The Commission on Audit has some explaining to do over the recent revelation that an apparently fraudulent P407-million computerization project at the Department of Transportation and Communications in 2002-2004 raised some red flags with the government agency, but no full fraud audit report has been released more than a decade after the alleged ghost deliveries were made.
The omission takes on graver implication with the additional news that the scam was done in connivance with a now-infamous name—Janet Lim-Napoles, who owned the firm that bagged the contract to purchase and supply computers and mobile communications equipment to the DOTC for distribution to politicians. Napoles’ Jo Chris Trading—a firm run by her daughter, after whom it was said to have been named—was designated the sole supplier of ACU-1000 (a device that interconnects various communication devices) and Vipernet laptops and desktops based on a series of purchase orders signed by two assistant secretaries at the DOTC at that time, Rene Maglanque and Domingo A. Reyes Jr. Their then boss, Secretary Leandro Mendoza, since deceased, also signed off on the purchase orders.
None of the ordered equipment was delivered to the recipients specified by the requesting politicians. The mayor of Lugus, Sulu, told the COA in March 2005 that he never received any communication equipment worth P13.372 million from the DOTC. Not only that; his signature on the acknowledgment receipt kept in the DOTC files was forged.
A similar story was told in June 2006 by a barangay captain, who denied receiving computers worth P4.925 million supposedly in 2003. A bigger delivery worth P6 million was also said to have been received by Barangay Baybay in Makato, Aklan, in 2003. When the COA came to check, not one computer was in sight, the invoice receipt indicated the wrong barangay captain, and the real chief reportedly denied having received any equipment from the DOTC.
When the fraud was discovered, both the mayor of Lugus, Sulu, and the COA provincial auditor reportedly called on the COA central office to look deeper into the phantom deliveries. The COA apparently did not, because the scam did not result in any investigation of Maglanque, Reyes, Mendoza, or Jo Chris Trading. The timeline of Napoles’ activities with government agencies through the years shows that her DOTC engagement was preceded by another anomaly—the botched supply contract with the military in which she, her husband, and a number of accomplices were charged by the Ombudsman with having delivered substandard Kevlar helmets worth P3.8 million. The aftermath of that case saw the accomplices jailed and the Napoles couple exonerated.
The inability of the law to pin down Napoles apparently emboldened the woman to go for increasingly bigger targets. The next one on her sights was the Department of Agriculture, where then undersecretary Jocelyn “Joc-joc” Bolante allegedly tapped her Jo Chris Trading to supply substandard farm inputs and ghost fertilizer deliveries to farmers while some P728 million was skimmed off. We now know the rest: That operation having gone off successfully as well, Napoles had become a most powerful, well-connected woman, whose privileged access to lawmakers and other government officials would lead her to devise the most spectacular heists of all—P900 million from the Malampaya Fund and P10 billion from the pork barrel.
There was no way, of course, that Napoles would have been able to pull these off without the guidance and protection of some of the most influential people on the political totem pole. That much is slowly being revealed now that the likes of Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Bong Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada are in the dock for the pork barrel scam, and more lawmakers look set to get ensnared in the ever-growing scandal if and when Napoles’ list is made public by the Department of Justice.
But what a tragedy that there had been opportunities in the past to stop Napoles’ modus operandi in its tracks—if only the COA and other oversight agencies had been diligent in the case of the DOTC swindle, if only prosecutors had built an airtight case against her for the Kevlar operation, if only the fertilizer scam led to prompt and serious charges. These cases served as Napoles’ virtual dress rehearsal for the plunder of the pork barrel—and who knows what other stinky transactions by her with other government agencies are waiting to be uncovered?
But she and her ilk got away, every time. We can’t let that happen this time.
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