PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino 3rd on Monday said he was never aware that the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF)—an agency directly under the Office of the President—was a conduit of pork-funded projects.
Reports about the agency’s role in funneling more than half a billion pesos in pork funds to various non-government organizations (NGOs) and people’s organizations (POs) prompted the President to review the charter of the NCMF.
He also ordered top Palace officials to conduct a thorough probe.
“To be perfectly candid about it, there are so many functions embodied in their charter, which I reviewed today and I was not clearly aware or immediately aware that they were a conduit or an implementing agency for various PDAF [priority development assistance fund]projects,” Aquino said.
“So I want to get as thorough a knowledge as possible and I have directed the concerned individuals, specifically the executive secretary, the secretary of budget and management and the cabinet secretary, to submit to me a thorough report on this particular issue,” he added.
Recently, the Commission on Audit (COA) discovered that P515 million in congressional funds were coursed through the NCMF by two senators linked to the pork barrel scam and 38 members of the House of Representatives.
The COA said the funds were given to 18 foundations and NGOs, including those allegedly controlled by Janet Lim-Napoles, the suspected brains of the pork barrel scam. The money was purportedly used for various projects, including training and seminars for Muslims.
But Aquino explained that Malacanang will clarify with COA if the report should be considered a “finding” or “observation audit memorandum.”
“They [COA] have a term called observation audit memorandum, which means there are certain questions and they await answers or replies from the concerned government entity,” the President said.
He maintained that while COA has yet to make the clarification, “I want to make sure exactly what went to whom, and why was it coursed through the NCMF.”
Aquino also hinted that the old guards at the commission may have had a hand in the controversy, noting that its former chief was allied with former president and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Arroyo.
Upon his assumption to office, Aquino issued Executive Order No. 2 which invalidated the “midnight appointments” made by Arroyo, including that of former NCMF head Bai Omera Dianalan-Lucman.
The President criticized Lucman’s leadership, noting that he had been made aware of controversies surrounding the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, known as the Hajj.
“Now, during that incumbency and practically every year, there are issues with regard to the Hajj,” he said.
Under Republic Act 997, the law which created the NCMF in December 2009, the NCMF secretary “or his/her duly designated representative shall sit as a regular member of the government’s peace negotiating panel with the Muslim Filipino groups or individuals.”
To show his displeasure, Aquino did not appoint Lucman to the peace panel and instead invoked EO 2 and appointed Dr. Hamid Barra as NCMF secretary on September 13, 2010. It was at this point that Lucman went to the Supreme Court (SC) to seek redress, after which the high court issued a status quo ante order.
Lucman remains a commissioner. His four-year term ends this month.
But records also indicate that the COA report covered the period when Aquino had appointed Mehol Sadain as head of the NCMF on April 13, 2012. Sadain served as commissioner of the Commission on Elections prior to his NCMF appointment.
In February 2013, Aquino named Sadain to the GPH peace panel.
Other than funds from PDAF, which was recently declared unconstitutional by the SC, the COA report also classified P25 million of the releases through the NCMF as part of the Palace’s equally controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).
State auditors said the selection of NGOs/POs should be undertaken by the NCMF and not by lawmakers because the funds were released to the agency.
“Therefore, the same agency is duty-bound to account for the funds to the government and/or beneficiaries,” the COA audit team said.
It was noted that the practice of allowing lawmakers to select NGOs/POs to implement the PDAF and DAP “was not in accordance with COA Circular No. 2007-001” that lists down the guideline in releasing public funds to private entities.
COA discovered that the memoranda of agreement (MOA) signed by the NCMF, lawmakers and the selected NGOs lacked pertinent documents required by the circular such as schedules for the releases of funds, periodic inspection and evaluation, reporting, monitoring, date of commencement and completion of projects.