Will Napoles spill the beans?

I have never believed that Janet Lim Napoles masterminded the siphoning of billions of pesos of public funds into the hands of lawmakers through fake NGOs and other avenues. It was above and beyond her competency, to put it directly. She was just a high school graduate who learned to corner huge government contracts using connections in the military back in the 90s.

Janet_Lim-Napoles_mugshotWhen the Aquino administration came to power in 2010, she had developed enough political contacts to be able to penetrate the inner sanctums of government. She was in the right place at the right time. Top officials of the Aquino administration, especially those in Congress and the DBM, found in Napoles a perfect specimen, a businesswoman who followed orders to the letter for a piece of the pie. The pie happened to be the PDAF and DAP (Disbursement Acceleration Program). A former Cabinet secretary, a lawyer from Iloilo, was assigned to be the cow tender for the Napoles machinery.

The complexity of the entire operation is enough to show that Napoles couldn’t have conceived how the money will be stolen. It took the evil genius of these top LP leaders to map out the whole scam, right from the faucet of DBM to the bank accounts of lawmakers who partook of the largess. Of course, what is not highlighted is the fact that the real masterminds reaped a bigger harvest. Napoles got small change, although that was in the vicinity of hundreds of millions of pesos. It was easy money for Napoles, but easier still for the brains of the scam.

As expected, the news about Napoles being admitted to the Witness Protection Program (WPP) of the Department of Justice was devastating for lawmakers who were in one way or the other complicit in the scam. But the biggest fright is now being felt by the real masterminds. For one thing, Napoles could provide information about her shopping trips with the wife of an LP senator abroad. That would belie the claim of that LP senator that he and Napoles were mere acquaintances.

Those who have no dark secrets with Napoles don’t have to be worried. After all, her testimony would be subjected to cross-examination at trial. If she is lying, then the innocent can win back their freedoms.

Doubts about a Mar Roxas presidency

A friend from Dumalag, Capiz called me a few days ago, and our phone conversation turned to a topic that is generating a lot of excitement in our home province —- the candidacy of Mar Roxas.
He confessed to me that he is inclined to vote for Mar Roxas. “My only reservation comes from the prospect that he will use his position to protect the real masterminds of the pork barrel scams,” he said.
I had to agree with him. As a person, Mar Roxas is a noble man. He is well educated, experienced, and ready to face higher responsibility. Mar’s only problem is that he can’t seem to disengage himself from the issues plaguing the Aquino administration. He is stuck with the yellow label, and that is dragging him down.
And it would leave me with a heavy heart to see Mar Roxas unable to severe his connections from the DAP masterminds and strengthen the perception that he will spend more time trying to keep them out of jail than pressing ahead with much-needed reforms for the country.
Time is running out. Mar Roxas should demonstrate he is his own man. He should not be hostage to the machinations of his party-mates who destroyed the core principles of the Liberal Party. He must convince the likes of me that his presidency will be anchored on the rule of law, and no one will be spared from facing the consequences of their criminal behavior while in public office.

One small step, a giant leap for justice

The Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas is set to conduct the preliminary investigation into my complaint that a P13.5-million contract funded from the pork barrel of Senate President Franklin M. Drilon for the development of the Iloilo Esplanade was anomalous.
On Wednesday, I received a letter from the just-retired Deputy Ombudsman for the Visayas Pelayo Apostol informing me that a fact-finding investigation done by Ombudsman graft investigators in Iloilo City has been upgraded into a formal charge for criminal and administrative offenses.
The cases, docketed as OMB-V-C-14-0489 and OMB-V-A-14-0347, primarily involves Edilberto Tayao, regional director of the Department of Public Works and Highways, and the chairman and members of the Bids and Awards Committee (BAC).
Apostol’s letter did not mention Senate President Drilon who was listed in my complaint.
A check with the Office of the Ombudsman elicited information that the cases are entitled, “OMB-RO6 and Manuel Mejorada versus Edilberto Tayao, et al.”
For me, the upgrading of my complaint into a formal charge is a giant leap for justice.
I wish to highlight that the Office of the Ombudsman, Region VI, has filed this as co-complainant.
What does this mean? It demolishes the defense of the Senate President who said that the anomalies were just “a figment of my imagination”.
After I filed this complaint on September 10, 2013, no less than Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales ordered the anti-graft body’s investigators to determine whether it had legal and factual basis.
I was told that Ombudsman Morales gave this instruction in a hand-written note on my complaint.
The report of the fact-finding team validated my charges that the items of work stated in the project’s contract were “ghost” or non-existent.
This is enough vindication for me. The complaint is based on facts. The award of the contract was anomalous. Public funds were squandered.

