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'Jinggoy' denies links to misuse of PDAF.

Manila, Philippines - Sen. Jose "Jinggoy" Estrada yesterday filed before the Office of the Ombudsman his counter-affidavit disputing his involvement in the alleged misuse of Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

In his 40-page affidavit, Estrada said he had no participation in the alleged diversion of pork barrel funds to bogus non-government organizations (NGO) said to be controlled by Janet Lim-Napoles.

The senator maintained he did not amass, accumulate, or acquire ill-gotten wealth and that he has no participation or knowledge in the transfer of any amounts forming part of his PDAF allocation to anyone other than the legally intended beneficiaries.

He said the charges hurled against him are not supported by hard facts and evidence, merely by "bare allegations of second-hand information, hearsay, malicious suspicion, and speculations. "

Political Ploy

"I believe that these are nothing more than a high-level political ploy to undermine the opposition of which I am part in light of the coming 2016 national elections," Estrada said.

Estrada is one of the senators charged with plunder over the alleged P10-billion pork barrel fund mess that the government is investigating. Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile and Senator Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr. have also been charged.

Enrile filed his own counter-affidavit last Dec. 20, 2013, and also denied any involvement in the pork barrel scam. Revilla had also earlier denied the allegations but has yet to file his counter-affidavit.

In his affidavit, Senator Estrada pointed out that even the government's key witnesses, including whistleblower Benhur Luy, admitted that they have no personal knowledge of the supposed transaction between him and Napoles. He said these witnesses also admitted under oath that they falsified documents and forged signatures.

Estrada asserted that his endorsements of certain NGOs from a limited list of duly and previously accredited NGOs were "recommendatory at best," with the choice of NGO still left to the implementing agency.

"These endorsements merely reflected the choice of intended project beneficiaries and were based on the willingness of the NGO to undertake the chosen project, subject to compliance with existing accounting and auditing rules and regulations," he stressed.

He said the Commission on Audit (COA), in its special audit report on the PDAF, clearly stated that it is the implementing agency's responsibility to look into the feasibility of the project proposals and the qualifications of the NGOs proposed to be involved in the projects.

"Had there been any objections or problem with respect to the endorsements made for the NGOs, I should have received word from the implementing agency or the COA which conducts post-audits of the projects. I received none," he said.

He also defended his staff members who were implicated in the issue, including his former appointments secretary Pauline Labayen, who is also among the respondents in the case, saying there is no probable cause to hold her for plunder.

"At no time did I instruct or persuade any of my staff to commit and participate in any illegal act, specifically in any irregular and unlawful transaction involving my PDAF allocation, nor did I order or influence them to receive any commission, kickbacks, or rebates from Napoles, Benhur Luy, and their associates," he said.

Fund Subsidy For Manila

Meanwhile, Senator Estrada yesterday refuted perceptions he may have violated the ruling of the Supreme Court that declared the PDAF unconstitutional when he opted to realign his P200-million pork barrel allotment for 2014 to three local government units, including Manila where his father is mayor.

Senator Estrada said the financial subsidies he gave to Manila City, Caloocan City, and Lla-lo town in Cagayan during deliberations on the 2014 National Budget "went through the process" and were approved by the Senate Committee on Finance, the Senate President, and eventually by President Benigno Aquino III.

So if the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) plans to withhold the P100-million financial assistance he extended to Manila, Estrada said, the government is accountable to the people of Manila.

"It was already signed by the President, so that is already a law. What is stipulated in the General Appropriations Act (GAA) is supposed to be followed. If they plan to impound it, well I cannot do anything about it," Estrada said in a phone interview when asked about the DBM's reported plan to impound his pork barrel allotment to the LGUs.

"Just because my father is the Mayor of Manila, they will impute malice into it? Remember, I did not give it to him. I gave it to the people of Manila for them to benefit from my amendment, from my realignment," the senator said.

"It's not as if it were a clandestine move. It went through the legislative process and it was approved by the Senate plenary, in the bicam (bicameral conference committee), and ratified by both Houses (of Congress)."

"This was approved, it went through the legislative process. There was no insertion here. I've been very transparent." He said the amendment was his initiative after he was asked by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Francis Escudero for his amendments through a letter.

"As a former mayor of San Juan, (I know) the LGUs are the direct service providers of the people and when it comes to assistance, lalo na pag maliit ang bayan or bangkarote ang bayan mo, it would be most welcome. And it will definitely rebound to the benefit of the people," he said.

He added that in accordance with the Supreme Court ruling, there can be no intervention of any legislator after the budget is approved.

"So pagbigay ko, pag andun na ang pera sa kanila, wala na akong pakialam dun. Bahala na sila kung magpapatayo na sila ng mga classrooms ng mga school buidings, multi-purpose buildings, barangay hall, or kung pambayad nila sa utang nila. Wala, I'm out of the picture already," he said.

Nothing Wrong - Bam

Senator Paolo Benigno "Bam" Aquino III said he sees nothing irregular with Estrada's amendment, saying it is up to the senators to be accountable with their decisions regarding their PDAF allotment.

Senator Escudero said he sees nothing irregular with Estrada realigning his pork barrel allotment to Manila City. However, he said, the DBM or the President can decide which items to fund and not to fund in the budget. "The government always has a projected deficit and under Presidential Decree 1177, the President can choose which items can be funded and what should not.," Escudero said.

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Title Annotation:National
Publication:Manila Bulletin
Date:Jan 10, 2014
Words:1064
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