MANILA, (Mabuhay) – A Commission on Audit official on Thursday admitted not seeing documents to show that Senator Ramon Bong Revilla Jr and his staff directly received kickbacks from Janet Lim-Napoles, but maintained the senator’s actions endorsing NGOs were “irregular.”
“No, we don’t have (but) he (Revilla) endorsed NABCOR as one of the implementing agencies. He endorsed the NGO to be a partner in the implementation of the project, and he assigned his legislative staff lawyer (Richard Cambe) as his representative,” Susan Garcia, COA assistant commissioner, told the Sandiganbayan First Division during Revilla’s bail hearing.
She was the director of the COA Special Audit Office which conducted the audit on the Priority Development Assistance Fund when the scam was exposed.
The other implementing agencies endorsed by Revilla were Technology Resource Center and National Livelihood and Development Corporation.
The endorsed NGOs were Masaganang Ani Para sa Magsasaka Foundation Inc., Social Development Program for Farmers Development (SDPFFI), Agri & Economic Program for Farmers Foundation.
During the hearing, Associate Justice Rodolfo Ponferrada asked Garcia if Revilla’s acts were wrong. The COA official replied that the NGOs should have been selected through a public bidding.
“NGOs are not mentioned in the General Appropriations Act. It should be the implementing agencies who should implement the project,” Garcia said.
She added that the rules and regulations in selecting the NGOs are stated in the General Procurement Policy of the Department of Budget and Management.
Further, she said the status of NGOs selected to implement the projects financed by the Priority Development Assistance Fund of Revilla were questionable.
“The NGOs have no business permit to operate. We cannot find their location or they are in a residential area, and they use the taxpayer identification number (TIN) of another supplier,” said Garcia.
“The NGOs were not capable of implementing the projects,” she added.
Likewise, Garcia said the projects were not implemented because the supposed beneficiaries denied receiving them.
Asked how she knew that Revilla appointed Cambe as his representative in the transactions, Garcia said the senator sent a letter dated April 10, 2007 “assigning my staff Cambe to represent and act on my behalf.”
She also said that Revilla confirmed to their office in July 2011 that his signatures in the documents were genuine.
Garcia presented before the court the original letter and their record book showing the time and date they received it.
Asked by Associate Justice Rafael Lagos if Revilla never disowned his signatures, Garcia said the senator never did that.
Lawyer Stephen David, Napoles’ lawyer who was cross-examining Garcia, then asked the COA official if she saw the name of Napoles, her children, her nephew Ronald John Lim, and Raymund de Asis on any of the documents. Lim and de Asis are Napoles’ co-accused in plunder and graft raps involving the pork barrel scam. Napoles’ children Jo Christine and James Christopher, on the other hand, have been accused of graft together with their mother and Senator Juan Ponce Enrile. Garcia replied in the negative.
Asked by David if Napoles benefitted from PDAF, Garcia said: “I do not know who benefitted or not.”
David noted that all the other lawmakers, not only Revilla, endorsed NGOs. Garcia said it was the regular practice of lawmakers but it is not the standard procedure that is why COA disallowed it.
The COA official further said that not only were the lawmakers wrong for endorsing NGOs but the implementing agencies, as well.
“They are both liable,” said Garcia.
She said COA’s observation was that since the legislators endorsed the NGOs, the agencies no longer conducted a public bidding and instead, accepted the NGO as a partner in the project.
Lawyer Joel Bodegon, Revilla’s counsel, asked Garcia if a senator’s endorsement is tantamount to an order.
“An endorsement is not an order, isn’t it more of a suggestion,” Bodegon said, to which Garcia replied, “it would depend on how the agency took it. That is why they are both held liable.”
Ponferrada asked Garcia what could have happened if the legislators did not endorse NGOs, she said NGOs will be selected only after a public hearing.
Bodegon also asked Garcia if the documents they saw were not falsified, the official said: “That is why we get confirmation from all the signatories.”
Cases vs. Revilla
Revilla is facing one count of plunder and 16 counts of graft in connection with the alleged P10-billion pork barrel scam supposedly masterminded by Napoles. He is currently detained at the PNP Custodial Center along with Cambe.
The senator and his co-accused allegedly received P224.5 million in kickbacks from 2006 to 2010 for funding the ghost projects of Napoles’ non-government organizations.
The Ombudsman said the accused committed the offense in relation to their respective offices and conspiring with one another.
It said the accused repeatedly received from Napoles and her representatives kickbacks and commissions.
It added before, during and after the project identification, the accused senator or his representative received a percentage of cost of the project to be funded by PDAF in exchange for the endorsement to the government agency of Napoles’ foundation which became the recipient or target implementor of the project.
The project turned out to be ghost or fictitious thus enabling Napoles to misappropriate the PDAF proceeds for her personal gain.
The Ombudsman said the accused took “undue advantage, on several occasions, of their official position, authority, relationship, connection and influence to unjustly enrich themselves at the expense and to the damage and prejudice of the Filipino people.” (MNS)