Now, it’s not just me talking, but the Ombudsman Region VI as well.
But it will not, and must not, end there. It should proceed to the next step, which is an indictment of the public officials involved in this corruption.

For a background on this case, you can read this previous post:

https://manuelboymejorada.wordpress.com/2013/08/31/down-the-drain/

A rising tide of anger

Being critical of the President’s decisions and leadership style doesn’t translate to being “anti-PNoy”. But the President must realize that this rising tide of anger is not being orchestrated or instigated by political forces. it is a legitimate expression of the people’s grievances. If he fails to comprehend that, this sentiment could shift and become a strong “anti-PNoy” movement.

Senate President Franklin Drilon parties with Janet Napoles

Senate President Franklin Drilon parties with Janet Napoles

In an exclusive report, Arnold Clavio of GMA TV 7 reported that Senate President Franklin M. Drilon could not say he doesn’t know Janet Lim Napoles. In fact, pictures of them together at a party were provided by a source. Here’s the video.

Drilon faces graft raps before Ombudsman

http://www.scribd.com/doc/166912674/Graft-raps-vs-Senate-President-Franklin-M-Drilon-over-pork-barrel-scam-in-Iloilo-City-filed

Drilon’s ‘golden’ watering system

It was, in the language of a government official who is an expert in the law on government procurement, “a bullet train ride” for the P13.5 million pork barrel project with a“manual irrigation system” for the Iloilo Esplanade as its centerpiece.

“Right from step one to step 10, almost every rule in Republic Act No. 9184 and its revised implementing rules and regulations were violated,” the procurement law resource person, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.

Whoever was behind it must have been in a hurry to award the contract to a favored contractor, he said. He added that the entire procurement process took 38 days, which he likened to “a bullet train ride” because of its swiftness.02sep_1 front

The expert outlined the violations of RA 9184, which governs all procurement for supplies and services in the public sector, based on what he found out in an examination of the documents released by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Regional Office No. 6:

  • The contract was advertised through an invitation to bid on Sept. 21, 2012 even before the funds reached DPWH Region VI.

The documents show that the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) issued the Special Allotment Release Order (SARO) on Sept. 17, 2012. It was received by DPWH central office on Sept. 27, 2012, which endorsed it to DPWH Region VI on Sept. 28, 2012. Under the law, the funds must already be available when a project is advertised for public bidding, the expert said.

He said the prior issuance of the SARO is not required before the procurement can start when a project is listed in the agency’s annual procurement plan or APP. This project isn’t listed in the APP of DPWH, he said. When the invitation to bid was posted, the SARO was still in transit. Hence, no funds available yet at the time it was advertised, he said. “That’s putting the cart ahead of the horse,” he said.

While this is not a “fatal” flaw, he said “speaks loudly that somebody powerful is moving the project forward.”

  • The invitation to bid was not published in a newspaper of national circulation at least once because it involved a contract exceeding P5 million.

RA 9184 and its revised implementing rules and regulations imposes a requirement for publication in a newspaper of national circulation for infrastructure contracts above P5 million. The DPWH Region VI did not present any proof this was complied with. TNT Libre also verified with the digital archive of The Manila Standard Today, which was designated as official newspaper for DPWH invitations to bid, for the dates Sept. 21 to 28, and this invitation to bid did not appear on any of these dates.

  • The Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) illegally raised the approved budget for the contract (ABC) after the pre-bid conference was conducted.

