MURDERED environmentalist Dr. Gerardo “Gerry” Ortega had no idea that the corruption that shrouded the use of the Malampaya funds which he unveiled was far bigger than he thought.
In fact, according to Ortega’s daughter, Mika, her family was shocked when they found out that the amount in question reached a staggering P900 million.
“I would dare say that my Daddy didn’t know what he was sitting on. That it was this huge. If he were alive today and he finds out the Malampaya fund scam is this big, all hell would break loose,” the young Ortega told The Manila Times in an interview.
Mika said her father knew the government was getting billions of pesos from the operation of the offshore natural gas plant but “Doc Gerry” had no way of finding out exactly how much was involved.
“He found out about it and then he just never stopped talking about it,” she added.
Doc Gerry first sensed something was not right in 2001, when he was a member of the Palawan provincial Board and when Palawan’s share from Malampaya became an issue.
By the time his term ended in 2004, he had gathered proof of corruption in the handling of the gas funds.
“He had access to the documents and then he started sharing it with the civil society. The civil society formed groups, then nagkaroon na ng watch,” Mika Ortega said.
She said her father was particularly interested in the fact that the allocation of the Malampaya funds was done without going through the usual disbursement process.
Doc Gerry noted that it was easy for provincial officials to allocate the funds “by circumventing the laws,” meaning the money could be disposed off as the provincial government pleases.
Mika said her father exposed the anomaly, thus earning the ire of other provincial officials.
Mika lamented that her father was left to fight alone. His advocacy became futile since not one of the provincial officials sided with him.
“He was outvoted in the provincial government and the circumvention of the laws continued. Later on we saw that there was corruption,” she said.
Doc Gerry was convinced that former Palawan Governor Joel Reyes, now wanted by authorities for allegedly masterminding the killing of Ortega in January 2011, was involved in the anomalous withdrawals of funds.
“There is evidence that he [did]steal from the general funds and on top of the P900 million from the Malampaya, he was able to loan P1.1 billion from different banks,” Mika said.
When the Ortega family went to a Senate inquiry where the Commission on Audit (COA) stated that it disallowed the release of the funds in Palawan because it did not go through the proper process, they knew that her father died fighting for what was right.
Mika believes Doc Gerry’s expose was what caused his death.
“We think that it was the reason why he was shot… because Joel Reyes had a lot to gain in silencing Doc Gerry,” she said.
While the Malampaya scam pales in comparison with the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam, Mika said the gas fund anomaly is “more dangerous,” judging from what happened to her father.
Unlike the PDAF, the Malampaya funds do not go through checks and balances where it can be put under scrutiny, she said.
Worse, the funds can be disposed off in anyway, “depending on the will and the whim of the President,” she added.
“At least the PDAF goes through the process of checks and balances where a lot of eyes can see it. There’s a lot of paper trail. Malampaya doesn’t go through that kind of process.” Mika said. “At that time, ex-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo just [gave]it to whoever she pleases and people use it however they want without having to rationalize or justify why they’re putting such money in this and that,” she said.
Mika Ortega said she has not lost hope in the justice system.
Despite the Court of Appeals ruling nullifying the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) creation of a second panel of prosecutors to investigate Ortega’s death, Mika reiterated that the warrants against the Reyes brothers still stand.
Nevertheless, the family of the slain broadcaster expressed frustration with the Court of Appeals ruling.
“We feel sometimes that we are just collateral damage,” Mika said.
She said a lot has happened, and that a witness has been murdered.
She was referring to the killing of Dennis Aranas, who had been tagged as a lookout in the murder. Aranas was found dead inside the Quezon provincial jail in Lucena City earlier this year.
Forensic experts said Aranas was hit in the eye and was strangled to death although his death was made to appear as a suicide.
Ortega said that the ones who had ordered Aranas’ killing could be the same people behind the Doc Gerry’s murder.
Mika said she is dismayed that some people perceive that the fight for justice was lost with the Court of Appeals ruling.
“I think it is a confluence of all of these factors that allowed the brothers to kill Doc Gerry. First of all, there is a culture of impunity. There is corruption. My dad was talking about corruption. Because of the culture of impunity, he was killed,” she noted.
Mika said that they are disappointed at the pace the case is moving.
“There are so many factors that kept contributing to keeping justice for us out of reach. The process is taking too long, there is a lot of red tape. And when a warrant of arrest was finally issued, (the suspect) had fled the country with a fake passport,” she said.