Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Pork barrel ‘queen’ parties with solons

LET'S PARTY. Janet Lim-Napoles, left (standing), rubs elbows with senators Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla in this photo taken during a party in Estrada's favorite hangout in San Juan. The man second from right is businessman Jaime Dichaves, who has owned to the Jose Velarde account initially linked to former President Joseph Estrada.LET'S PARTY. Janet Lim-Napoles, left (standing), rubs elbows with senators Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla in this photo taken during a party in Estrada's favorite hangout in San Juan. The man second from right is businessman Jaime Dichaves, who has owned to the Jose Velarde account initially linked to former President Joseph Estrada.
LET’S PARTY. Janet Lim-Napoles, left (standing), rubs elbows with senators Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla in this photo taken during a party in Estrada’s favorite hangout in San Juan. The man second from right is businessman Jaime Dichaves, who has owned to the Jose Velarde account initially linked to former President Joseph Estrada.LET’S PARTY. Janet Lim-Napoles, left (standing), rubs elbows with senators Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla in this photo taken during a party in Estrada’s favorite hangout in San Juan. The man second from right is businessman Jaime Dichaves, who has owned to the Jose Velarde account initially linked to former President Joseph Estrada.
MANILA, Philippines – The woman at the center of the alleged pork barrel scam has partied and rubbed elbows with lawmakers, indicating she’s more than an acquaintance to them.
Photos obtained by Rappler show businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, owner of the JLN Group of Companies, and some of her family members attending a party apparently hosted by Sen Jinggoy Estrada.
In the photos, a smiling Napoles is seen table-hopping and posing for the cameras like it was her own party. One of the photos shows Sen Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr and actor Phillip Salvador – two of Estrada’s closest friends – posing with Napoles.
We learned that the party where the photos were taken was held at Estrada’s favorite hangout in San Juan City.
Estrada and Revilla were among the 28 lawmakers tagged by whistleblowers – former employees and associates of Napoles – as sources of the Priority Development Assistance Fund or pork barrel released to Napoles’ bogus non-governmental organizations through government agencies and corporations [...]
Read the full story  >> More photos 

