Why drag the name of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her administration into the Malampaya Fund scandal? That was the question Eduardo Ermita, Arroyo’s then executive secretary, posed on Friday when he lashed out at the Aquino administration for having filed charges against him, his former boss and 20 others for the alleged plunder of P900 million of the fund.
Well, why on earth not? The misuse happened during the Arroyo presidency, the irregularity arising, if the National Bureau of Investigation charge sheet is correct, from “this leniency of control displayed by the former President in the use of and access to an essentially presidential discretionary fund [which] made possible the plunder of such fund, either intentionally or through gross inexcusable negligence.”
The backup paperwork authorizing the juggling of the fund has all the requisite signatures of Arroyo, Ermita, then Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya, and other officials and functionaries of government offices through which the fund was coursed—en route, it now appears, to the black hole of bogus nongovernment organizations that accused Janet Lim-Napoles was said to have set up specifically to corner the fund.
On Oct. 13, 2009, Arroyo signed Executive Order 848 allowing the use of the Malampaya Fund outside of the energy industry, following a request by Andaya to use the money for the relief and rehabilitation of areas devastated by Tropical Storms “Ondoy” and “Pepeng.”
“The request preceded the existence of the legal basis for the making of any such request in the first place,” states the NBI complaint. “The lack of specificity in Arroyo’s and Ermita’s identification of the authorized purpose by which DBM (Department of Budget and Management) can access the Malampaya Fund resulted in the almost discretionary, if not arbitrary, granting of implementing agency requests for millions of pesos in funds by the DBM.”
How did Napoles figure in the scheme? According to whistle-blower Benhur Luy, she was tipped about the impending release of the fund, after which, the NBI says, she “directed her JLN staff to manufacture the necessary documents for submission to DAR (Department of Agrarian Reform), including fake letter-requests from Mayors whose farmer-beneficiaries are supposed to be recipients of the projects to be financed by the P900 million fund.”
By the time the DBM released the P900-million allocation to the Department of Agriculture, everything was set for the grand switcheroo. The so-called letter-requests for funding were approved by the DA, with the memorandum of agreement signed by the mayors (many of whom now contend that their signatures were forged) and former Agrarian Reform undersecretary Narciso Nieto. The checks, also signed by Nieto, were released to the NGOs and then deposited. Once these were cleared, the cash was withdrawn and brought to Napoles’ pad—sacks and sacks of it, as the whistle-blowers have testified, such that it had to be stashed in Napoles’ bathtub.
Obviously, Napoles was merely the bag lady in this case. She had to dole out money to the various enablers of the ingenious operation she had put in place. Among those said to have received kickbacks were Nasser Pangandaman, former agrarian reform secretary (P75 million); Teresita Panlilio, former director of the Finance and Management Service and current OIC of the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council Secretariat (P14 million); and Nieto (P6 million). Is it possible that they managed to skim off their own percentage from the dough, but their bosses upstairs—Andaya, Ermita, all the way to Arroyo—didn’t? This is the Philippines; the idea of petty, unctuous bureaucrats able to one-up their masters in the kickback game is as farfetched as they come. The game got going simply because somebody powerful enough green-lighted it.
That charges were brought against Arroyo et al. for the alleged plunder of the Malampaya Fund is a promising development, and partly fulfills the Aquino administration’s promise to roll out more charges against everyone involved in the pork barrel scam. But it remains to be seen whether the administration will display the same resolve toward corrupt officials who are now its allies. The huge corruption at the heart of the Malampaya Fund scandal alone suggests that many more people in the government knew about it—abetted it and most likely benefited from it—than has been disclosed so far.
The pursuit of justice against those who stole the people’s money should lead to whoever is guilty, whether ally or enemy. Anything less, and the Aquino administration will be as suspect as its predecessor.
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