US$20 million in Philippine funds for storm recovery efforts 'stolen'
By Nancy C. Carvajal, Asia News NetworkPhilippine Daily Inquirer--Ninety-seven mayors of cities and towns in Luzon ravaged by Tropical Storm Ondoy and Typhoon Pepeng in 2009 supposedly received 900 million pesos (US$20.7 million) in Malampaya gas funds through bogus nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) allegedly formed by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles.
August 12, 2013, 12:01 am TWN
Documents obtained by the Inquirer show that the funds were released through the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), the agency designated to support the rehabilitation of agrarian communities damaged by the two storms.
The DAR released the funds on the basis of written requests for assistance from the mayors of affected towns and cities.
But according to an affidavit submitted to investigators by Merlina Sunas, 59, a former employee at Napoles' JLN Corp. and now one of eight whistle-blowers in the 10-billion-peso pork barrel scam, the Malampaya funds did not reach the local governments and instead “all went to the pocket” of Napoles.
Sunas said that aside from being assigned by Napoles as president of the dummy NGO People's Organization for Progress and Development Foundation Inc., she also served as JLN's coordinator in the DAR for the Malampaya fund project.
“There were no deliveries of funds, because the funds were immediately withdrawn three days after the checks for them, which were in the NGOs' names, had been deposited in their bank accounts,” Sunas said. “All the cash was brought to Madam Janet.”
As coordinator, she said, she was assigned to prepare the documents for the whole project, including the letters of the mayors asking for assistance addressed to then Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman.
“Me and the staff of JLN prepared the letters of request on orders of Madam Janet,” Sunas said.
She said she and other JLN staff members also prepared another set of documents for the release of the funds. This was the tripartite agreement between the local government, the DAR representative, and the head of the NGO.
Sunas said all the tripartite agreement documents she prepared bore the name of then Agrarian Reform Assistant Secretary Narciso Nieto as signatory representing the DAR.
“My role was limited to the preparation of the documents. How much was the commission or share of other parties, I have no idea,” she said when asked if she knew how much commission government officials got, if any.
The NGO heads' and Nieto's signatures were genuine, but the local government officials' signatures were forged,” Sunas said.