Pork barrel scam scandalizes the nation

By Perry Diaz
Janet Lim Napoles (Photo credit: PDI)
Janet Lim Napoles (Photo credit: PDI)
All it took was one whistleblower to expose what a lot of people knew but were afraid to talk about because of the magnitude of the scam involving “ghost projects.”  This scam has been going on for 10 years, costing the government P10 billion, and involving 28 senators and congressmen.  Indeed, it is so big that there is only one way to describe it – it’s the mother of all scams!
But this could only be the tip of the iceberg.  It could have been running for decades under different operators and involving hundreds of senators and congressmen. 
But make no mistake; nobody is insinuating that every member of Congress was involved in the scam.  There are members of Congress who are using their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel solely for the benefit of their constituents.   
Benhur Luy and Merlina Sunas (Photo credit: PDI)
Benhur Luy and Merlina Sunas (Photo credit: PDI)
Recently, it’s reported in the news that a certain Merlina Pablo Sunas had submitted an affidavit to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) linking five senators and 23 congressmen to a scam ran by a certain Janet Lim Napoles of JLN Group of Companies.  The lawmakers allegedly released their pork barrel funds to bogus non-government organizations (NGOs).  In return, these NGOs would kick back a percentage of the funds to the lawmakers and keep the rest of the money.
Sunas was a trusted employee of Napoles whom Napoles appointed as president of one of Napoles’ bogus NGOs — the People’s Organization for Progress and Development Foundation Inc. (POPDFI).   
The five senators who were linked to the scam are the following:
Ramon Revilla, Jr. – P 1.017 billion
Juan Ponce Enrile – P 641.65 million
Jinggoy Estrada – P 585 million
Ferdinand Marcos Jr. – P 100 million
Gregorio Honasan – P 15 million
Modus operandi
(Photo credit: PDI)
(Photo credit: PDI)
The exposure of the scam was an offshoot of a certain Benhur Luy’s alleged kidnapping by Napoles, his employer.  The NBI was tipped of the alleged kidnapping and NBI agents rescued Luy last March 22. Consequently, kidnapping charges were filed against Napoles.  However, the Department of Justice (DOJ) dismissed the charges for lack of probable cause. 
Luy then executed an affidavit accusing Napoles of setting up five bogus NGOs that Napoles used to pull off the scam, which included the fertilizer fund scam, Malampaya scam, and the pork barrel scam. The NGOs were supposed to use the funds to procure or provide supplies and services; however, no deliveries were ever made.  To cover these “ghost projects,” the implementing agencies submitted fake “liquidation papers” to show that the supplies or services were delivered or performed.  After kickbacks were made to the ones authorizing the release of the funds to the NGOs, the funds eventually made their way to Napoles’ personal bank accounts.
The question is: Would the DOJ succeed in prosecuting Napoles?  Evidently, Napoles is a very powerful and influential businesswoman who knows what money can buy.  But first, the DOJ has to find her and her brother, Reynald Lim, who was also implicated in the scam.  As of today, the siblings are nowhere to be found.  Makes one wonder who are protecting them?
Abolish the pork
Once again, pork barrel is at the forefront of national debate.  As a result of the scandal, Sen. Frank Drilon proposed limiting the use of PDAF.  However, Sen. Chiz Escudero had been advocating for abolition of the pork barrel system for many years. 
Sen. Chiz Escudero
Sen. Chiz Escudero
In my article, “Power of the ‘Pork’” (February 3, 2010), I wrote: “In 2009, Sen. Francis ‘Chiz’ Escudero introduced Resolution No. 900 ‘urging the Senate committee on Finance to cause the immediate review and accordingly propose the repeal or amendment of Presidential Decree No. 1177 and Book VI of Executive Order No. 292, specifically all provisions pertinent to budget preparation, disposition and management, with the end in view of reverting to Congress the power of the purse as prescribed by the Constitution.’
“A few weeks ago, Escudero — a proponent of the abolition of the pork barrel system — said that Gloria ‘has been exercising her power to impound pork not because of any lofty purpose but to give out or withhold political favor to help her allies and to strangle her political opponents.’ ”
P-Noy doubles pork barrel
President Benigno Aquino III
President Benigno Aquino III
But instead of abolishing the pork barrel system, President Benigno “P-Noy” Aquino III, who succeeded Gloria in June 2010, doubled the pork barrel allocations for the legislators.  On top of each of the 278 congressmen’s P70-million “pork barrel,” they were given an extra P75 million each to be used for infrastructure projects in their districts.  The extra pork barrel for each congressman consisted of P50 million from the budget of the Department of Public Work and Highways (DPWH) and another P25 million from the Road User’s Tax.
The decision to provide additional pork barrel to the congressmen was seemingly made to placate a number of them who threatened to block the passage of the national budget on grounds of “unequal budgetary allocations,” due mainly to former president and now Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s humongous DPWH  “pork barrel.”
Mother of all pork
Former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo
Former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo
In my article, “Pigging out on Barrels of Pork(October 27, 2010), I wrote: “But the biggest recipient of pork barrel in Congress is no other than Gloria who for some mysterious reason is going to get a P2.2-billion lump sum pork barrel from the DPWH budget.  This is in addition to her P70-million PDAF pork, the P50-million extra infrastructure pork, another P28 million on top of that, and the P25-million windfall from the Road User’s Tax.
“The ‘mystery’ was solved when Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello revealed that Gloria used her influence when she was president to make sure that her district would get a lot of projects funded by ‘multilateral lending agencies’ from Japan and South Korea ‘What we discovered is while she was president, she [Arroyo] had contracted with foreign aid agencies to be able to funnel over the next few years billions of pesos into the 2nd district of Pampanga. Sinabi ni [Public Works Secretary Rogelio] Singson kahapon, he’s helpless kasi his hands are tied, kasi these were committed by foreign aid agencies like the Japan International Cooperation Agency and the Korea Development and Cooperation Fund,’ Bello said.”
Reforming the system
With the exposé that implicated 28 lawmakers in the pork barrel scam, there is a need for instituting reforms on how pork barrel is doled out.  The magnitude of the pork barrel scam has set back P-Noy’s reform agenda and scandalized the nation.
Mr. President, pork barrel germinates corruption.  You abolish pork barrel and corruption withers.  And if you want to leave a lasting legacy for the Filipino people, abolition of pork barrel would be the hallmark of your presidency.  Then and only then can you say that you’ve achieved your campaign promise, “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap.” Indeed, for as long as there is corruption, there is poverty, Mr. President. 

