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PH Ombudsman dismisses Senator Estrada’s staff member and several others due to dishonesty

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales
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A FEW days after dismissing from their posts two staff members of former Senator Juan Ponce Enrile and several other government employees for dishonesty, the Ombudsaman on Wednesday dismissed another batch of government workers for the same offense and this time it includes a staff member of Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada.

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, in a statement, identified the dismissed personnel as Pauline Therese Mary Labayen, Sen. Estrada’s depuity chief of staff; Antonio Ortiz, Technology Resource Center director general; Gondelina Amata, National Livelihood Development Corporation president; Victor Roman Cacal, National Agribusiness Corporation (Nabocor) paralegal;, Maria Niñez Guañizo, Nabocor Accounting Division OIC; Romulo Relevo, General Services Unit head,; Ma. Julie Villaralvo-Johnson, Nabocor chief accountant; Rhodora Mendoza, Nabocor director for financial management services; Dennis Cunanan, TRC Director General; Evelyn Sucgang, NLDC director for account management and development; Chita Jalandoni, NLDC department manager; Emmanuel Alexis Sevidal, NLDC director; Marivic Jover, TRC chief accountant; and Sofia Cruz, NLDC project development assistant.

Morales said they were dismissed after being found guilty of Grave Misconduct, Conduct Prejudicial to the Best Interest of the Service and Dishonesty. She also noted that the dismissal order carries the accessory penalties of perpetual disqualification from holding public office and forfeiture of all retirement benefits.  In the event of separation from the service, the penalty is convertible to a fine equivalent to respondent’s salary for one year.

Labayen, et al. are also being tried before the Sandiganbayan for their involvement in the anomalous utilization of the 2007 to 2009 PDAF of former Senator Jinggoy Estrada, Morales added.

Senator Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada Photo © http://newsinfo.inquirer.net

Investigation conducted by the Office of the Ombudsman found that from 2007 to 2009, a total of P480,650,000.00 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 investigation also showed that P278 million was released by the Department of Budget and Management through nine (9) Special Allotment Release Orders (SARO).  After the release of the SARO, Estrada, through Labayen, identified the NABCOR, NLDC and TRC as implementing agencies and the funds were coursed through the Napoles’ NGOs —  Masaganing Ani Para sa Magsasaka Foundation, Inc. and Social Development Program for Farmers Foundation, Inc.

The P278 million fund was intended to be buy livelihood materials, farm implements, livelihood kits in dressmaking, nail care, pickled fruits and veggies, jewelry-making, soap-making, barbering, silkscreen printing, aromatic candle making, wellness massage, cell phone repair, basic auto repair, food processing, etc.

The investigation further showed that Estrada allegedly identified the following provinces as project-beneficiaries, namely:  Misamis Occidental, Zamboanga Sibugay, Tawi-Tawi, Cotabato, Batangas, Quezon, Pangasinan, Bulacan, Agusan Del Sur, Agusan Del Norte, Laguna, Tuguegarao, and Compostela Valley.

However, 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 all fabricated.

Moreover, during the investigation, whistleblower Benhur Luy submitted records to show that “Estrada received, through Labayen and Ruby Tuason, total commissions, rebates, or kickbacks amounting to at least P183,793,750.00.”

Except for Labayen, Ortiz and Jalandoni, who did not submit any counter-affidavit to the Ombudsman, the other 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.

However, the Ombudsman brushed aside their arguments as it 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 (1) the NGOs that received the multi-million peso PDAF releases did not have the track record to implement the projects; (2) the selection of the NGOs, as well as the alleged procurement of goods for distribution of beneficiaries did not undergo public bidding; (3) the suppliers denied having dealt with any of the NGOs; and (4) 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 NGO 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  Ombudsman Morales.

According to Ombudsman Morales, “in most instances, the disbursement vouchers (DV) were accomplished, signed and approved on the same day. Certainly, the required careful examination of the transaction’s supporting documents could not have taken place if the DV was processed and approved in one day.

Nelson Flores, J.D., MSCK
A former reporter of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Manila Standard Today, and a regular columnist of the Metro Manila based daily tabloid newspaper Hataw; Nelson Flores is also the former Senior Associate Editor of the Houston based Fil-Am Press and former anchor of dzXL and dzRJ's weekend talk show Usaping Bayan. Mr. Flores has a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Law degrees from the University of Santo Tomas and Adamson University and a holder of a study certificate from the Diocesan House of Studies, Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI). He is a Freemason and member of Reagan Lodge 1037 in Houston Heights under the jurisdiction of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Texas and a member of the Missionary Society of Christ the King (MSCK).

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