Either the Commission on Audit is incompetent or the claims made by its chairman, Grace Pulido Tan, of certain illegalities found in her selective 2007-2009 special audit report she aired during the first Senate blue ribbon committee hearing was a clear demolition job on several opposition senators.
Members of the minority in the Senate yesterday took a united front in their stand against the CoA special audit report and refuted Pulido-Tan’s claims on the lack of any law allowing non-government organizations (NGOs) as beneficiaries of government funds, pointing out that the practice was first introduced in 2007 through a special provision in the Department of Education (DepEd) budget.
Members of the minority bloc, in a signed manifesto-statement, emphasized that the burden in ascertaining the legitimacy of the NGOs in receiving pork barrel funds falls on the implementing agencies and local government units (LGUs) and not on lawmakers, as stated in existing laws.
It was also the senator-allies of President Aquino, specifically blue ribbon chairman Teofisto “TG” Guingona and Alan Peter Cayetano, who had backed Pulido-Tan in her claims, and came up with documents, such as a memorandum of agreement from an opposition senator, and portrayed the opposition senators as guilty of having diverted their funds to NGOs.
Neither Cayetano, nor Senate President Franklin Drilon, nor the other allies of Aquino mentioned the fact that the CoA report of Pulido-Tan was highly selective and, worse, failed to make public that Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad did not include the pork barrel releases of the Aquino allies, especially of now President Aquino and now Interior chief Manuel “Mar” Roxas for audit, to the extent that percentage-wise, the pork barrel of the opposition senators named were audited close to 100 percent, while the pork of the allies of Aquino was audited from merely some 0.5 percent to a maximum to 15 percent of their pork releases. Aquino and Roxas had 0 audit.
As this developed, Deputy Minority Leader Vicente Sotto III announced on the floor his decision to give up his “pork” allocations and will no longer avail of it in the future.
“If there are pieces of evidence and testimonies, let us hear them first. But let not this present crisis stir again talks to instability, of opportunistic forces out to hijack the present discontent with the imprint of their own agenda, leading to besmirched reputations,” Sotto said in a privilege speech.
“My present discomfort on this matter may only be assuaged if we lay the responsibility of searching for the truth through the proper forum and not in the court of public opinion,” he added.
What remains of his present Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), or some P100 million, he wants distributed to all regional government hospitals and to the University of the Philippines (UP), its other campuses and other state universities and colleges (SUCs) for tuition augmentation of poor students “so that no student may think of suicide” for failing to take an exam due to lack of funds.
“I write to inform you that I will forego the allocation of the PDAF intended for my office in the succeeding years of my tenure as senator of the Republic. My decision is intended to forestall any further controversy that may arise in the use of PDAF, particularly that it is a vehicle for corruption and that it is used to fund ‘ghost’ projects,” he said in a letter addressed to Senate President Franklin Drilon.
Sotto said the previous fund releases in his PDAF was solely prompted by the pleas of help and assistance from the LGUs and the public.
“I could not have, in good conscience and as a public servant, ignored our countrymen’s clamor for such,” he said.
While Sotto was delivering his speech during their afternoon plenary session, he and the rest of the minority bloc members – Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, JV Ejercito, Nancy Binay and Gregorio Honasan - issued a statement refuting CoA’s assertion on the illegality of infusing government money to projects initiated by NGOs.
“The provisions of the budget law have already established the parameters within which our PDAF must be implemented by the concerned government agencies. Unfortunately, however, these guidelines and standards were evidently not followed.
“It is even more unfortunate that members of the Senate minority group have been pilloried and scorned by the media and by the public for this lapse in the implementation of the law,” the senators led Enrile, minority leader, said in a two-page statement.
They were referring to the CoA special audit report presented before the Senate blue ribbon committee by Tan during last week’s investigation on the pork barrel scam on the implementation of legislators’ PDAF and Various Infrastructure including Local Projects (VILPs), covering the period 2007 to 2009, highlighting the issue of the transfer of funds to NGOs.
The CoA Report states that: “Significant amounts of funds were released by the DBM to IAs (implementing agencies) without the IAs’ respective endorsements and considering their mandated functions, and administrative and technical capabilities to implement projects. Thus, the funds were either merely transferred to NGOs with implementation of projects hardly monitored or funds remained unused as of audit date. NGOs are not included among the IAs of PDAF as identified in the GAA, hence, such transfers are without legal basis.”
“The Senate minority group, however, wishes to point out that the CoA Report is wrong. General Appropriations Acts (GAAs) of previous years and even the GAA of the current year contain provisions allowing for the transfer of funds to civil society organizations, non-government organizations, and people’s organizations, subject to certain conditions.
The practice of allowing NGOs to participate in the implementation of government projects was first introduced in 2007, when a special provision in the budget of the Department of Education was inserted to “encourage the participation of non-government organizations (NGOs) in the construction of school buildings…
“Subsequently, the 2009 GAA provided for a specific provision on the “Limitations on Fund Transfers to Non-government Organizations and People’s Organizations” under Section 75, which states that:“It is hereby declared a policy of the government not to allow non-government organizations and people’s organizations to participate in the implementation of any program or project of the national and local government units ‘until such time that any earlier fund releases availed of by the said non-government organizations and people’s organizations shall have been fully liquidated pursuant to pertaining accounting and auditing rules and regulations,’ as certified by the head of the agency concerned and the Commission on Audit auditor.
“The government agency and local government units shall ensure that the non-government organizations and people’s organizations that they deal with are legitimate. A report on the fund releases indicating the names of non-government organizations and people’s organizations shall be prepared by the agency and duly audited by the Commission on Audit and shall be submitted to the Senate Committee on Finance and the House Committee on Appropriations.
“The above-mentioned provisions clearly support our stand that: first, the transfer of funds to NGOs does have legal basis; and second, that it is not the responsibility of the legislators to ascertain the legitimacy of the NGOs which the IAs work with in the implementation of our projects. That burden falls on the IAs and the local government units concerned as provided by law.
“The 2013 GAA even amended this rule as it now requires the liquidation of at least 70 percent of the latest fund transfer availed of by the NGOs, before additional fund transfers are made,” they said.
Amid the controversy on the alleged abuse in the use of PDAF, Drilon and Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero maintained that it is only the two Houses of Congress that can actually decide on the “fate” of their now controversial discretionary funds.
This came about following the Supreme Court’s order for Congress leaders, Drilon and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, to comment within 10 days on the petition filed by the group called Social Justice Society calling to scrap the PDAF.
“It is the Senate and the House, acting as collegial bodies, that actually decide on the matter of appropriating funds. In any case, we will submit to the discretion of the court,” Drilon said in an interview with reporters.
Escudero, chairman of the Senate finance committee, pointed out that the high court had already issued a ruling in the past upholding the so-called pork barrel system few years ago, when it was still called Countrywide Development Fund (CDF).
“It’s up to the SC if they will review that case and overturn their ruling in deciding on this issue before them. It’s the same claim made by the petitioners (that PDAF is supposedly unconstitutional) and another previous case. No one is barred from raising questions anew though,” he said in a separate interview.
Both Drilon and Escudero said that Congress will have to respond to the SC order and submit to the discretion of the court based on the allegations and prevailing jurisprudence.
“We will ask the Supreme Court to make its ruling on the matter immediately before the budget is submitted to the floor for deliberation and approval. The Senate only hopes for what is best and that good sense will prevail,” Drilon said.