The Dreams of Tony Meloto

Source: Gawad Kalinga Australia
Tony-Meloto-Le-FigaroTranslated from the original French article by Marielle Court from Le Figaro
Success. This late employee of Procter and Gamble changed his life at 35. Once a Christian missionary, he created an NGO to fight poverty in the Philippines. Thanks, in particular, to social entrepreneurship.
“You build with values, not only with money”, “I prefer the freedom of serving to the power of directing”… Quotes like these, Tony Meloto spreads them in every place he goes by. And for those who wouldn’t be fully convinced yet, he adds a few keywords : honesty, sharing, simplicity, work… That’s how he is. At 63, this Filipino, guest of honour of UNESCO’s Planetworkshops which took place in June in Paris, mixes henceforth with the world’s most powerful people yet finds his happiness and reason to live among the poorest of his country by helping them to find out how to start over and make it to a better life.
Nothing to do with Charity Business, where dollars are fading away too often because of a lack of project. Tito Tony (uncle Tony), as he is called often by his fellow citizen, manages to mix two words often incompatible in nowadays’ world: liberal and social. It is after all not surprising. This guy with such a communicative energy has graduated in economics and turns out to be missionary by vocation.
His first steps in life drove him however quite far from what he has become nowadays. Born in a poor family, Antonio is a good student. After high school, he was granted a one-year-scholarship in the US and, in order to make some pocket money, worked as a model for swimsuits. A few years later he graduated from Manila University and his career path seemed obvious: it will be Procter & Gamble. “He worked hard and quickly became the yuppie he dreamed to be: having his own apartment, a car and famous brand clothes” recounts Charlson L. Ong in his book. Tony Meloto will work seven years for the American company, before creating his own.
In Manila slums
Suddenly, at 35, everything changes: he doesn’t stand anymore this life reserved for an elite whom he judges is superficial whereas millions of people are left behind, in extreme poverty and violence. It doesn’t match any longer with his christian values, deeply ingrained into him. He drops everything. “I became a christian missionary at first”, recounts Meloto, before he decides to tackle the transformation of the society. “I had to find back some humanist values in order to be able to show humanity myself towards the poor”. Being well in his forties, Tony Meloto creates his NGO called Gawad Kalinga, which means to give care. He infiltrates Manila big slums’ violence beside gangs and dealers. “Some are interested in the victims, the women and the children, me I am targeting the men, the ones responsible”. Goal: to manage to have them change by giving them back their dignity. This begins with building houses and villages with schools, health centres and farms to give them their keep. These men are the same ones who are actually building “after signing a strict commitment to rules of good behaviour”.
Of course there are some who fail: around 20% relapse. “This leaves the way to 80% who succeed”, points out Tony Meloto with a big smile. “Even in the worse thugs there is always something good. This is what I target”. Disappointments are incidentally not where one will always predicts they might come from. The day that several top figures from the Church denounced the campaign he is carrying out against tuberculosis because a subsidiary of the large pharmaceutical company which supports him is selling condoms, he is taken aback. “This issue caused much comments. It made me very popular”. Tony Meloto is also that: a radical optimistic.
Several large companies (Air France-KLM, Shell, Total, Schneider Electric) and, in the course of time, hundreds of thousands of volunteers, coming for short periods from all over the world, follow him in his project of giving back to all these people a reason to live. As of today, nearly 2,000 communities have been launched. This relates to one million people, while he targets 5 million. A drop compared to the harsh reality of the poverty statistics in the Philippines where 25 million people are leaving in extreme poverty and 25 others are hardly over the poverty line. Besides these villages he thus launched an incubator for social entrepreneurship. His eldest daughters, his son-in-law, everyone his doing his share. Several companies have been created.
Tony Meloto is also striding across universities and European Grandes Ecoles (note : kind of an equivalent of the American Ivy Leagues) in order to convince students to come to the Philippines to do some business. “Why when someone speaks about Asia, do Europeans understand only China?” asks Meloto annoyed. France is one of his favourite countries. “It is French history that inspired me”, he says, with a hint of mischief. As a matter of fact, he hosts two young French guys who created their start-up. His house hardly gets empty after all.
Rewards, prizes and endowments are piling up. But his way of life doesn’t change at all: no credit card, no bank account, “question of coherence” and of means, since his wife has the required financial resources to support his dreams. “I am like a virus. My only goal: that my ideas do contaminate people.”

