Senate mulls new probe of ‘pork’ dealings with NABCOR
Marvin Sy (The Philippine Star) - March 20, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - As it prepares to wrap up its investigation into the pork barrel scam, the Senate Blue Ribbon committee is considering taking another look at the issue after the congressional recess – with the National Agribusiness Corp. (NABCOR) in its crosshairs.

At least 79 members of the House of Representatives were said to have coursed some P1.7 billion of their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) – the official name of the congressional pork barrel – through NABCOR, which implemented their projects.

But committee chairman Teofisto Guingona III said no hearings would be held during the break, which would last until May 4.

Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago earlier filed a resolution calling on the Blue Ribbon committee to include the NABCOR issue in its probe into the pork barrel scam and to invite its former officials Rhodora Mendoza and Victor Roman Cacal as resource persons.

Guingona said that he would rather wait for Santiago’s resolution to be taken up in plenary and referred to his committee before acting on it.

“In deference to the body, we need the resolution to be referred to the Blue Ribbon, then we can go ahead,” Guingona told reporters yesterday. “We’re inclined to hear it, why not?”

Santiago’s call came at a time when several senators were calling for an end to the hearings on the pork barrel scam as key witnesses had already testified and given the nation and concerned authorities a clearer picture of the issue. They said the panel should focus now on other issues, including the alleged misuse of the Malampaya Fund.

Guingona said that he still has to evaluate whether it is time to end the hearings on the pork barrel scam issue and stressed he is mindful of the sentiments of his colleagues.

“This break we’re evaluating everything. We are not yet done with the evaluation,” he said.

The committee conducted nine hearings on the issue, beginning in March last year.

Guingona has asked Senators Jinggoy Estrada, Ramon Revilla Jr. and Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile to submit their respective comments on allegations raised against them during the hearings in the spirit of fairness.

Enrile said he would submit to the committee a copy of his counter-affidavit he prepared for the Office of the Ombudsman, while Revilla has not yet responded to Guingona’s request. Estrada, for his part, said he would not be submitting anything to the committee.

“We certainly have to look at what they give us, if they give us anything,” Guingona said.

On Estrada’s and Revilla’s possible failure to submit their positions to the committee, Guingona said he would “take it as a reinforcement of their stand that they do not wish to participate, that they inhibited themselves.”

The three senators were respondents in the plunder complaint filed by the National Bureau of Investigation with the Office of the Ombudsman in connection with the pork barrel scam.

Probe agri loan fund

For Sen. Grace Poe, the Senate should also look into why only P117.37 million of the P8.851 billion in loan approved under Agricultural Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (ACEF) had been repaid as of June 2010.

In calling for a probe through Senate Resolution 549, Poe noted that growth rate in the agricultural sector has remained steady at a little over two percent despite efforts to improve the country’s farm productivity levels through the ACEF.

“Despite the previous pronouncements that the Philippines would have attained rice self-sufficiency status last year and that locally produced rice would be exported, self-sufficiency target was pushed to 2016,” Poe said in her three-page resolution.

The senator stressed there is an urgent need for the government to focus its attention on agriculture as the sector currently employs 32.2 percent of the Philippine labor force, or 12.1 million people.

Had the ACEF program been implemented properly, it would have helped prepare farmers for trade liberalization under the ASEAN economic integration in 2015, Poe said.

Poe cited statements from Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala and undersecretary for administration and finance Antonio Fleta during a Senate finance committee hearing on the 2014 proposed budget that total tariff collected intended for ACEF was P12.26 billion.

She said the state-owned Quedan and Rural Credit Guarantee Corp. (Quedancor) alone has yet to settle about P1 billion it borrowed under ACEF. Quedancor is under the DA.

The fund releases through ACEF suffered a setback when holders of 216 of 316 accounts for loan structuring sought longer restructuring schedule in 2011.

The NBI, for its part, said it is checking allegations by former NABCOR employees that some media personalities had benefited from the diversion of PDAF coursed through the state agency. – With Christina Mendez, Michael Punongbayan, Edu Punay

AGRICULTURAL COMPETITIVENESS ENHANCEMENT FUND AGRICULTURE SECRETARY PROCESO ALCALA ANTONIO FLETA BLUE RIBBON COMMITTEE EDU PUNAY FOR SEN GRACE POE GUINGONA OFFICE OF THE OMBUDSMAN
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