A classic instance of miscarriage of justice was the various offenses that went for naught against Senator Joel Villanueva, who ironically came into the political spotlight on the platform of anti-corruption.
Villanueva’s first legislative post was courtesy of the partylist system in which he represented the Citizens’ Battle Against Corruption in the House of Representatives.
In November 2016, months after President Rodrigo Duterte came into power, Ombudsman Conchita
Carpio-Morales ordered Villanueva dismissed from government service after finding him liable for misuse of pork barrel in 2008.
The Ombudsman said P10 million from Villanueva’s Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) was released in June 2008 to the National Agri-Business Corporation, intended for “agri-based livelihood projects in the various congressional districts in Region XI.”
The implementing NGO partner was Aaron Foundation Philippines Inc.
The fund was supposedly intended for the purchase of seedlings, fertilizers and threshers for several municipalities in Compostela Valley province, but investigations showed the intended municipalities were not suitable for farming and ghost beneficiaries were discovered. The funded agriculture-based livelihood projects also did not exist.
Villanueva was found guilty of “grave misconduct, serious dishonesty and conduct prejudicial to the interest of the service.”
Aside from the order of dismissal, Villanueva will be charged at the Sandiganbayan for “two counts of violation of Section 3(e) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (Republic Act 3019), one count each for Malversation of Public Funds and Malversation through Falsification of Public Documents.”
Villanueva claimed innocence. “As far as I can remember, as a minority congressman then, I did not receive that amount,” he said. “In addition, the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) has already made a conclusion that the signatures on the related documents were forged.”
Then Senate President Koko Pimentel rejected the Ombudsman’s order, saying that it was stepping into the jurisdiction of Congress.
The Commission on Audit (CoA) also found several anomalies during Villanueva’s term as Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) director general.
Villanueva, a close associate of former President Noynoy Aquino, was a recipient, through TESDA, of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).
The DAP, declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court (SC), was the biggest scam ever done on public funds and the TESDA racket on ghost scholars and bogus training programs was only part of the fund diversions that went on during the term of Noynoy that benefited his cronies.
In the 2014 annual audit report, state auditors also found Villanueva had violated a SC temporary restraining order (TRO) for the misuse of PDAF.
“Trainings and assessments with a total amount of P49,080,443 were conducted and charged from PDAF in violation of the Supreme Court Decision GR 208566, dated 19 November 2013, declaring the 2013 PDAF unconstitutional,” the audit report said.
The TRO issued by the High Court enjoined the Department of Budget and Management, National Treasurer and other heads of government agencies against releasing the remaining PDAF allocated to lawmakers under the General Appropriations Act of 2013.
The TRO was later made permanent when the Court issued the final ruling on the petition to declare PDAF unconstitutional.
“In the audit of the utilization of PDAF, it was disclosed that trainings and assessments were conducted after the issuance of the TRO,” the audit report said.
CoA said Villanueva was fully aware of the SC directive because he issued a memorandum to TESDA officials concerning the ruling.
“Furthermore, the declaration of the Supreme Court that PDAF is unconstitutional signifies that any allocation is void and therefore can no longer be used for the goals intended, even if such goals are laudable.”
“Laudable ends cannot justify unconstitutional means” — a legal principle borrowed from former Chief Justice Artemio V. Panganiban — stated CoA.
Reacting to the audit findings, Villanueva insisted that the injunction cannot apply to TESDA because the ruling “explicitly provides” that utilization of PDAF is barred only in cases when the DBM has not yet issued the notice of cash allocation.
CoA said it disagrees with Villanueva’s interpretation of the SC ruling, pointing out that the High Court was specific in its TRO.
In sum, the senator should prove that he stands for the cause that he supposedly represents and account for the irregularities alleged against him.