The Can of Worms

By Jose Ma. Montelibano
Can-of-wormsIt is not 10 billion pesos, it is way beyond that. The 10 billion pesos are an amount related to one supplier, not the national budget. The Filipino people are now going to get a lesson about the meaning of pork barrel.
Innocent until proven guilty. I grant that. I have seen innocent individuals pilloried by publicity based on unsubstantiated claims. I have seen reputations destroyed on false accusations. Truly, the effort to stay close to facts, to the truth, must be sustained to save the innocent.
The challenge, however, is how to call the really guilty as guilty before they are proven so. What the law can prove through investigations and trials does not change the fact that the guilty are guilty, proven or not. Guilt has a way of exuding a foul smell, a dirty look when exposed. It is like farting; you smell it but cannot see it.
It may be that public officials have to accept a higher degree of public exposure, positive or negative. By this time, in a democracy, official behavior is demanded by law to stay faithful to the public trust. That is why Rene Corona was impeached, for betraying the public trust, when his accumulation of wealth was kept in the dark all throughout the years he amassed them.
Proving the guilty to be guilty in today’s environment can take on a very public process. And the more grave the offense, the more noisy it tends to become with all kinds of media, including social media. To prevent scandals at the end, anti-corruption measures have transparency as the foundation of its campaign. Transparency is a big word. It is an even bigger societal value.
It used to be that secrecy was an art that especially military and political organizations would have to master. Secrecy assumes a context of conflict or actual warfare. It has even taken on a different name – intelligence. By now, intelligence communities are a must for all nations who have concerns about threats to national interests.
But even warfare has found serious transformation in strategy because of advancing technology. Beyond intelligence, modern military activities rely on superiority of weaponry, both in volume and sophistication. Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan are recent examples of how superior weaponry is preferred even to secrecy.
Unearthing the corrupt practices of government officials is the duty of several government agencies. At the same time, because transparency has become a key factor in exposing the thievery of government funds, even citizens are beginning to have a role. It began 27 years ago when dummies of the dictator Marcos came forward and surrendered wealth and assets placed under their names. It moved on with a few courageous witnesses in impeachment trials when Estrada was on deck. And it is now in the era of whistleblowers. Jun Lozada by his lonesome had a dirty contract between two governments cancelled and triggered plunder cases of the highest public officials.
Now, former employees of a private firm are following the Jun Lozada path, but the unfolding drama promises more juicy details than the failed ZTE deal. In the first place, there are more political personalities involved in the story. They involve senators and congressmen, and much more. There are mayors and governors, too, with banks and bank officers collaborating to facilitate an alleged scam.
The fertilizer scam, if we remember correctly, involved hundreds of legislators and local officials. Unfortunately, the strategy taken to expose the scame by serious prosecutors in the Senate like Jun Magsaysay was not to target the beneficiaries of the scam but to pin Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as the mastermind. That is why they concentrated on the most innocent, former Agriculture Cito Lorenzo, who precisely avoided getting involved with a fund he did not request for a program he did not design. As a result, preferring to harass Cito to talk against Gloria, which he could not do because he did not have proof either, the Senate investigators glossed over the questionable role of congressmen, governors and mayors.
The pork barrel is a system, and is systemic. There is nothing wrong with congressmen and senators identifying projects that they believe are beneficial to their constituents and the national interests as well. If they do not do that, the DPWH and other departments of the Executive Branch will do that anyway and spend the same monies. What is dirty about the pork barrel is the overpricing, or actual ghost projects, because the only intent is to get kickbacks in the guise of projects for the people.
And the overpricing or ghost projects can be done without Congress and the Senate. It can be done by the Executive Branch by itself – including the local governments. It is the stealing of the people’s money and not whether a congressman, senator or a Cabinet secretary identifies or nominates a project.
Now is another situation that leaps to connect with previous efforts from the Edsa revolution to cleanse a dirty system and a perverse order of values in the government system. Investigations on the now famous 10 billion pesos should lead to the investigation of hundreds of billions that we, and international agencies, have been talking about for over a decade – the rape and looting of the national budget. Claims of losses of 30-50% annually from corruption are not wild if there is any truth at all to this ten billion amount from just one contractor alone.
Greg Honasan’s reaction that the investigation should cover everyone is interesting. For his information, the Filipino people have been waiting for this for a long, long time. This is the seed of a catharsis that may reveal there is sincerity in public service, or public service is the excuse for dirty livelihood.
It is more easily understood today why P-Noy wanted to establish the Truth Commission from the beginning of his presidency. The Supreme Court would not allow it because it seemed to target only the Gloria Arroyo presidency. I hope the Supreme Court is now monitoring this 10 billion case, and how it discouraged a process that could open a can of worms worth one trillion in just one decade.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Lim calls it quits

By Dr. Dante A. Ang, Chairman Emeritus
The Manila Times
 Customs Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence retired Brig. General Danny Lim
Customs Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence retired Brig. General Danny Lim
Customs Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence retired Brig. General Danny Lim has called it quits and will submit his resignation to President Benigno Aquino 3rd today, a well-placed source told The Manila Times.
The source said Lim has become frustrated after his efforts to run after smugglers was undermined by some people in high places at the bureau. There were instances when the criminals were able to elude arrest after weeks of surveillance because of the collusion between the smugglers and some customs people, the source added.
The problem, according to the informant, is operational. Before any raid or arrest could be effected, an Alert Order is sent by the Intelligence Unit to the Commissioner for his approval. The space between the sending and the signing of the form is so wide that before the order could be approved by the Commissioner, someone at the bureau tips off the smugglers of the impending interdiction giving them time to clean up the place so that by the time the customs police arrive, the area has already been emptied of the contraband.
Lim said he is up against political heavyweights and that he needs the support of the Commissioner and the President in his fight against the smugglers to be successful.
He said that “he can’t fight city hall alone.” The Customs bureau is infested with political appointees or officials backed up by politicians, some Cabinet members, and some individuals close to the Palace, the Times informant said.
“He tried to resign six times over the 3-year period and had asked the President to take him out of customs and assign him elsewhere. Anywhere, huwag lang daw Customs,” the source said. Lim was however advised “to stay put until such time that a vacancy in another government office presents itself,” the source added, quoting Lim.
He said that “for as long as Biazon is at the helm of Customs Bureau, nothing will ever change.”
The source said Lim was so disgusted over the decision of Customs Commissioner Rozzano Rufino Ruffy Biazon to remain in his post even after he and the bureau were derided and shamed by the President on Monday in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) for gross incompetence and corrupt practices.
“Any self-respecting person would have tendered his irrevocable resignation for being publicly humiliated by your boss,” the source added. He said Biazon’s decision to stay on was, for Lim, “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
Biazon has been the subject of complaints from various industry leaders for uncontrolled smuggling at the ports. The livestock and poultry raisers for one, are up in arms against the Customs chief for his failure to curb smuggling. Some P3.7 billion is lost to technical smuggling of poultry and livestock. Another P200 billion is lost annually due to smuggling, figures from the Department of Finance would show.
The Automotive Association of the Philippines has likewise brought to the attention of Biazon the problem of unabated smuggling of cars through Subic Freeport, Port of Irene in Cagayan and Cebu. Rice traders are also in no mood to see the Commissioner remain in his post.
The case of the 2,000 40-footer container vans that were spirited out of the customs zone without paying the duties and taxes remains unresolved.
When Biazon took over Customs from then Commissioner Angelito Alvarez, public expectations were high that he would be able to identify the people behind the heist and file criminal charges against them in court. No such thing happened. Nothing is being said about the missing container vans anymore. It is as if the Customs Bureau is suffering from amnesia.
By resigning, Gen. Lim is hoping that others in the bureau, particularly Biazon, would also tender their irrevocable resignations to the President. That way, the President would have a free hand and a fresh start by appointing new faces to the bureau, people with impeccable credentials and proven integrity, the Times informant said, again quoting Lim.

