• It’s not graft but outright thievery

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    The noose seems to be tightening on Janet Lim Napoles, owner and president of JLN Group of companies, allegedly for masterminding the P10 billion pork barrel scam.

    Congressman Elipidio Barzaga Jr., chair of the Committee on Games and Amusements, is therefore justified for suggesting that the National Bureau of Investigation file a case in court to freeze Mrs. Napoles’ accounts in various banks.

    That’s out of the question though. The NBI has not even concluded its investigation. Besides, the justice system moves like molasses on a cold December day. It takes months for the court to act on a petition. A few hours is what is needed to withdraw millions of pesos. The delay, if there is any, is occasioned only by the physical necessity of coming up with so huge an amount.

    The government, we’re afraid, would be left holding an empty bag. But that’s alright, as long as those involved in this outrageous crime are meted out the necessary punishment. The crime, if we may add, is plunder, given the amount involved.

    At least that’s what Senator Miriiam Defensor Santiago has told the media.

    The law states that a government official accumulating or acquiring ill-gotten wealth with a total value of P50 million is liable for plunder. Any person, though not a government employee or official, who participates in the act is likewise indictable.

    According to her former employees and confidantes, Mrs. Napoles funneled the pork barrel allocation or Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of four senators, Juan Ponce Enrile, Jingoy Estrada, Vicente Sotto 3rd, and Ramon Revilla Jr., and 23 congressmen to non-government organizations (NGOs) she herself had set up.

    As this space observed in another editorial the scheme is admirable in its simplicity and audacity.

    In the old days a senator or a congressman demanded a commission, usually 20 percent to 30 percent of the total cost of the project financed with his pork barrel allocation. That used to outrage people, but at least there was a project, although substandard.

    Tired of going through the motion, the legislators drop all pretense. They think up of a project, say assistance to marginal farmers or fishermen, but the project exists only on paper. Here’s where an NGO comes in, to forge the signatures of the supposed recipients, of fertilizers and pesticides in the case of farmers or boats and nets in the case of fishermen.

    The honorable senator or congressman gets to pocket the entire cost of the project, usually in the tens of millions of pesos, since there is no project to speak of.

    In an interview with Korina Sanches on Channel 2, Mrs. Napoles pointed out that her family owns and runs Asia Star Power Resources Corp., which exports coal to China, India, and Pakistan, and that is the source of their wealth.

    But former AFP Chief of Staff, retired Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, ridiculed the claim, saying Mrs. Napoles and her husband do not know anything about the coal business. He confirmed in effect what four accusers state in their affidavits, that coal trading was only a ploy to hide the source of the family’s fabulous wealth.

    It turned out that the general was Asia Star Power’s president and chief executive officer. He said he left the corporation after the Napoles family refused to come up with the money to get the operation off the ground.

    A few things have caught our attention. First, Mrs. Napoles had gotten so big that she could use—no other way to describe the relationship—a man like Gen. Esperon as the public face of her corporation. In fact, it was a star-studded (literally) corporation, with another former AFP Chief of Staff, retired Gen. Efren L. Abu, along with former Army Commanders Ricardo Brillantes and Rodolfo Alvarado as officers.

    Secondly, the firm was incorporated only in March 2011. It could not have earned enough for the family to move from their modest house in a Laguna subdivision to Forbes Park, the enclave of the rich and famous. A daughter, Jeanne, has purchased an P80 million luxury apartment in Ritz-Carlton in Los Angeles at the tender age of 22. She also moves around in a chauffer driven Porsche (not one but two), hobnobs with Hollywood celebrities and, like them, arrayed in expensive watch and jewelry.

    Finally, China has an inexhaustible coal deposit. Therefore, it does not import the commodity.

    It’s been said that Mrs. Napoles executed the scam in the past ten years. The implication is that the current administration has nothing to do with it. But how do you explain the fact that Agriculture Secretary Prospero Alcala has retained Assistant Secretary Ophelia P. Agawin in a position in charge of accrediting NGOs?

    One NGO that Mrs. Agawin vetted as authentic was Kaupdanan para sa Mangunguma, Inc., through which P38.25 million was released supposedly for the purchase of fertilizers and pesticides for distribution to farmers. The members, however, denied having received anything from the NGO. The president also surfaced to say his signature and those of the members have been forged.

    Mrs. Agawin had also been implicated in the P72.8 billion fertilizer scam, masterminded by Agriculture official Joc-Joc Bolante, according to a conclusion reached by a Senate investigating committee.

    Secretary Alcala told reporters his agency had written the NGO to demand that it liquidate the amount. Otherwise, he warned, “there will be no more additional releases.”

    The NGO had been allotted a total of P83.2 million. Are we to understand that there are plans to release the rest of the money? This is no longer graft and corruption but outright thievery.

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