Probers taking second look at ‘pork’ raps vs Tesda chief
Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) - June 24, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Investigators are taking a second look at allegations linking Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) chief Joel Villanueva to the pork barrel fund scam.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima bared this yesterday as she confirmed a report of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) that Villanueva’s signatures in documents gathered by pork barrel scam investigators and being used as evidence were forged.

She said this finding would be “a very important factor” to be considered by the NBI in concluding the fact-finding probe for the third batch of cases related to the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) anomaly.

She said that there is such a finding, and it really has to be considered in the evaluation.

“The signatures of Secretary Joel in most documents examined were not written by the same hand per the NBI, meaning they were forged,” she stressed.

She explained that while the pork barrel scam whistle-blowers led by Benhur Luy admitted to forging signatures in the liquidation documents of the bogus non-government organizations of alleged PDAF scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles, the forgery of signatures in letter-referrals and memoranda of agreement is another matter.

De Lima, however, would not specify which documents bear the forged signatures of the TESDA chief, an ally of President Aquino.

She only said “most” of the documents examined by the NBI showed this result.

De Lima said last week that the NBI was already set to file the third batch of PDAF cases with the Office of the Ombudsman this week.

But yesterday, she explained that investigators would first need to review their initial findings due to the report of the Questioned Document Unit of the NBI on Villanueva’s signatures.

“We have to carefully look at the strength of evidence. Our main standard in transmitting the cases to the ombudsman is the strength of evidence. We want to file cases that we can confidently say will prosper in the trial,” she stressed.

But De Lima gave assurance that the review of the next batch of cases, in which Villanueva is among the subjects, would not take long.

In a four-page report dated March 31, the NBI has found some forgeries in the alleged documents implicating Villanueva in the PDAF scam.

The bureau’s document experts said Villanueva’s signatures in the documents did not match with those in the custody of the Commission on Audit (COA).

“The questioned signatures on one hand and the standard/specimen signatures of one Emmanuel Joel Villanueva on the other hand, were not written by one and the same person,” the report, a copy of which was obtained by The STAR, concluded.

The NBI report was signed by Carolyn Moldez Pitoy, chief of questioned documents, laboratory division and noted by Edward Villarta, deputy director of the forensic laboratory division.

Lawyer Romulo Asis, head of NBI Anti-Graft Division, requested the handwriting examination.

No less than Aquino, who was Villanueva’s former colleague in the House of Representatives, raised doubts about the credibility of the evidence linking Villanueva to the pork barrel scam.

Meanwhile, President Aquino was asked yesterday to relieve Budget Undersecretary Mario Relampagos, who is facing graft charges for his alleged involvement in the pork barrel scam.

Rep. Terry Ridon of party-list group Kabataan made the call in the wake of the decision of Malacañang to keep Relampagos in his post, though the Palace stripped him of his authority to sign fund disbursement documents and tasked him to do monitoring and evaluation work.

Ridon said the embattled budget undersecretary should be prohibited from performing his duties until the pork barrel scam is resolved.

“He is in the center of all these issues and the public cannot rest comfortably as long as indicted personalities like him remain in their posts,” he said.

He said Relampagos, though deprived of his authority to sign fund releases, still has access to documents in the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) related to the pork barrel scam.

He added that failure on the part of Palace officials, including Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, to take the appropriate action against Relampagos could mean that they may be afraid that the undersecretary might squeal on them.

Ridon noted that no less than alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles has dragged Abad into the mess.

He said Aquino and Abad should not be seen as coddling their Palace underling.

According to pork barrel scam whistle-blowers led by Benhur Luy, they coordinated with Relampagos’ office for the release of billions in pork barrel funds of senators and congressmen.

They said the money came not only from the annual P25-billion PDAF but also from the P32-billion Malampaya Fund that is supposedly reserved for energy-related projects.

They revealed that P900 million of the Malampaya fund was diverted to lawmakers’ questionable projects through the Department of Agrarian Reform and bogus Napoles foundations.

Ridon said he has in his possession documents showing Relampagos signed SAROs (special allotment release order, a DBM fund release document) for P470 million in the early part of 2012.

He said the funds were released to the office of the DAR secretary apparently for lawmakers’ projects.

However, he said Relampagos subsequently recalled the fund releases without giving a reason.

He added that the SAROs indicated that Aquino approved the releases.

Relampagos was also implicated in the 2004 fertilizer fund scam.

He signed the P728-million SARO for fertilizer allocations to congressmen, governors and town mayors who were allies of the Arroyo administration.

According to Arroyo critics, the funds were used to ensure her victory in the presidential election that year. She beat the late actor Fernando Poe Jr. by about one million votes. With Jess Diaz

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