2 witnesses in pork barrel ‘scam’ to take stand for State —De Lima

By Benjamin B. Pulta and Paul Atienza
The Daily Tribune
Benhur Luy and Merlina Sunas (Photo credit: PDI)
Benhur Luy and Merlina Sunas (Photo credit: PDI)
Two individuals in the eye of the brewing storm over the multibillion-peso ghost government projects allegedly funded by legislators’ public funds will be taken in as state witnesses, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima yesterday said.
Benhur Luy and Merlina Sunas will be placed under the government’s witness protection program (WPP), De Lima confirmed to reporters.
Luy earlier had exposed the alleged P10-billion pork barrel scam allegedly perpetrated by Janet Lim Napoles and her brother of the JLN Group of Companies where he was previously connected.
Luy identified five senators and 23 members of the House of Representatives in the alleged pork barrel scam.
The Justice chief said she made a previous offer to Luy to be covered by WPP after he was rescued by agents of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) from the camp of Napoles last March when the whistle-blower filed serious illegal detention charges against the Napoles, but Luy decided then not to be givent government protection.
According to De Lima, when she reiterated recently the offer to Baligod, the latter was able to convince his client this time.
“I’ve talked to them already before. I interviewed Benhur before, that’s why we initiated the investigation and I created a very small team of trusted investigators to look into the allegations of Benhur and his companions,” she added.
De Lima, however, stressed it was too early for her to assess the “strength” of the case, saying she has yet to review all the documents and other pieces of evidence currently with the NBI.
These individuals – just like Sunas – were allegedly named as presidents and officers of Napoles’ ghost foundations without their knowledge, Baligod said.
But Napoles’ lawyer Bruce Rivera said the NBI and De Lima were just “misled” into rescuing Luy and taking him into custody during a “fake rescue” last March at the condominium unit of Napoles’ brother, Reynaldo Lim.
According to him, this was pointed out in the DoJ resolution dismissing the serious illegal detention charges filed by the parents of Luy against Napoles and Lim.
With the NBI standing by Luy despite the DoJ resolution, Rivera said he believes the agency might not be the best venue anymore for the investigation on the alleged scam.
But De Lima warned Napoles’ camp against its accusation.
“We won’t take seriously this kind of move or strategy because at the end of the day, this may be part of their smear campaign against the NBI,” she said.
The Partido Lakas ng Masa, meanwhile, urged De Lima to make sure Napoles cannot leave the country following the controversy surrounding the P10-billion pork barrel scam where Napoles was accused of being the “mastermind.”
During a protest rally at the Department of Justice, PLM chairman Sonny Melencio said Napoles should be held liable for allegedly dipping her hands into the government coffers.
The group also called for an investigation on allegations Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., whose law firm has allegedly represented Napoles and the Liberal Party, received P100 million from her.
“Ochoa and the Liberal Party have to disclose the kind of connections they have with Napoles…A disclosure is relevant in order to allay the public’s fear of possible whitewash in the investigation by Malacañang or the ruling party,” Melencio said.
The activist fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) has also dared President Aquino to certify as urgent a proposed bill abolishing the pork barrel of senators and congressmen, including the audit-free pork barrel allotted to the Office of the President.
In a press statement, Pamalakaya vice chairman Salvador France said Malacañang should certify House Bill (HB) 1535 recalling the pork barrel to all lawmakers and the President.
HB 1535 was filed the other day by militant congressmen belonging to Bayan Muna, Anakpawis, Gabriela, Alliance of Concerned Teachers and Kabataan Partylist — collectively known as the Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives.
The bill shall prohibit the President from providing a budgetary item or including in the proposed budget submitted to Congress every fiscal year lump sum allocations to the priority development assistance fund (PDAF) and other lump sum discretionary amounts.
Aside from the legislators’ pork barrel, the bill shall also abolish the Presidential pork barrel, such as the President’s Social Fund sourced from revenue-generating agencies like the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp., Philippine Charity Sweepstake Office and the Malampaya Fund.
“We compel the highest office in the land to certify as urgent HB 1535 to frustrate the large-scale resource grabbing and plunder of taxpayers’ money in aid of legislation. Instead, the pork barrel should be re-channeled to basic social services such as housing, education, health and other forms of services beneficial to the people and the taxpaying public,” France said.
But Malacañang said it is leaving to Congress the decision on the proposed scrapping of PDAF.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda added the President has not said anything on the calls by some groups to abolish the pork barrel.
“We have not discussed it with the President, so I am not in a position to say what the position is. However, my understanding yesterday in the press briefing of (Budget) Secretary (Florencio) Butch Abad, (is) that they have made some policy recommendations. I am not aware what those policy recommendations are to the President,” he added.
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Probe should include Aquino’s P24-B pork

