By: Roy Bersales
IN a surprising move, the Office of the Ombudsman on Monday (November 14) ordered the Senate to dismiss Sen. Joel Villanueva from the upper chamber of the Philippine Congress after the anti-graft investigation body found him and nine others guilty of two counts of corruption charges, one count of malversation of public funds, and one count of malversation thru falsification of public documents.
Villanueva’s case was in connection with the P10 Million Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam that happened when he was still a member of the House of Representatives representing
Citizens Battle Against Corruption (CIBAC) party-list in 2008.
Aside from Villanueva, other respondents for the four criminal charges are former Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary and now Bohol Rep. Arthur Yap, Villanueva’s staff Ronald Samonte, DA employee Delia Ladera, NABCOR representatives Alan Javellana, Romulo Relevo, Ma. Julie Villaralvo-Johnson, Rhodora Mendoza, and Maria Ninez Guanizo, and Aaron Foundation Philippines, Inc. (AFPI) President Alfredo Ronquillo.
It was then Justice Secretary Leila de Lima who spearheaded the filing of charges before the Office of the Ombudsman in connection with the PDAF scam involving several senators and representatives.
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales said the Senate headed by Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III should implement the dismissal order.
Aquilino’s implementation of the order of another branch of government is a challenge since he strongly defied the order of the Sandiganbayan when the Senate was ordered by the Sandiganbayan to suspend Sen. Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito for 90 days, while the senator is facing graft charges.
Pimentel previously told the media that he could not suspend Ejercito because the Senate has no power to do it on any of its members.
Sandiganbayan is a higher court than the Office of the Ombudsman.
Ejercito finally followed the Sandiganbayan after the Supreme Court made a decision saying the court did not abuse its authority when it suspended the senator.
Morales said Villanueva along with several others are set to be tried by the Sandiganbayan.
Morales stressed that Villanueva was dismissed after a number of pieces of evidence showed that Villanueva was found liable for the misuse of his PDAF.
Ombudsman’s investigators have found out that on June 10 2008, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has released P10 million out of Villanueva’s PDAF “for the implementation of agri-based livelihood projects in the various congressional districts in Region XI.”
The investigators continued that after two days, Villanueva requested then DA Secretary Yap to release the amount to the National Agri-business Corporation (NABCOR), as Implementing Agency (IA), with the AFPI as NGO-partner.
On June 19 2008, a Memorandum of Agreement was entered into between Yap (as DA representative), and the NABCOR.
To utilize the P10 Million PDAF, respondents purchased pechay, radish, sitaw, okra, hybrid yellow corn seedlings, liquid fertilizers, and threshers from MJ Rickson Trading Corporation.
The items procured were intended for the residents of the municipalities of Pantukan, Nabunturan, Tambongon, Bongabong, Napnapan, Mipangi, Anislagan and Magsaysay in the Compostela Valley province.
However, according to the Office of the Ombudsman, deeper investigation showed that the (1) localities were not suitable for farming as the vast majority of land was good for banana and coconut plantations; (2) not a single name in the purported list of beneficiaries was a registered voter, or resident of the providence; (3) local officials attested and certified that no agri-based livelihood projects were ever implemented by AFPI.
Documents also disclosed that the AFPI had no financial capability to carry out the P10million project considering its measly capital stock contribution was P68,000.00.
On top of that, the MJ Rickson could not be located in its business address in Martiniko Street, Malabon City.
At the same time, the same company was never registered by the Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority, nor registered with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).
The Office of the Ombudsman has also discovered that the respondents have intentionally submitted fabricated and undated documents apparently to support the “ghost project” such as Accomplishment Reports, Disbursement Reports, Acceptance Reports, and liquidation documents.
Morales strongly stressed that the Office of the Ombudsman has sufficient and strong pieces and evidence showing the guilt of Villanueva for violating Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, or the Republic Act No. 3019).
A report from the Commission on Audit (COA) had revealed then CIBAC Rep. Villanueva had allocated more than P19 Million out of his PDAF to a number of several non-government-organizations from 2007-2009.
COA, specifically noted that Villanueva’s allocations include P9.7 million to Aaron Foundation, P4.8 million to Kaagapay Magpakailanman Foundation, P3.8 million to Masaganang Ani para sa Magsasaka Foundation Inc. (MAMFI), and another P1 million to Life Giver Development Foundation for a total of P19.3 Million.
When the scam was a hot news during the previous administration, Villanueva has admitted some of PDAF allocations on some NGOs were true, but he claimed that he did not gain even a single centavo from the projects.
He, however, denied that he was involved in some of the NGO projects tainted with corruption.