Follow the money
The hearing of the Senate blue ribbon committee last Monday was specifically about the possible illegal diversion by businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles of P900 million received from the Malampaya Fund, ostensibly for victims of two successive storms in 2009. But both because of the testimony of the main resource person and the line of questioning pursued by an opposition senator, the inquiry has turned into an open-ended question: Who else has abused the multibillion-peso Fund?
The Malampaya Fund pools the monies received by the government for its 60-percent share of the Camago-Malampaya natural gas project. Between 2002 and 2013, the Fund collected over P173 billion, of which the government has released over P38 billion. According to Commission on Audit Chair Grace Pulido Tan, as much as P15 billion was released in a manner that showed possible indications (“red flags”) of irregularity.
Sen. Nancy Binay questioned the slow pace of the COA’s special audit investigation, pointing out that the first releases from the Fund took place in 2004, and that the COA under Tan had four years to conduct the special audit. “This was started when the present administration was a little over a year old; now it is almost 2015, and only the audit of DAR has been completed.” She asked Tan for the highlights of the audit findings on other government agencies, a request the COA chair declined, on the ground that there was a difference between the initial discovery of red flags and an actual audit finding. A finding requires the response of the agencies under investigation, something the agencies have yet to complete.
But on the original issue of the P900-million diversion, the facts as outlined by Tan were clear.
In 2009, the Department of Agrarian Reform made the request for emergency financial assistance to farmers affected by Tropical Storm “Ondoy” and Typhoon “Pepeng”—even before most of the 97 areas allegedly affected asked for help. (Seventy of the mayors who supposedly asked for help did so after the DAR had already made its request to the Department of Budget and Management.)
The mayors have since protested that their signatures were forged, that the financial assistance did not reach the intended beneficiaries, and that many of the beneficiaries were nonexistent. The COA has also determined that the P900 million was disbursed by the DAR through 12 nongovernment organizations, all affiliated with Napoles.
Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, the committee chair, summed up the first hearing’s main findings in a mix of Filipino and English: “It’s clear that there was connivance between the former DAR officials and the NGOs to misuse the money. The money was purportedly for the victims of Ondoy, requested by several mayors from Region 1, 2 and 3. It was discovered that the signatures were fake, with the mayors themselves saying the signatures were not theirs. The money, before even the request from the mayors arrived, was already requested by DAR from DBM funds. And then the NGOs were suspect. When COA audited them, the offices were nonexistent. Those who certified, the notary public, were suspect. And they say that the money went to the bank accounts of the dozen NGOs. Lastly and the most important point, the beneficiaries, those said to be typhoon victims, did not exist.”
But both Binay and Tan have opened the discussion to include agencies other than the DAR. According to Tan, the COA found red flags in some of the transactions involving the Department of Public Works and Highways (which received P7.6 billion from the Fund over the years); the Department of Agriculture (P5.8 billion); and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (P2.3 billion).
Binay’s possible motive in pursuing the larger issue may be political; while most of the Malampaya releases took place under the Arroyo administration, some were effected during the Aquino administration. Also, any national discussion of the Malampaya Fund as a possible source of corruption would help steal some of the thunder from the other blue ribbon inquiry, into alleged corruption in Makati City when Binay’s father, Vice President Jojo Binay, was still mayor.
It does not matter. The Senate is now duty-bound to continue its inquiry into the possible abuse of the Malampaya Fund. There are at least 15 billion reasons why a courageous, comprehensive investigation would be in the public’s highest interest.
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