By Charlie V. Manalo
The Daily Tribnue

President Benigno Aquino III
President Benigno Aquino III
Since suspicions are rife that pork barrels of public officials are being misused amid the P10 billion pork barrel scam that is being played up against the political opponents of the administration, civic groups are now demanding a probe on President Aquino’s bigger P25 billion discretionary funds.
The activist fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) said the Commission on Audit (CoA) should pursue a comprehensive audit on the P24.8 billion-pork barrel Congress had allotted for Aquino last year.
Pamalakaya vice chairman Salvador France made the appeal a day after Malacañang announced that the Office of the President will keep his pork barrel amid mounting calls demanding the abolition of pork barrel given to lawmakers and the Office of the President.
France said his group is supporting the demand for the abolition pork barrel currently given to senators and congressmen, including the President’s Social Fund (PSF).
“The Filipino taxpaying public including the urban poor who pay P3.60 in expanded value added tax for every kilo of rice is entitled to an honest-to-goodness audit of the pork barrel transferred to Aquino’s presidential account in 2012. The CoA should establish how the President spent his pork last year and present a honest accounting of public funds spent by the ruling political party in Malacañang,” France said.
The Pamalakaya leader lambasted Aquino for refusing to heed the legitimate demands of the people to have presidential pork abolished along with the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of lawmakers following the discovery of P10-billion pork barrel scam by CoA.
France said PSF is a potential source of money which the president and his allies can use for corruption since this kind of pork barrel is free from public scrutiny and government audit.
According to Pamalakaya, the Office of the President’s pork barrel in 2012 included the P2.695-billion in intelligence funds, of which, P666 million was earmarked for National Security Monitoring including requirements for the Presidential Anti-Organized and Syndicated Crime and Transnational Crime Campaign as well as P600 million for confidential and intelligence expenses which are released on approval of the President.
The group said in 2012, the Office of the President also sought P224.68 million budget for travel expenses alone.
Pamalakaya said Aquino exercises discretionary powers on the intelligence funds of the Office of the President, contingent funds, calamity funds and unprogrammed funds. About P1 billion pesos was given to President Aquino for contingent funds.
Pamalakaya said the contingent fund was administered by the Office of the President and used exclusively to fund the requirements of new and/or urgent projects and activities that need to be implemented during the year. This fund may be used to augment the existing appropriations for local and foreign travels of the President, but in no case shall it be used for the purchase of motor vehicles.”
The group said the Office of the President also received P14.2 billion for disaster management use, apart from entry from the calamity fund, which went up to P7.5 billion in 2012 from P5 billion in 2011.

Bunch of hypocrites!

