Villar accusers fail to provide graft proof

September 29, 2008

Senate President Manuel Villar Jr. was virtually cleared yesterday in the double insertion charges which his accusers claimed reeked of corruption, through the statements issued by two Cabinet secretaries who clarified just how procedures go into these earmarked allocations.

The accusers of Villar, namely Senators Panfilo Lacson and Jamby Madrigal, also failed to provide a shred of evidence to substantiate their charges of corruption against the Senate President on the issue of the controversial C-5 road extension project in this year’s budget.

Villar’s accusers, having no evidence to prove their charges, have shifted their probe focus from Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile’s finance committee to the ethics committee that is headed by Sen. Pia Cayetano, specifically on the alleged conflict of interest on the part of the Senate leader.

Enrile, overall lead in the C-5 road inquiry, virtually cleared Villar of any wrongdoing as far as effecting the “insertion” or introducing earmarks or amendments effectively increasing the original P200 million allocation by another P200 million.

“Link him with what? Well maybe the most you can do is that he did not make any disclosure of his financial interests in the area where that road would pass. But that C-5 road project is not a project of Villar. It’s the project of the government.

“And the only reason Villar, as I understood it, became the subject of the charges made by the opposition, was that first, he proposed an amendment of P200 million for a certain portion of the C-5. And second, because he has properties along the way. I do not know when these lands were acquired and who owned them, whether before the C-5 was conceived, or after the C-5 was conceived, or while the C-5 was being implemented.

“There is no iota of evidence presented that there is an intent to defraud the government. You cannot commit a crime without any intention unless it is a statutory crime. Just the commission of the act even without the intention is already a crime. But estafa, malversation, misuse of funds – intent is always necessary,” Enrile said in an interview with reporters after the hearing.

Initially, during a briefing that followed immediately after the proceedings, Enrile told reporters that they failed to establish whether there was intent for anyone to make money out of the C-5 project nor was there any evidence presented to substantiate the charges.

“I’m stating to you the facts gathered by the committee. All the issues regarding the budgetary system, process, we’ll take that into account when we discuss the budget for 2009,” the senator said.

“There’s no question that there were two items of P200 million each in the 2008 budget and one side says this is for different projects while the other side says it is for the same project,” said Enrile.

Admittedly, Enrile said there is no dispute that the second P200 million allocation which will fund the portion that will link the Coastal Road to C-5, that incidentally the release of this fund was recently ordered “impounded” by President Arroyo, was an initiative of Villar.

“Now, there’s no question that the Senate president and his family have some property along the way. When he acquired this, we do not know. Whether he acquired this after C-5 was planned or under construction or even before that, or only recently, that has not been established,” he said.

Enrile, asked about gathering information to ascertain irregularities, dismissed the question saying that the “the committee does not fish for evidence.

“You make an allegation, you have to prove it. He who alleges has the burden of proof,” he said.

He, however, advised Villar to address the issue although he is not compelling the Senate chief to appear before his committee and give his side of the story, saying that it will probably do him good especially if the latter is bent on seeking the presidency in 2010 elections.

“The president of the Senate is a responsible official of the Senate, it is his call. As I’m sure he might be running for public office, just like (the late) President (Ferdinand) Marcos, he resigned, he was also Senate President. He was pilloried with a lot of charges when he declared himself candidate. He went before the people and answered those charges against him and he was (eventually) elected president of the Philippines.

“One of the charges against Marcos was land grabbing 30,000 hectares of the land at the foot of Quirino province. The people overwhelmingly elected him in Nov. 15, 1965,” he stressed.

Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Secretary Rolando Andaya and Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Hermogenes Ebdane explained the existence of the “double” entries in the 2008 budget, even dismissing the possibility of the unreleased P200 million being diverted to other use. With these, the minority bloc appeared to be now shifting its gears.

Lacson disclosed to reporters in a separate interview, their plan of subjecting Villar before the ethics committee to bring the issue of supposed “conflict of interest” as there are alleged to be properties along the way of the C-5 road project in which the Senate leader supposedly infused funds using government money.

“That’s one thing more or less definite because there is evidence coming in. It’s only a matter of collating the pieces of evidence coming our way. So that that will be the next move of the senators. We’ll talk among ourselves,” Lacson said in discussing the minority’s “option.”

Lacson hinted that in this matter, Villar could be facing a more serious case as pieces of evidence are starting to be received by them indicating supposed conflict of interest not only on the issue of the C-5 road but other projects as well.

“Peculiarity (it’s) beneficial for him, his interest,” he said, and stressed that whether Villar likes it or not, he will have to appear before the ethics committee.

“This is not a trial for or against Senator Villar. What the committee wanted to know was whether there was a double entry and who inserted this. This was clearly established, Lacson stressed.

“He’ll be judged by his peers. We realize this is a numbers game. But we’re relying on hard evidence and we will look at the evidence, not only political considerations. We need hard evidence, fool-proof evidence.I already have it. I want to see what the other senators also have by way of evidence.

But whether they will pursue the case before the ethics committee, Lacson assured that he will not move for the inhibition of Cayetano even if she is identified as a staunch Villar supporter.

“I don’t want to prejudge the capability or ‘morality’ of Senator Pia to handle the issue before the ethics committee, if and when we will have to come to this. I will rely on her to exercise her conscious judgment on the matter,” he said.

In the same proceedings, Ebdane told the committees that the two P200 million was allocated to two different sites but along the C-5 road project, the first of which that is ongoing funded the construction of the Sucat road flyover while another is located in Coastal road.

“Actually, we need P300 million (for that Sucat project). So we still need P100 million,” the DPWH chief said, answering queries posed by Sen. Joker Arroyo.

“So in other words, it cannot be for the same project, for the same flyover in Sucat road?” the senator asked.

“Yes your honor and even if it may have been described that way, you still have to request for clearance and we would rather have it realigned to other sites along the project,” said Ebdane.

Asked by Senator Arroyo on the issue raised by Lacson on introducing another P200 million for purported other uses, Ebdane said such is not feasible.

“Sir if I do that, I will go to jail. It cannot happen, your honor,” he said.

The same assurance was given by Andaya during interrogation by Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. especially when the senator raised the alarm over the possibility of the said “impounded” P200 million being eventually ordered released by Mrs. Arroyo.

“In the case of a double entry, it may not necessarily be the senator or congressman concerned but unconsciously or unwittingly you might say we are providing the Office of the President with more leeway to fund whatever projects that come to her mind regarding a particular appropriation measure that is supposedly impounded. That’s the whole trouble here,” said Pimentel.

“We’ll make sure it will not happen,” Andaya said.

But the DBM chief and DPWH secretary could not give any categorical statement on who prodded Villar to provide the additional P200 million.

Ebdane, during questioning by Sen. Loren Legarda denied making any request for additional funding although he admitted that they badly needed it.

In the light of these developments, Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, vice-chairman of the Senate finance committee, said that if congressional insertions are made on the floor in plenary session, they are regular; but if they are made at the secret bicameral meetings, they are irregular and their authors should come forward and identify themselves.

She said that apparently, Villar initiated the congressional insertion during the period of amendment on the floor in plenary session, which renders it regular.

Santiago issued the dare to other solons during the public hearing yesterday on the budget process, particularly on the alleged double entry for the C-5 extension project.

The exasperated Santiago issued the call for solons to identify themselves voluntarily, after the budget secretary refused to release the names of the legislators who made the congressional insertions, during the bicameral meetings.

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