Aug 092013
Still denying his department’s alleged involvement in the supposed pork barrel scam, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala on Friday said he doesn’t personally know Janet Lim-Napoles, the businesswoman at the center of the issue.

“Hindi ko po kilala ‘yan. Never ko pong nakilala siya, hindi ko po siya nakilala,” Alcala said in an interview on GMA News TV’s “News To Go” when asked if he knew Napoles.

Napoles was accused of being the mastermind of a P10-billion pork barrel scam involving ghost projects allegedly used for kickbacks by lawmakers.

Whistleblower Merlina Suñas earlier said the Department of Agriculture (DA) has been instrumental in the funneling of state funds to dummy organizations — an accusation Alcala ordered investigated.

Alcala said agriculture officials who’ll be found guilty of involvement in the anomaly will be facing the full force of the law. “Ang bilin ko kung may tauhan na talagang nadawit o sinadya na palusutan ang ganitong bagay ay dapat na humanda siyang managot sa batas,” he said.

In the same interview, Alcala reiterated that the DA initially refused to take projects funded by lawmakers through their pork barrel, or Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), to avoid being dragged into controversies.

“Buhat po noong ako ay ma-appoint from 2010 hanggang July of 2012 wala po ni isang PDAF na dumaan sa kagawaran kasi marami pong sabi-sabi na hindi po tama, hindi maganda ito kaya iniwas ko ang department kasi masyadong marami na pong problema ang department nang abutin ko. So two years po mahigit. That shows na hindi po kami interesado dito,” he said.

However, they changed their policy in 2012 when lawmakers questioned them, Alcala said.

“Napagsabihan kami na paano namin matutulungan ang programs ng agrikultura na padadaanan ng pondo,” he said.

When they allowed PDAF-funded projects, they made sure that safety nets are in place to prevent anomalies.

“Unang-una nagkaroon ng pre-accreditation at individual po ito, may checklist na ibinigay at isa po ‘yan sa nakapasa,” said Alcala, referring to Napoles’ trading firm JLN.

Alcala also said that to prevent corruption, they released the funds in tranches. He said this is the reason why of the P83.2 million allotted to Napoles’ Kaupdanan para sa Mangunguma Foundation Inc (KMFI), only P38.25 million had been released and should now be accounted for.

Napoles allegedly set up 20 non-government organizations (NGOs) to get funds from the government.

“That means kung hindi nila ma-liquidate, hindi po talaga namin ibibigay (‘yung ibang pera). Ngayon po na nakita na ito ay questionable, ini-hold na po namin,” he said.

The DA chief also said that they have formed a special group to check if the funds really went to the intended beneficiaries. There was also a committee that will check and double check the reports on their fund releases, if there really was an anomaly.

Alcala earlier replaced DA assistant secretary Ophelia Agawin as interim chair of the NGO accreditation committee, which approves groups that receive funds from lawmakers.

Agawin had earlier denied that she was the conduit to approve bogus foundations to funnel funds into.

Agawin had also been implicated in the P728-million fertilizer fund scam where funds supposedly meant to benefit poor farmers allegedly ended up in former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s campaign kitty. The case against Agawin, however, was junked. Amita O. Legaspi/KBK, GMA News

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