The invitation to bid issued on Sept. 21, 2012 placed the ABC for the project at P10,110,640.14. But subsequently, the ABC was changed twice and raised to P13,092,238.67 through what is known as a “bid bulletin”. This is illegal, the expert said. The bid bulletin is only for purposes of clarifying the bid documents to help bidders submit a responsive offer for the contract. The ABC is determined by the agency before it is advertised for bidding. “The BAC has no power to increase or decrease the ABC,” he said.

To support his contention, he cited Resolution No. 07-2005 of the Government Procurement Policy Board (GPPB) which oversees all government procurement activities and manages the PhilGEPS website. The resolution authorizes an “upward” adjustment of the ABC only after two failed biddings in which all submitted bids exceeded the amount, or no bids were submitted, or that a negotiated procurement after two failed biddings also resulted in failure.

“This will put the entire BAC in serious trouble,” he said.

  • The Notice of Award and Notice to Proceed to the winning contractor was not posted in the PhilGEPS website, which is again a violation of the revised implementing rules and regulations of RA 9184.

A key feature of the transparency mechanism for government procurement under RA 9184 is the posting of “milestone” events for a contract in the PhilGEPS website. The documents that must be posted on this website are the invitation to bid, bid bulletins, notice of award, contract agreement and notice to proceed. A “Certificate of Compliance” on these postings signed by Tayao and the new BAC chairman, Marilyn H. Celiz, dated June 7, 2013 show that these notices and contract agreement were not posted on the PhilGEPS website.  On the remarks column, there appeared a note that these “Cannot be posted due to changes in ABC as posted in the bid bulletins”.

These violations are “tell-tale signs” of a rigged bidding, the expert said. “One can readily see that there was an effort to conceal the bidding,” he said.

Fight it or perish (A letter from Bishop Socrates Villegas in 2008)

(This is a letter written by Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas when he was still Bishop of Balanga, Bataan on November 27, 2008. It has taken nearly five years before Filipinos have awakened to the truth about how graft and corruption has devoured so much of our lives and caused untold suffering of our people. I am reproducing it below for everybody to ponder upon.)

FIGHT IT OR PERISH!

Fighting Graft and Corruption

To steal is wrong. It is a crime. It is a sin. When stealing is done by those high up in power and authority, it carries a greater culpability. The corruption of the best is the worst. The social problem of graft and corruption in public life in our country has reached abominable and embarrassing proportions. How shall we describe graft and corruption in our country? It is systemic. It is rewarding. It hurts the poor the most.

Graft and corruption is systemic and structural. It is not only individual or isolated persons who corrupt and get corrupted. The present system—the elected and the electors, the employers and the employees, the appointed and the appointing powers—has become so corrupt that what we do need is a radical, systemic, interior change. Changing personages through the electoral process or even through legal processes like impeachment and court suits will not necessarily result in reform unless there is a willingness to change from the heart and soul. Pinning our hopes on legal processes unaccompanied by conversion from within will lead us to nowhere but deeper frustrations. We can hear the protest “Tama na. Sobra na. Alis na. Kami naman!”. It is important that those who investigate or prosecute corrupt officials will not gain political or financial benefits from convicting or absolving the accused.

Graft and corruption is rewarding and rewarded. It is hardly punished. The politicization of the judiciary and the perennial rumors about rogues in robes are problems we need to address urgently. Vigilance is lacking. Political will is weak. Prosecution plays favorites. The penal system is flawed. Pardon and clemency is cheap. Among our people, there is an increasing level of tolerance for corrupt officials. Corruption does not seem to anger many of us anymore. We are not outraged enough by graft and corruption. Widespread graft has sadly numbed our morals.

The public money that goes to graft is money stolen from the poor. Because of graft and corruption, school buildings cannot be constructed and teachers are not paid; public hospitals cannot protect us from untimely death; soldiers are deprived of their just wages.

Our biggest problem in our country is graft and corruption. This problem must be faced courageously now. We are risking the life of our nation if we continue to ignore it. I appeal to the consciences of our countrymen. Do not leave the solution of graft and corruption to corrupt officials. Our problem cannot be our solution. Let us come together as Catholic faithful to fight the sin of graft and corruption. We cannot profess faith in God and not get angry at widespread graft and corruption. Faith in God and outrage at sin go together. Outrage is not enough; it must lead to action. If we are not outraged by the sin of stealing happening all over our once beautiful land, could it be that our faith has turned cold and uncaring? If your faith has turned cold and uncaring, how can you be saved? Fight corruption or lose your soul!

