by Jun Ramirez
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales has ordered the dismissal from the service of former Senator Jinggoy Estrada’s deputy chief of staff and 13 other government officials implicated in the alleged anomalous disbursement of the ex-lawmaker’s P480.5-million Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).
Apart from dismissal, the 14 government officials were also permanently banned from holding public office in the future after they were found administratively guilty of grave misconduct, dishonesty, and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.
Ordered dismissed were Estrada’s deputy chief of staff Therese Mary Labayen; Antonio Ortiz, Dennis Cunanan and Marivic Jover of the Technology Resource Center (TRC); Gondelina Amata, Evelyn Sucgang, Chita Jalndoni, Emmanuel Alexis Sevidal and Sofia Cruz of the National Livelihood Development Corporation (NLDC); Victor Roman Cacal, Maria Ninez Guanizo, Romulo Relevo, Julie Villaralvo-Johnson, and Rhodora Mendoza of the National Agribusiness Corporation (Nabcor).
But in the event of separation from the service, the penalty is convertible to a fine equivalent to respondent’s salary for one year.
Labayen and the 13 other respondents are also being tried before the Sandiganbayan for their alleged involvement in the alleged misuse of Estrada’s PDAF from 2007 to 2009.
Investigation found out that for the three-year period, a total of P480.6 million was taken from Senator Estrada’s PDAF, out of which amount P278 million was coursed through non-government organizations (NGOs) controlled by Janet Lim Napoles, the alleged pork barrel scam mastermind.
The P278 million was released by the Department of Budget and Management after which, Estrada allegedly through Labayen, identified the Nabcor, NLDC, and TRC as implementing agencies, and coursed through the Napoles NGOs – Masaganang Ani Para sa Magsasaka Foundation, Inc. and Social Development Program for Farmers Foundation, Inc.
The P278-million fund was intended to buy livelihood materials like farm implements, livelihood kits in dressmaking, nail care, pickled fruits, and veggies, jewelry-making, soap-making, silkscreen printing, aromatic candle making, wellness massage, cell phone repair, basic auto repair, and food processing.
Estrada allegedly identified the following provinces as project-beneficiaries: Misamis Occidental, Zamboanga Sibugay, Tawi-Tawi, Cotabato, Batangas, Quezon, Pangasinan, Bulacan, Agusan del Sur, Agusan del Norte, Laguna, Tuguegarao, and Compostela Valley.
Actual field validation conducted by the Ombudsman revealed that no deliveries were made to the supposed beneficiaries.
Mayors and municipal agriculturists denied receiving any of the items from the office Senator Estrada, the implementing agencies, or any of the NGOs.
The documents submitted by the NGOs such as disbursement, progress, accomplishment reports, fund utilization reports, delivery and inspection reports were allegedly all fabricated.
During the investigation, whistleblower Benhur Luy submitted records to show that “Estrada received, through Labayen and Ruby Tuason, total commissions, or kickbacks amounting to at least P183.7 million.”
As defense, some of the respondents argued that “the filing of the complaints was premature because the Commission on Audit (COA) had yet to issue notices of disallowances on disbursements drawn from the PDAF.
But Ombudsman Morales ruled that “administrative proceedings pertaining to a COA disallowance is distinct and separate from a preliminary investigation in a criminal case which have arisen from the same set of facts. Both proceedings may proceed independently of each other.”
The COA observed that the NGOs that received the multi-million peso PDAF releases did not have the track record to implement the projects and the selection of the NGOs, as well as the alleged procurement of goods for distribution of beneficiaries did not undergo public bidding.
COA also noted that the suppliers denied having dealt with any of the NGOs and the reported beneficiaries were unknown or could not be located at their given addresses.
“The concerned officials of Nabcor, NLDC, and TRC did not even bother to conduct a due diligence audit on the selected NGOs and the supplier by the NGO to provide the livelihood kits, which supply was carried out without the benefit of public bidding, in contravention of existing procurement rules and regulations,” added Morales.