“Resistance on the part of people to the supreme legislative power of the state is never legitimate; it is the duty of the people to bear any abuse of the supreme power.” — IMMANUEL KANT
By Alex P. Vidal
Sen. Franklin Drilon
Sen. Franklin Drilon
The light of common sense is the spark that has burst over the Senate when senate president-in-waiting Franklin Drilon sought for the abolition of the much-abhored priority development assistance funds (PDAF) notoriously known as “pork barrel”.
But like the Roman senators who praised Julius Caesar to high heavens when they faced him and lynched him when he turned his back, no one from among Drilon’s peers was brave enough to sincerely support his stand in public.
Whether the Ilonggo senator meant what he said in a recent dzMM interview, at least he had the guts to speak many of his ilk wouldn’t dare say: “Payag ako na itigil etong pork barrel para matigil na etong mga reported anomalies. Itigil natin pork barrel. Sa akin ang buod nito kung i-retain ang pork barrel talagang i-limit na lang natin among sa institutional recipients.”
Most of Drilon’s fellow senators and their counterparts in the Lower House pretend to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, and principles, that they do not actually possess. Their actions belie their stated beliefs. In matters involving public interest and public funds, they also feign some desirable or publicly approved attitude, but their opinions and principles speak otherwise.
The primary purpose of government is supposed to create and maintain a stable domestic environment, but this bunch of hypocrites and their colleagues in the Lower House have eroded the people’s trust and confidence on public officials in general. Some of them are the number one thieves in government. They stole the people’s money on pretext of “public service” and “countrywide development” when in truth and in fact, they serve their own wallets and develop their own pockets.
Even if they will be arrested and put inside a cage, none of them will give up the “pork barrel”, the chief source of corruption and scandal that has bedeviled public service in the legislative branch. They would rather lose and suffer embarrassment in a televised debate than face the grim prospect of finishing their terms without the fragrance of oodles upon oodles of moolah from the public coffer.
Legislators are mandated to create laws, not to decide which infrastructure project should go to a certain district in the city and province. It’s mind-boggling how our national officials were able to institutionalize appropriation of “pork barrel” for lawmakers when they are fully aware such responsibility falls under the executive branch.
This mental dishonesty among our legislators has become a culture and has been tolerated with impunity in the past and present administrations. As long as our leaders don’t have the political will and conscience, this immoral practice, the rampant misuse and squandering of taxpayers money, will go on unabated even in future administrations.
How can we right the wrong when no less than the head of the House of Representatives, Speaker Sonny Belmonte of Quezon City, has fallen in love with “pork barrel”?
“I’m against abolishing PDAF. There are so many things we can do to make sure PDAF goes to people that’s doable…I’m for 100% scrutiny of PDAF. I’m also in favor of the House periodically upgrading its mechanism for knowing how it is spent and improving the way it is spent and also for making the whole thing open to the public,” went Belmonte’s justification.
“To the credit of the (Department of Budget and Management), they have actually been tightening up on the uses of the PDAF over the past 3 years. The rules have been tightened up for what purpose can you spend it. May listing yan, which was considerably lessened and definitely mentioned. Also the COA I know for a fact has been looking into the uses of the PDAF that has been turned over the (local government units).”

We owe, and owe much to whistleblowers

‘With the mild slap of “simple misconduct” on Neri while Lozada faces plunder, Gloria Arroyo and her associated must be laughing.’
TWO news items yesterday reminded me of Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada and his meeting with President Aquino in Malacañang last February.
The first news item was about the statement of the lawyer of Jane L. Napoles, who is in the center of the alleged P10 billion pork barrel scam, to file administrative and criminal charges against whistleblower Benhur Luy, formerly Napoles’ personal assistant.
The other news item was the downgrading by the Court of Appeals into “simple misconduct” of the Ombudsman’s ruling finding former BEDA chief Romulo Neri for his role in the aborted $329 million National Broadband Network deal with the Chinese telecommunication firm, ZTE.
Why Jun Lozada?
The two news items illustrate the risks that a whistleblower has to face if he decides to take on big-time operators who have built deep and wide network within the government.
In the NBN/ZTE controversy, second only to the Hello Garci scandal that rocked the Arroyo administration, both Neri and Lozada were privy to the behind-the-scenes machinations that caused the telecommuncations deal to be bloated several times more than its original cost.
Neri’s damning revelations of former Comelec Chair Benjamin Abalos (“Sec, may 200 ka dito”) indicated the level of corruption of that deal. Sad to say, Neri decided to stop there.
Taking refuge under the doctrine of “executive privilege” Neri saved Gloria Arroyo.
Neri’s buddy, Jun Lozada, opted to tell what he knew about the deal supporting the testimony of another whistleblower, Joey de Venecia, about the role of Mike Arroyo, husband of Gloria Arroyo, in the deal.
The decision to testify for the government turned Lozada’s life upside down. He was kidnapped upon arrival from Hong Kong and he was charged with plunder by his deputy in the Philippine Forest Corporation. Lozada is out on bail.
He continues to be the star witness in the NBN/ZTE deal which is being tried by the Sandiganbayan, the same court hearing his plunder case.
Last February, Lozada accompanied by three friends and supporters, one of them, crusader Sr Mary John Mananzan, met with the President in Malacañang and they told the President the weird situation where the star witness in the high profile graft case is being prosecuted for plunder in another case.
The President told them that he cannot intervene in the justice proceedings. What he could do, Lozada quoted the President as having said, if he (Lozada) would be convicted, he could commute the sentence or pardon him.
A very much dismayed Mananzan remarked, “What’s going to happen to your anti-corruption campaign? What’s going to happen to the NBN/ZTE case if Jun is convicted?”
Lozada said the President replied that the government is having second thoughts about pursuing the case because anyway no harm has been done to the Filipino people.
With the mild slap of “simple misconduct” on Neri while Lozada faces plunder, Gloria Arroyo and her associated must be laughing.
Yesterday, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said she wants to put Luy under the Witness Protection Program as she is aware of the danger that he faces. It is hoped that the protection stays until the masterminds of the scam are punished. The country owes these whistleblowers.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Speaker’s brother eyed as Customs chief?