I place this appeal at the feet of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal.

From the Cathedral of Saint Joseph , Balanga City , November 27, 2008

+SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS
Bishop of Balanga

When will you respond?

‘Shock and awe” to disguise corruption

I woke up at 3 o’ clock a.m. I check the iPad screen, and the date glows Sept 1, 2013. Unable to go back to sleep. So many things bothering the mind. The last few days revealed disturbing facts about how corruption has devoured Iloilo. It unmasks a strategy of “shock and awe” to mesmerize an unsuspecting public with a plethora of infrastructure projects, completely aware that it is one giant delivery van for plunder. I wonder: is there hope for this nation? Will the people awaken to the truth?
What I have disclosed so far is only the tip of the iceberg. But already, I can hear remarks like, “can’t this Boy Mejorada appreciate the deluge of projects that have come our way?” In a big way, quite a number of Ilonggos will look at me as villain. The officials behind these projects are painted as heroes. Indeed, Iloilo City hasn’t experienced the kind of infrastructure development before. On the surface, we have a lot to be grateful about.
Still, there’s a gnawing question at the back of the mind: do we just cast a blind eye at the corruption and embrace the good about it? Is corruption an inevitable evil that forms part of the cost for development? Do we keep quiet over the knowledge that tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of pesos are being pocketed as kickbacks?
It is a lonely battle — this expedition in investigative journalism. Fear grips a lot of people and effectively shuts their mouths. Most prefer to suffer in silence. But even as I navigate this minefield, I know I am on the right path, and I will not retreat. I will not stop.

Down the drain

When the Iloilo Esplanade was inaugurated on Aug. 18, 2012, its patron, Senator Franklin Drilon, was asked this question: “Sir, why is it that with the beautiful park you have brought to Iloilo City, it lacks a basic necessity, which is a rest room?” The reporters who had flocked around Drilon were surprised to see his reaction. His faced darkened; he was displeased. “Why ask for something that is not there? Be contented with what we have!” The senator was irritated.

Image

Senate President Franklin Drilon waves to crowds along with Sarangani congressman Manny Pacquiao during the inauguration of the Iloilo Esplanade.

Indeed, that was a valid question. The government claims to have spent P70 million  on the 1.2 kilometer riverside park. With such extravagance showered upon the project, it’s hard to see how something so basic could have been overlooked. The project is supposed to draw hordes and hordes of tourists. Where are they supposed to relieve themselves when the call of nature comes? “Just go to a nearby restaurant!” was the retort of Drilon.

The bladed remarks of Drilon comes back to mind after it was revealed that a month after the Iloilo Esplanade was inaugurated, he drew from his pork barrel fund, the so-called Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), and allocated P13.5 million for “completion works”. That fund release was kept under wraps. There was no media announcement as Drilon is wont to do each time he brings funds to the city.

As it turned out, the extra money was primarily for a “manual irrigation system” and “sprigging” and installation of “concrete pavers”. It was substantially a ghost project, because about 70% of the supposed scopes of work are mere paper work items, intended to justify the expenditures. That huge chunk of the money went into the pocket of somebody, and I won’t even have to mention who that somebody is.

The centerpiece of this pork barrel scam is a network of PVC pipes stretching about 1.2 kilometers. Under the program of work prepared by the DPWH, about P6.4 million was earmarked for this project. But a check on the ground fails to persuade us that Drilon (I specifically mention him, not DPWH, because he ordered all of these things) spent even a fraction of that amount for the watering system. Our chief photographer, Leo Solinap, went around the Iloilo Esplanade and saw PVC pipes sticking out of the ground. There were no valves or faucets. It wasn’t working.Image

An ordinary layman will not find it hard to conclude that this is a scam. Drilon had the money, but he didn’t even bother to provide for a restroom facility which was the clamor of the people. He chose instead to flush down the drain taxpayers’ money for a sophisticated sounding plant watering system to the prejudice of the Filipino people.