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US$20m in Philippine relief funds 'stolen'
Publication Date : 11-08-2013
Ninety-seven mayors of cities and towns in Luzon ravaged by Tropical Storm “Ondoy (Ketsana)” and Typhoon “Pepeng (Parma)” in 2009 supposedly received 900 million pesos (US$20.7 million) in Malampaya gas funds through bogus nongovernment organisations (NGOs) allegedly formed by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles.
Documents obtained by the Inquirer show that the funds were released through the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), the agency designated to support the rehabilitation of agrarian communities damaged by the two storms.
The DAR released the funds on the basis of written requests for assistance from the mayors of affected towns and cities.
But according to an affidavit submitted to investigators by Merlina Sunas, 59, a former employee at Napoles’ JLN Corp. and now one of eight whistle-blowers in the 10-billion peso pork barrel scam, the Malampaya funds did not reach the local governments and instead “all went to the pocket” of Napoles.
Sunas said that aside from being assigned by Napoles as president of the dummy NGO People’s Organisation for Progress and Development Foundation Inc., she also served as JLN’s coordinator in the DAR for the Malampaya fund project.
“There were no deliveries of funds, because the funds were immediately withdrawn three days after the checks for them, which were in the NGOs’ names, had been deposited in their bank accounts,” Sunas said. “All the cash was brought to Madam Janet.”
As coordinator, she said, she was assigned to prepare the documents for the whole project, including the letters of the mayors asking for assistance addressed to then Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman.
“Me and the staff of JLN prepared the letters of request on orders of Madam Janet,” Sunas said.
She said she and other JLN staff members also prepared another set of documents for the release of the funds. This was the tripartite agreement between the local government, the DAR representative, and the head of the NGO.
Sunas said all the tripartite agreement documents she prepared bore the name of then Agrarian Reform Assistant Secretary Narciso Nieto as signatory representing the DAR.
“My role was limited to the preparation of the documents. How much was the commission or share of other parties, I have no idea,” she said when asked if she knew how much commission government officials got, if any.
The NGO heads’ and Nieto’s signatures were genuine, but the local government officials’ signatures were forged,” Sunas said.
Sunas said all the letters of requests and the agreement documents were given to Napoles, who personally took them to DAR.
“We knew the transaction came through when we started to withdraw the money of the NGOs on orders of Napoles,” Sunas said.
She added that checks were deposited on the day they were received.
“We withdraw money as much as 75 million pesos a day, placed in several duffel bags on trolleys,” Sunas said.
She added that it was after the Malampaya funds were released that Napoles started her big (property) purchases,” Sunas said.
The National Bureau of Investigation is investigating Napoles for the alleged diversion of Malampaya funds.
She is also under NBI investigation for allegedly siphoning off 10 billion pesos in legislators’ pork barrel into her bank accounts, also allegedly using dummy NGOs.
Eight senators and 24 members of the House of Representatives have been linked to the pork barrel scandal.
The back-to-back storms Ondoy and Pepeng ravaged provinces in northern and Central Luzon.
Damage to agriculture caused by the two storms was placed at 27.2 billion pesos.
Central Luzon suffered the worst damage, with 35.5 per cent of its agriculture destroyed.
The Ilocos Region suffered 33.1-per cent damage and Cagayan Valley, 15.2 per cent.
In the Malampaya fund scam, Sunas said local governments were supposed to receive agricultural kits through the dummy NGOs.
“But no delivery was ever made. All the receipts for the liquidation of the funds were manufactured,” Sunas said.
Asked if Pangandaman and Nieto were involved in the scam, Sunas replied: “Based on the vouchers received by the NGOs, they were also the signatories. We do not know the agreement between them and Ma’am Janet.”
According to the documents obtained by the Inquirer, the 900 million pesos was released in three tranches: on November 26, on December 23, and on December 29, all in 2009.
The documents showed that the 12 NGOs that Sunas claimed were Napoles dummies repeatedly received endorsements as beneficiaries of the Malampaya funds.
Karangyaan para sa Magbubukid, headed by Simplicio Gumafelix; Saganang Buhay, headed by Lilian Espanol, and Gintong Pangkabuhayan, headed by Eulogio Rodriguez, received the biggest donations, coming up to 82.5 million pesos.
Abundant Harvest for Farmers, headed by Vannessa Eman; Bukirin Tanglaw para sa Magsasaka, headed by Gertrudes Luy; Dalangpan Sang Amon Utod Kasimanwa, headed Jesus Castillo; Ginintuang Alay sa Magsasaka, headed by John Lim; Masaganang Buhay Foundation, headed by Lorna Ramirez; Kasaganahan para sa Magsasaka Foundation, led by Genevieve Uy; Kaupdanan para sa Magsasaka, headed by John Raymond de Asis, and Tanglaw para sa Magsasaka, led by Nova Kay-Dulay, received donations nine times, in such amounts as 77 million pesos, 75 million pesos, and 72.5 million pesos.
Micro Agri Business Citizens Initiative Foundation, headed by Napoles’ brother Ronald F. Lim, received donations seven times, each time getting 55 million pesos.
Sunas said Gumafelix is administrator of JLN and its oldest employee.
Eulogio Rodriguez and John Lim were represented by lawyers from Kapunan, Garcia, and Castillo law firm when they were invited by the NBI for questioning as heads of the NGOs involved in the alleged scam.
The same law firm represents Napoles in the pork barrel scam investigation.