Court told: Villagers deny Estrada projects existed
MANILA, Philippines – Mayors and villagers in 12 municipalities interviewed in the course of a fact-finding probe denied the existence of projects supposedly funded by the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of Senator Jose "Jinggoy" Estrada.
Thus testified a state investigator Tuesday, August 5, during Estrada's bail hearing before the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan 5th division, where the senator is facing plunder and graft charges.
Lawyer Vic Tagura Escalante Jr, graft and prosecution officer at the Ombudsman Field Investigation Office (FIO), said the town mayors and supposed PDAF beneficiaries he personally interviewed all belied ever encountering the projects listed to have been funded by Estrada's PDAF.
The projects were listed to have received funds through the dubious non-government organizations controlled by alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles.
"They denied the implementation of the projects in their jurisdictions, as well as the signatures above their names," Escalante told the court, referring to the town mayors he interviewed.
This is consistent with state witness Benhur Luy's testimony that Napoles instructed her employees, including Luy, to forge signatures of beneficiaries and mayors who supposedly received Estrada's PDAF.
Suspected as the brains behind the PDAF scam, Napoles allegedly controlled NGOs that served on paper as implementors of fictitious projects that siphoned off lawmakers' development funds through implementing agencies. In return, she allegedly gave the lawmakers and agency officials millions in kickbacks.
Napoles is a co-accused in the plunder and graft charges over the PDAF scam against not just Estrada but Senators Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr and Juan Ponce Enrile as well.
List of provinces
The local government units listed as supposed beneficiaries are mostly poor municipalities in the provinces.
The PDAF, a lump sum that has since been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, was supposed to fund community development pet projects of lawmakers.
Based on Escalante's testimony, among the municipalities that did not get the supposed benefits from Estrada's PDAF were:
- Uminggan, Pangasinan
- Mabitac, Laguna
- Tubay, Agusan del Norte
- Alegria, Surigao del Norte
- Carrascal, Surigao del Sur
- Cagwait, Surigao del Sur
- San Agustin, Surigao del Sur
- Prosperedad, Agusan del Sur
- San Luis, Agusan del Sur
- Esperanza, Agusan del Sur
- Mawah, Compostella Valley
- Salug, Zamboanga del Norte
Escalante said that upon verification in the villages, it turned out that some listed beneficiaries were already deceased. Another listed beneficiary was as young as one year old and 7 months, obviously unable to benefit from the manicure and pedicure training supposedly sponsored by Estrada's PDAF.
Defense lawyers objected to admitting Escalante's testimony concerning the ghost projects, saying it was mere hearsay.
The mayors and the villagers should themselves testify before the court instead of their interviews being narrated by an investigator, Estrada's lawyers said.
Justice Alexander Gesmundo overruled the defense's objection. He said Escalante was merely testifying in his capacity as Ombudsman investigator.
"As to the truth of that (claim of fictitious projects), it is subject to verification later. What's objectionable with that?" he asked rhetorically.
Department of Justice (DOJ) Undersecretary JJ Justiniano explained, however, that Escalante's testimony was merely to show the evidence's chain of custody.
Escalante's testimony is in support of the admissibility and authenticity of the prosecution's evidence.
Justiniano was among those tapped from the DOJ to assist the prosecution team in the PDAF scam cases before Sandiganbayan. – Rappler.com