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Court orders arrest of Philippine senator

Nine others implicated over misuse of development funds

Gulf News

Manila: The Philippine anti-graft court has ordered the arrest of Senator Gregorio Honasan, citing probable cause in complaints filed against him for his alleged misuse of government funds in 2012.

Honasan allegedly endorsed the release of P30 million (Dh2.5 million) to Focus Development Goals Foundation, a non-government organisation (NGO) through the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF), an implementing agency, in 2012, without satisfying all the requirements needed for the proper release of his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), the Sandiganbayan said on Wednesday.

He is facing two counts of graft.

The PDAF was once allotted to every lawmaker each year.

In 2012, Honasan asked the budget department to release his PDAF to NCMF, an implementing agency, for disbursement to Focus which planned on paper livelihood projects for Muslim communities in Metro Manila and Zambales, northern Luzon.

But Focus did not implement any of the projects and allowed PDAF money to line the pockets of Honasan and his team, said the Sandiganbayan.

The court also ordered the arrest of Honasan’s political affairs chief Michael Benjamin, NCMF Secretary Mehol Sadain; NMCF officials Fedelina Aldanese, Olga Galido, Galay Makalinggan, and Aurora Aragon-Mabang; and Focus officers Giovannie Manuel Gaerlan and Salvador Gaerlan.

Honasan was allowed to post bail of P30,000 (Dh2,500) per count of graft, said the Sandigabnbayan.

Honasan becomes the fourth senator to be charged for alleged misuse of PDAF.

Former Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. were arrested in 2014 for the development funds scam, which was allegedly facilitated by a private businesswoman, Janette Napoles. In 2015, the Supreme Court allowed Enrile to post bail and was released from prison.

Napoles was imprisoned not because of graft — she was blamed for the illegal detention of her relative and office worker Ben Hur Luy. When he became a state witness he revealed in congressional hearings how she engineered the release of PDAF amounting to P10 billion (Dh833 million) in 2014, which enriched many lawmakers. She claimed that she learnt the trick from a high profile congressman who became a cabinet official during the time of former President Benigno Aquino.

Napoles and Luy both said that almost all lawmakers were involved in misusing PDAF.

In 2013, the High Court ruled that PDAF was unconstitutional — although its allotment to lawmakers was based on a law.

In 2014, the Apex Court also ruled unconstitutional the Development Accelerated Programme (DAP) that former President Aquino created in 2011 with an executive order — it was funded by the savings of line agencies and it allowed him to disburse funds to other projects. DAP was called a presidential pork barrel.

Many Filipinos reacted and barred the legislation of the development funds.