With the Bureau of Customs a complete mess, and with President Aquino out of his wits in dealing with the agency, a lobby has emerged to have House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte’s younger brother Ricardo ”Boysie” R. Belmonte to head the agency.
“He’s decided to make a bid for it as he’s retiring February next year, “ a source said. He may even be more efficient since he’s a career man at Customs who knows the ins and outs of the agency, unlike Aquino’s past two appointees whom the crooks have run circles around.
However, one former customs official isn’t convinced of that report: “What for, he’s already very powerful here, he’s very, very happy as MICT collector.” MICT is the Manila International Container Terminal.
Still though, other sources said, one reason why Aquino can’t fire customs chief Rozano Rufino Biazon is that if he did and didn’t’ appoint Belmonte to the post, he’d risk the ire of the Speaker.
Belmonte-OchoaThe Speaker’s brother, according to Customs sources, allegedly has been one of the most influential and favored figures in the bureau, having had choice posts even under the previous administration during which he was head of the agency in the Ninoy Aquino International Airport and then at the Port of Cebu.
He was appointed in September 2010 as head collector of the MICT, the agency’s biggest revenue earner. Despite several reshuffles in the bureau in the past three years, Belmonte has remained as MICT collector, making him one of the longest-serving collectors posted at the MICT.
Customs chief Ruffy Biazon according to sources has not been “very happy” with Belmonte not only since he thinks he is not really under him, and reports only to his brother the speaker (who allegedly in turn reports the situation in Customs to Aquino). Biazon could not even lower the boom on Belmonte despite the fact that the MICT had not been meeting its collection targets for 2010 and 2011.
Belmonte on the other hand suspects that Biazon has been investigating him for the infamous 5,000 container vans that vanished in thin air in transit to the Port of Batangas as about 2,000 of these came from the MICT.
Unfortunately, TV cameras weren’t on Speaker Belmonte when Aquino fulminated against the Customs Bureau where the Speaker’s brother is a key official.
Customs deputy commissioner for intelligence Danilo Lim, a general who once headed the Marines, the other day harangued “powerful forces” for blocking his efforts to fight smuggling and revealed that he has been “up against political heavyweights.”
To say that the House under Speaker Belmonte, one of the political heavyweights under this regime, has been supportive of Aquino is an understatement. Without Belmonte, Mr. Aquino would be nothing.
His most important achievements – taking out former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez and Chief Justice Renato Corona, and getting Congress to allocate tens of billions of pesos for his vote-buying scheme called the conditional cash transfer program – could not have done without Belmonte. Without the Speaker’s support, he would be a complete lame duck in the second half of his term.
Right after Aquino’s state of the nation address the other day, Belmonte was reported in the Philippine Star, which his family controls, as saying that he “vowed passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law,” which the President promised the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
There has been massive demoralization in the Customs bureau’s staff not just because the President cursed them before the nation in the most important speech he gives every year, as a bunch of criminals with “makakapal ang mukha” (without shame), that they were even allowing the smuggling of illegal drugs.
The President’s tirade was viewed in the bureau as so hypocritical since it is widely known that Mr. Aquino has used the Customs bureau to reward those who did his bidding, appointing them to key posts even if they had no experience in the very technical work of the agency:
• Ex-general Lim was appointed in the crucial post of intelligence chief to reward him for being in the forefront of the propaganda and legal cases filed against former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Lim even was the complainant – together with Rissa Hontiveros, awarded as one of the Aquino’s (losing) senatorial candidate in the last election – in the electoral sabotage case against Arroyo that has put her in jail.
• Juan Lorenzo Tanada was appointed as deputy commissioner for administration to reward his cousin former Liberal Party congressman Erin Tanada’s role as spokesman in the impeachment of the Corona.
Not only that, instead of appointing career officials, Aquino has appointed to the bureau his factotums.
• In February 2012, Aquino appointed Ericson A. Alcovendaz as assistant secretary in charge of the Post Entry Audit Group, a crucial unit in the anti-smuggling campaign as it could have detected misdeclarations. Alcovendaz had been since 2011 assistant executive secretary in Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa’s office in charge of finance. There are other sources though who claim that Alcovendaz actually is more of Ochoa’s representative in Customs, which has triggered rumors that the executive secretary is one of the “powerful forces” ex-general Lim was pointing to who were meddling in the agency, and stymieing his reform efforts. Lim though has publicly said he is asking to work in another agency, which obviously could make him less-than-free to point fingers.
• Also in February 2012 he appointed Prudencio M. Reyes as acting deputy commissioner in charge of the Assessment Operations Coordinating Group, another crucial unit in the agency that determines the duty to be imposed on imports. Reyes’ closeness to Aquino is demonstrated by the fact that Aquino defied Civil Service rules since he appointed Reyes who was convicted by the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court for grave abuse of authority against officials of the Local Waterworks and Utility Administration which he headed during President Estrada’s administration.
A customs staff angrily said: “Why is Aquino bad-mouthing the Customs bureau when he has stuffed the agency with his people? It’s his handpicked people who’ve been running the bureau, and now he’s shamed us?” and