern for his long-time friend through whose expert hands pass billions in taxpayers’ money disbursed in huge lumps. It is time Abad demonstrated his.

To spare the boss the anguish of having to let him go, the beleaguered head of the Department of the Budget and Management should tender his irrevocable resignation soonest.

Anybody who stands out as a serious liability to the President, deservedly or not, should step out and fade away before he does more harm to the presidency.

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WHY NOT?: Some people ask why we sometimes quote facts and figures reported by our colleague Bobi Tiglao writing in another broadsheet.

My answer is “Why not?” The free and full flow of public information is liberating.

If the information that Bobi shares is vital to keeping the public updated on the state of the nation, including how taxes are collected and spent, it is our duty to pass it on. That it came out earlier in another paper is, to me, a minor detail.

We communicators should help give the facts the widest dissemination. My work place is wherever my laptop and my mobile phone are, but I could be everywhere, working with everyone. By networking, we multiply ourselves.

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SELECTED TARGETS: Businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles, a principal accused in the pork barrel plunder cases filed with the Sandiganbayan, may not be the epitome of honesty and integrity.

But when “Ma’am Jenny” declares that Abad was her mentor — implying he taught her how to manipulate pork barrel funds and filch millions here and there — her revelation has to be investigated if the administration is not afraid where the evidence might lead it.

The weakness of the pork barrel cases is that they focus only on the Non-Government Organizations used by Napoles and prosecute only three opposition senators from a long list of lawmakers implicated in the scandal shaking the government’s very foundation.

By selectively hounding political enemies, the administration’s motive and good faith are put in question.

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IMBALANCE: To illustrate selective prosecution, we again borrow from Bobi. He wrote (his text slightly tightened to fit space):

“Based on the testimonies of whistle-blowers Benhur Luy and his associates, Napoles operated 10 fake 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 (Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla) have been jailed, with the elderly third (Juan Ponce Enrile) most likely in a police hospital.

“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.”

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COA REPORT: This information is based, Bobi said, on the Commission on Audit’s 462-page special audit of the Priority Development Assistant Fund from 2007 to 2009 (Special Audits Report No. 2012-13, Aug. 23, 2013). He adds:

“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 that 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, it was in a hole-in-the-wall office with three clerks, one computer, and three office tables. 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.

“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.”

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MANY MORE SPARED: Still Bobi reporting: “Do we know who operated these 18 NGOs that got double the amount that Napoles’ NGOs got? We do not have a clue.

“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, did not spend even an hour investigating these non-Napoles NGOs.

“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 the three senators…. 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.”

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BLACKMAIL?: “Despite repeated requests, the DBM did not provide the COA team with the schedule of releases from PDAF per legislator.

“Secretary 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’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 this constitute blackmail material he could use to browbeat these former and current legislators to follow his and Aquino’s bidding?”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 1, 2014)

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