Quezon farmers deny receiving P3.2-M loan aid
LUCENA CITY: Department of Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala and his chief of staff have been implicated in a new anomaly related to the priority development assistance fund (PDAF).
This time, it involves the disbursement of some P3.2 million in pork barrel funds to a bogus foundation in 2008, when Alcala was still a congressman.
Sixteen small farmers from the second district of Quezon have in sworn statements denied that they received P50,000 each as loan assistance from the “Proceso sa Pag-asenso: Proyektong Lingap-Kalinga para sa Kabuhayan ng mga Piling Magsasaka ng Ikalawang Distrito ng Quezon”—a priority project funded by the pork barrel of Alcala.
The project, carried out through the Sir Pelagio Alcantara Development (SPADE) Foundation Inc., was designed to benefit 65 marginal farmer-families in the district through loan assistance with six percent interest.
SPADE was at that time headed by Alcala’s chief of staff in Congress, Claron Alcantara, who is now Agriculture Undersecretary.
The loan project was completed on May 15, 2008, with total fund of P3.275 million.
However, most, if not all, of the named beneficiaries claimed that they never got any loan assistance.
Two of the alleged beneficiaries, Privado Joco and Nelson Aguila of Sariaya town, said they did not receive the amount and that their signatures in a disbursement voucher submitted by SPADE to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) as monitoring agency, were faked.
In their statements, copies of which were obtained by The Manila Times, Joco and Aguila said they never even heard of the loan project.
“Because I never received any amount from SPADE or from its project; That, the name and signature attributed to me are not mine and are falsified],” the farmers said.
Joco and Aguila and 14 other supposed farmer-beneficiaries executed their sworn statements from January 28 to February 4, 2013.
The statements were among the attachments to the 125-page complaint filed at the Office of the Ombudsman by former Lucena City mayor Ramon Talaga Jr. against Alcala last February 4.
The 16 complainants are concern that they would be made liable for a loan they did not apply for.
Two weeks ago, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) demanded the resignation of Alcala and his deputies over allegations that he endorsed projects totaling P89.2 million to sham NGOs.
The KMP also sought full public disclosure of the Department of Agriculture’s list of partners and accredited NGOs in the wake of reports that some of the lawmakers’ PDAF were coursed through the DA.
Besides Alcala, KMP also asked Alcantara, Assistant Secretary Ophelia Agawin and Undersecretary Antonio Fleta to step down.
KMP Deputy Secretary-General Willy Marbella said the “schematic plunder of billions of agricultural funds” could not have happened without Alcala’s knowledge and consent.”
The militant group also cited reports that Fleta belongs to a core group of officials from Quezon who were brought to the department by Alcala, who reappointed Agawin and promoted her to assistant secretary in February 2012.
Earlier, pork barrel scam accuser Merlina Suñas implicated Alcala’s office as a key conduit in funneling government funds to at least two dummy NGOs allegedly set up by Janet Lim-Napoles.
Napoles, the subject of an arrest warrant for serious illegal detention, is said to be closely associated with Agawin and Fleta.
Suñas also said Agawin was a conduit in the web of fake NGOs controlled by Napoles.
“We demand that Alcala and his gang step down, submit to an independent investigation and be accountable for plunder,” Marbella said.
‘My conscience is clear’
To prove his innocence, Alcala released data showing that of the P83 million requested by the group of Napoles through the DA, P44 million have yet to be released.
He said the funds will never be released, especially when the beneficiary failed to liquidate the first tranche of the fund.
In a follow up statement released by his office, Alcala explained that since July 2010, the agency has put in place safeguards to ensure that all agri-fishery infrastructure and livelihood projects “are undertaken in a transparent, graft-free manner.”
Initially, he said, the DA did not implement agri-fishery projects funded under the PDAF of legislators before August 2012.
“Immediately, we formed a special committee and put in place a system to accredit [NGOs] and People’s Organizations [Pos] that will implement PDAF projects. The system ensures that the NGOs and POs are legitimate, and have good track record,” Alcala said.
To make sure PDAF projects are well-monitored, Alcala said they implemented stringent measures like releasing funds in tranches of up to four installments, based on the projects’ progress.
“All of these were undertaken prior to any report or issue on PDAF was heard of. These systems were precisely installed in the spirit of transparency in government transactions,” he pointed out.
Recently, a Special Audit report released by the Commission on Audit (COA) revealed that at least six lawmakers allocated millions of their pork barrel funds to foundations linked to them or their relatives.
COA chief Grace Pulido-Tan even described their discovery as kahindik-hindik [disgusting].
COA discovered that former Quezon City representative Matias Defensor had facilitated P99.5 million to the “Matias Defensor Sr. Foundation Inc” between 2007 to 2009 while former senator Edgardo Angara had released P14.4 million to the Kalusugan ng Bata, Karunungan ng Bayan Foundation, where he was allegedly an incorporator, a member of the board of directors, and a stockholder.
Besides Defensor and Angara, four other “legislators and/or their relatives are incorporators of recipient NGOs of fund transfers of their respective PDAF allocations,” according to COA.
The four are Amado Bagatsing of Manila, P21.74 million to the Kabaka Foundation Inc, where he was named as “incorporator/BOD/stockholder”; Ma. Victoria Sy-Alvarado of Bulacan, P12.9 million to the Jose Sy Alvarado Foundation, where she was “incorporator/(chairman)/president”; Federico Sandoval II of Malabon City, P20 million to the Pamalakaya Foundation Inc, for which his niece was an incorporator, director, and stockholder; and Anthony Miranda of Isabela, P20 million to the Aksyon Makamasa Foundation, Inc., where he was tagged as “incorporator, COB, stockholder, president” of the organization.
Meanwhile, The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) on Thursday cleared what it said were “inaccuracies” in the COA report, including one allocation that was falsely attributed to President Benigno Aquino 3rd.
One error, Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad said involves the P20 million supposedly allocated and released to a certain “Luis Abalos,” whom the COA noted was not a member of the 13th and 14 th Congress.
Abad said the name “Luis Abalos” was an encoding error in the matrix of legislators submitted to COA.
“The P20 million in question should have been attributed to former congressman Benjamin “Benhur” Abalos Jr.,” he said.
Abad also said P3 billion in PDAF was mistakenly attributed to Rep. Manuel Zamora, after it was discovered that a Special Allotment Release Order (SARO) issued to the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) for the Preventive Maintenance of National Roads and Bridges shared the same SARO number (A-07-9539) with a PDAF allocation earlier released to Zamora.
“The PDAF release made to Zamora amounted to just P500,000, bringing the third tranche of his Congressional Allocation for 2007 to only P10 million,” Abad added.
He said a P40-million allocation attributed by the COA report to then-senator Benigno Aquino 3rd was not actually released during that period.
“Although the SARO for the former senator’s PDAF request had already been approved, the SARO was ultimately not issued and the funds had gone unused,” Abad said.
The errors could have been due to the fact that during the period covered by the COA audit, there was no recommended limit or ceiling to the PDAF released to legislators, he said.
“Before the Aquino administration, there was no cap on PDAF releases made to our lawmakers. There was a minimum amount, yes, but no ceilings were set for it. In 2011, however, we established a cap on PDAF allocations, with P70 million set for representatives and P200 million for senators. Even then, a legislator can still request funds beyond the allocation already set for him, subject to DBM’s approval,” he said.
“This is particularly true in humanitarian cases with urgent aid requirements, such as the release of allocations from the Calamity Fund for a legislator’s disaster-stricken constituents,” Abad said.