Friday, March 21, 2014

2 Nabcor officials bare pressure from DA exec

Frequent calls made to hasten pork release

Assistant Agriculture Secretary Ophelia Agawin: ‘Frequent calls’. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines—A Department of Agriculture (DA) executive who was promoted by the Aquino administration despite her earlier involvement in a fertilizer scam badgered the National Agribusiness Corp. (Nabcor) to release P323 million in the agency’s funds to dubious foundations chosen by Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Ramon Revilla Jr. and Jinggoy Estrada.

Assistant Agriculture Secretary Ophelia Agawin was named in affidavits submitted on March 6 by former vice president for finance Rhodora Mendoza and former general services chief Vicente Cacal, both of Nabcor, an agency under the DA. 

The two claimed they were coerced by their former boss, Allan A. Javellana, into signing the release papers for the checks meant for nongovernment organizations (NGOs) controlled by Janet Lim-Napoles, the alleged architect of the P10-billion pork barrel scam. They said the NGOs were designated by the three senators. 

Mendoza said she received “frequent calls” from Agawin, then the DA director for finance, to release the checks meant for Napoles’ NGOs—Masaganang Ani ng Magsasaka Foundation Inc., Social Development Program for Farmers Foundation Inc., and the People’s Organization for Progress and Development Foundation Inc. 

She cited 10 special allotment release orders (Saros) between Oct. 10, 2007, and February 2009 to Enrile (four Saros worth P150 million), Revilla (three Saros worth P92 million), and Estrada (four Saros worth P81.5 million). 

Mendoza claimed that the checks were all signed by Javellana even though she and other Nabcor staff members noted that the NGOs had yet to comply with Nabcor’s documentary requirements. 

Agawin’s recurrent calls were on top of pressure exerted by Javellana’s boss, Arthur Yap, who was on his second stint then as agriculture secretary from October 2006 to March 2010.
Yap cut short his first tour of duty from August 2004 to July 2005 due to tax evasion charges against his family’s firm. Yap is now a Bohol representative. 

In his affidavit, Cacal quoted Javellana as saying: “They (NGOs) will comply in the next tranche, I will call Benhur.” 

Benhur Luy was then an employee of Napoles. He has turned state witness in the P10-billion racket involving the alleged diversion of congressional Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to ghost projects and kickbacks. Nabcor was said to be a channel that diverted PDAF funding to dubious NGOs. 

Mendoza and Cacal are among those named in the PDAF racket. They have offered to become state witnesses. 

Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala said his agency would look into the fresh allegations against Agawin. “We will investigate and get her side,” he said in a phone interview. 

Alcala promoted Agawin to assistant secretary in 2012. A DA source said that she was recently designated acting undersecretary for administration and finance. 

Agawin quietly returned to her post last January after being forced to take a leave of absence after she was tagged by Luy as Napoles’ main conduit in the DA in the Arroyo and Aquino administrations. 

Levito Baligod, a lawyer of the whistle-blowers, said, “All DA funds that were transferred to implementing agencies such as Nabcor had Agawin’s fingerprints.” 

Alcala previously claimed that Agawin could not be suspended for her alleged ties to Napoles because she had not been named in the two sets of charges filed by the Department of Justice and the National Bureau of Investigation in the Office of the Ombudsman in the PDAF scam.
Agawin and Alcala, however, have been charged with plunder in a case filed by the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas late last year. 

Agawin was a treasurer and director of ZNAC Rubber Estate Corp. (ZREC) from 2006 to 2010. ZREC was allegedly also used as a conduit for the release of P282-million in pork barrel funds to Enrile, Revilla and Estrada, along with former Apec Rep. Edgar Valdez and former Buhay Rep. Rene Velarde. 

10% commissions
In his September 2013 affidavit to the NBI, Luy claimed that Agawin received 10 percent in commissions from the pork barrel funds that went through ZREC. 

As recently as 2012, Agawin also processed the release of P174.381 million from the Bureau of Agriculture and Fisheries Product Standards to fake NGOs ostensibly for organic agriculture-related projects of local government units. 

Agawin was the public accountant at the heart of an alleged P432-million fertilizer fund scam engineered by then Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn “Joc-joc” Bolante in 2003. 

Agawin and Bolante were among 11 DA officials and businessmen who were sued by the late Marlene Esperat in 2003 for buying overpriced fertilizer without any bidding from Philippine Phosphate Fertilizer Corp. (Philphos) worth P432 million. Esperat was later murdered in her home. 

Agawin and Bolante, and their codefendants—former Agriculture Secretaries Luis Lorenzo Jr. and Yap; DA officials Edmund Sana, Ibarra Poliquit, Belinda Gonzales, Eduardo Garcia; and businessmen Jesus Varela, Benjamin Tabios and Pepito Alvarez of Philphos—were absolved by the Ombudsman in 2008. 

The scam was believed to be the precursor of the P728-million fertilizer fund scandal that also involved Bolante and Napoles, whose Jo-Chris Trading (named after her daughter Jo-Christine) was the second-biggest supplier of the liquid fertilizer distributed to allies of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2004.

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