Napoles, pork and other perks: The mother of all scams

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Sunday, December 29, 2013

JANET Lim-Napoles became a household name because of the controversial multi-billion peso scam. She established fake non-government organizations under the JLN Group of Companies to siphon off billions of public funds.

The businesswoman, who is presently detained at the Fort Santo Domingo for the alleged illegal detention of her personal assistant, whistleblower Benhur Luy, supposedly connived with members of Congress to defraud the public using the legislators' Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF) or pork barrel.

Several individuals, including Napoles herself, have been charged before the Office of the Ombudsman in relation to this scam, considered the biggest in 2013. As the public awaits a court verdict, here are top five Napoles- and pork barrel-related news you need to remember as the year ends.

1. Lawmakers bid PDAF goodbye

In an unexpected unanimous decision, the Supreme Court (SC) justices voted to declare the pork barrel system as unconstitutional. Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr. inhibited from the voting because his son, Lord Allan Jay Velasco, has taken his oath as district representative of Marinduque.

In its ruling, the SC said the remaining 2013 PDAF amounting to P14.6 billion should be returned to state coffers. Through a piece of legislation, Congress realigned the amount for the rehabilitation and relief of victims of Typhoon Yolanda in the Visayas.

Members of Congress said public outrage over the pork barrel scam swayed the SC to reverse its past three rulings upholding the constitutionality of the PDAF. In its 1994, 2001, and 2012 rulings, the SC ruled in favor of PDAF’s legality.

Because of the SC ruling, Congress, which holds the power of the purse, realigned the P25-billion PDAF allocation for the year 2014 to several government agencies that can meet the needs of the lawmakers' constituents. In the past, congressmen allocate P30 million of their yearly P70-million PDAF to educational and medical assistance while P40 million go to infrastructure projects. Senators, meanwhile, get P200 million each annually.

2. Enrile, Jinggoy, Revilla charged with plunder

For allegedly conniving with Napoles, Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr. were charged with plunder before the Office of the Ombudsman.

Plunder, which involves the misuse of at least P50 million in taxpayers' money, is a non-bailable offense and punishable by life imprisonment, forfeiture of assets and disqualification from entering government service.

Napoles, tagged as the pork barrel scam mastermind, was also charged with plunder, malversation and corruption of public officials.

More than a month later, then Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon, a close ally of President Benigno Aquino III, was also charged with malversation, direct bribery and graft and corrupt practices. This led to Biazon's resignation as chief of the Bureau of Customs.

Former congressmen also face charges for receiving kickbacks from the pork scam.

3. 'Million People March'

Filipinos wearing white trooped together to the Luneta Park in Manila to express their disgust over the controversial pork barrel scam. Local celebrities and politicians, schools, and other groups joined the protest dubbed the "Million People March."

Watch this video:

Although the protest only managed to gather thousands, and not one million as expected, it was followed by another gathering at the Ayala Avenue in Makati City. [View the photos.]

Organizers not only demanded for the scrapping of the pork barrel but for the legislation of the freedom of information (FOI) bill, a measure aimed at granting the public wider access to government documents.

4. Napoles a cemetery

With a P10-million reward for her capture, Napoles had no choice but to surrender to the government; and what better way to do it than in a cemetery?

Napoles's surrender was arranged by her then lawyer Lorna Kapunan through a former colleague in a law firm who happens to be Aquino's spokesperson, lawyer Edwin Lacierda.

According to Lacierda, on August 28, he called up Kapunan if the latter's client was willing to surrender. Lacierda said Kapunan instructed him to go to Whitespace in Pasong Tamo, Makati City where he met with her and Napoles’s husband, Jimmy. The group then proceeded to Heritage Park in Taguig City where they fetched Napoles, who was accompanied by another woman, at past 9 p.m.

At 9:37 p.m., Napoles arrived in Malacanang to surrender to President Aquino himself.

A former senator, Franciso Tatad, however, had another version of the story.

According to Tatad, President Aquino had lunch with Napoles before the scripted surrender of the pork barrel scam queen.

Tatad said Napoles was already in the Palace in the morning of August 28 with Lacierda and had "closed-door conversations" for the next six hours with him, Aquino, and Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas.

Lacierda dismissed Tatad's statements as lies and even offered his resignation if the former senator will be able to prove what he said.

5. Disbursement Acceleration Program

Equally controversial as the PDAF system is the Disbursement Acceleration Program or DAP of the Aquino administration. It was much talked about that President Aquino defended the DAP in a rare televised address.

"I repeat: The issue here is theft. I did not steal. Those who have been accused of stealing are those who are sowing confusion; they want to dismantle all that we have worked so hard to achieve on the straight path," Aquino said, as he stressed that the DAP is not the same as the pork barrel. [Read more about the President’s speech.]

Of the DAP releases in 2011 and 2012, only nine percent was disbursed for projects suggested by legislators, the President said.

Secretary Florencio Abad Jr. of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) said the DAP releases, which were mostly for infrastructure projects, was designed to ramp up spending and help accelerate economic expansion. DAP releases, which reached P137.3 billion as of October 1 this year, were culled from so called “savings.”

The legality of the DAP is being questioned before the SC. (Sunnex)

Local news

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