MANILA, Philippines – After two of President Benigno Aquino III's Cabinet secretaries were linked to the biggest corruption scandal in recent history, Malacañang remained unnerved, saying the two still enjoy the President's trust.
Budget Secretary and former Batanes congressman Florencio Abad and Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala were both on the list supposedly provided by alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles to rehabilitation czar and former Senator Panfilo Lacson.
Lacson released the list to the Senate after much pressure. The list contains the names of those who allegedly worked with Napoles in channeling their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to her bogus non-governmental organizations in exchange for hefty kickbacks.
"Secretary Abad continues to enjoy the President's trust and confidence. A mere allegation concerning actions taken in a previous position does not affect the presumption of regularity in connection with the performance of current duties," Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr said in reaction to the list on Tuesday, May 13.
He told Rappler the statement applies to Alcala as well, who was implicated as agriculture secretary who supposedly helped facilitate the channeling of lawmakers' PDAF to Napoles' NGOs.
Abad too denied the accusations.
"I ask the public not to immediately believe these allegations, but to weigh the only thing that matters in the end: the evidence. I urge the Department of Justice and the Ombudsman to continue their investigation, follow the evidence wherever it may lead them, and take appropriate action on behalf of the people,” Abad said.
The Palace also said it would follow the evidence wherever it leads them, which has been its mantra since the scam broke out.
"The guiding principle of President Aquino has been clear since day one: let the evidence dictate the direction of the investigation. We are not siding or leaving out anybody as long as concrete evidence is the basis," Coloma said.
Both Abad and Alcala have been linked to questionable transactions, including the pork barrel scam.
Despite this promise to follow the evidence, however, Aquino has continuously defended both his secretaries.
Earlier, Aquino acknowledged Alcala was being implicated, but said he is "balancing" the negative reports with the official's accomplishments thus far, including the stable prices of rice and the steps the Department of Agriculture is taking toward rice self-sufficiency.
Rappler reports based on state audits of one government corporation under the DA shows misuse of P1.35 billion in pork barrel, but this was over 5 years spanning both the Arroyo and Aquino administrations, from 2007 to 2011. (READ: Aquino defends agri chief Alcala over pork barrel links)
Reports and exposés in the past years have mostly identified the DA and agencies or corporations under it as channels of misused pork barrel.
Alcala has denied accusations that he has anything to do with the scam, although a whistleblower has linked Alcala to the scam, saying he facilitated funding for two dummy NGOs created by Napoles. During the Senate hearing on the pork barrel scam on August 7, 2013, Alcala also admitted that Napoles received P39 million worth of funds intended for the DA in 2012.
Aquino is also a respondent to a case filed by the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) for his alleged involvement in the pork barrel scam with 10 others, including Abad and Alcala.
KMP said the President was included in the complaint by virtue of the "Doctrine of Qualified Political Agency," wherein acts committed by department secretaries under the executive department are deemed acts of the President.
The President said he, Abad, and Alcala had no personal gain. He dismissed the case as "part of the democratic process," which entertains even the most extreme of views.
Aquino has also defended Abad against accusations of unconstitutional action for the administration's Disbursement Allocation Program (DAP), which the Department of Budget and Management has since halted. – Rappler.com