Dubious NGOs got P45-M from pork barrel of Surigao pols

SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/24 August)—Dubious non-government organizations (NGOs) allegedly got close to P45 million from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel allocations of politicians from Surigao del Norte, the 452-page report released by the Commission on Audit (COA) showed.

First District Rep. Francisco Matugas allotted around P20 million to questionable NGOs, according to the COA special audit report covering the period 2007 to 2009.

Former 2nd District Rep. Robert Ace Barbers also allocated some P25 million to dubious NGOS, the COA report released on August 14 showed.

But Barbers immediately disputed the report, noting he was no longer a congressman from June 2007 to 2010 after he was elected as provincial governor.

Barbers, who ran but lost in the 2013 gubernatorial race, said he had “never downloaded his PDAF to NGOs, preferring instead to allocate them for roads and other infrastructure projects.”

“That is why during my term, almost all roads in Surigao [del Norte] got cemented. I made sure that my PDAF will not go into the hands of bogus NGOs,” he told MindaNews in a phone interview.

Barbers served as congressman from 1998 to 2007. In 2010, he failed to win the gubernatorial race.

For his part, Matugas did not return this reporter’s calls and text messages for comments on the COA findings.

The COA report showed that Matugas’s pork barrel allocation from 2007 to 2010 amounted to P101.910 million, of which P79.9 million was intended for Various Infrastructure including Local Projects (VILP or hard projects under the category of public works); P8.5 million for “soft,” which refers to projects involving livelihood, education, health and social services; and another P13.5 million for “soft” from other sources.

During the period, Matugas allocated P22 million for “soft projects,” of which at least P19.8 million went to NGO-implemented projects that COA found questionable.

One of these NGOs—Dr. Rodolfo A. Ignacio, Sr. Foundation (DRAISFI)—received P13.5 million from Matugas’s PDAF. He and 15 other legislators gave the shadowy foundation a total of P164.6 million from their pork barrel, the COA said.

It said that DRAISFI was not registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) but was issued permits by the local government of Quezon City. The NGO listed two addresses that turned out to be nonexistent upon COA’s verification.

According to state auditors, DRAISFI was involved in livelihood trainings and in the distribution of “financial assistance.”

However, COA said the recipients listed under the “financial assistance” component were found to be anomalous because of the following:

➢ The amount of financial assistance received by each participant was not indicated in the list;

➢ Many supposed recipients did not sign in the list of participants, and in at least two such projects, no list of participant was submitted at all;

➢ And, many alleged beneficiaries have no specific addresses and a good number were found to be not registered voters within their reported districts or towns.

There were 255 such alleged beneficiaries in Surigao del Norte, but COA said none of all the listed recipients were voters of the district or town where they supposedly come from.

Matugas also endorsed some P3.395 million to the Kabuhayan at Kalusugang Alay sa Masa Foundation, Inc. (KKAMFI), which received a total of P526.6 million from 2007 to 2009 from 23 other congressmen. The NGO used the money for livelihood trainings and the procurement of technology kits.

The COA audit report said “KKAMFI projects were attended by anomalies, and the NGO did not bother to respond when asked to verify its suspicious transactions.”

Matugas also allocated pork amounting to P2.7 million to the Philippine Environment and Economic Development Association (PEEDA), COA said, noting it could not find the two listed addresses of the group.

Another P300,000 from Matugas’s pork barrel that went to PEEDA was also listed as “unliquidated.” The group’s expertise was on distributing “livelihood kits.”

According to COA, PEEDA had listed suppliers that were either nonexistent or had denied transacting with the NGO. It was also unable to submit pertinent documents when asked by COA.

In Surigao del Norte, the towns of Pilar and Socorro in Siargao Island had 39 and 74 PEEDA beneficiaries, respectively. However, when COA verified the names through the Commission on Elections records, 36 of the 39 recipients in Pilar turned out as registered voters, and only 12 in Socorro.

In all these findings, COA said that Matugas did not reply to the auditors’ request for confirmation of the transactions.

For Barbers, COA said he allocated P23.4 million pork money to the Asia World Sanctuary and Development, Inc. (AWSDI), which were unliquidated. The amount was earmarked for “trainings” and released in 2007.

COA said that AWSDI’s existence was suspect, having changed its name twice and the address it listed was found to be a residential unit owned by its president—a certain Rosemarie Palacio— and was up for rent when state auditors conducted an ocular inspection.

Barbers’s name was listed along with Cong. Arturo B. Robes of San Jose del Monte City in Bulacan province as having endorsed a total of P48.8 million to AWSDI.

“AWSDI submitted certain documents to back up the projects under Barbers’s name but disclosed that all these contained “deficiencies,” COA said. The NGO also claimed that documents relating to Barbers’s SARO “have been damaged by flood.”

State auditors also found that three of AWSDI’s suppliers “cannot be located at their given addresses and have no existing permits based on the issued official receipts since 2007 to 2009.”

“The items distributed and received by the beneficiaries were not indicated in the submitted list of beneficiaries and some beneficiaries included in the list did not affix their signatures,” the report said.

Barbers denied having handled these projects, pointing out that he was already serving as governor of Surigao del Norte beginning 2007, the year the controversial pork barrel fund under audit was released.

He noted that between 2007 and 2009, incumbent Rep. Guillermo A. Romarate, Jr. (2nd district) had already started his first term in office. During this period, the COA report showed that Romarate had a PDAF totaling P95 million, all of which went to hard projects or VILP and none for NGO-implemented “soft projects.”

Barbers also argued that “he could have never received PDAF allocations while he was on his way out of Congress in 2007 because then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo had stripped him of his pork barrel.”

He pointed out that he had a falling out with the Arroyo administration during his last term in Congress after he voted to impeach the former president.

Napoles scam also in Surigao

Meanwhile, the Surigao del Norte towns of Dapa and Socorro also appeared in the COA audit findings as among the recipients of “agricultural packages” from the pork barrel of various lawmakers, including Senators Jinggoy Ejercito-Estrada, Ramon Revilla Jr., and Juan Ponce Enrile.

The various PDAF allocations, totaling over half a billion pesos, was coursed through the Social Development Program for Farmers Inc. (SDPFFI), an NGO linked to alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles.

SDPFFI’s listed head was Benhur K. Luy, a relative of Napoles and one of the whistleblowers in the P10 billion pork barrel scam allegedly instigated by Napoles.

Dapa Municipal Agricultural Officer Felipe Porpayas, Sr. denied receiving the agricultural implements.

In Socorro town, COA said the mayor “acknowledged to have received 155 sprayers and 155 folial fertilizers.”

It added, however, that “the items allegedly distributed and received by the mayor were 237 packages consisting of planting material, high capacity manual sprayers, planting tools, protective gears and agricultural chemicals, including long sleeves and t-shirts. The Honorable Mayor also informed this office that the attached Certificate of Acceptance is distorted as it carries the official seal of Oriental Mindoro instead of Surigao del Norte. The items confirmed by the Honorable Mayor, then, could have come from other projects of the government.”

COA said at least half of the recipients categorically denied having received the “agricultural packages,” while others were found to be non-residents of the specified municipalities. (Roel Catoto/MindaNews)