Friday , June 22, 2018

Editorial: That Perdido Lex case

IN hindsight, it’s weird how a foundation as impishly named as Perdido Lex managed to get some P5 million from the Cebu Provincial Government in December 2002 and January 2003. More than meaning got lost in translation. To this day, it’s not clear where the money went and what good, if any, that foundation with the words “lost” (perdido) and “law” (lex) in its name did for Cebu’s taxpayers.

A story in Thursday’s issue, which reported on the continuing trial against one of the foundation’s incorporators, provoked a trip down memory lane by way of the SunStar Cebu archives. In October 2002, the Provincial Board approved Perdido Lex’s accreditation as a nongovernment organization. This meant it could then qualify as a partner in the Province’s various projects, for which it could receive public funds.

Less than two months later, Perdido Lex received its first tranche of P2.1 million from the Capitol, charged to the office of then vice governor John Henry Gregory Osmeña. It received funds two more times within five weeks of that first check.

It wasn’t until 2004 that government auditors disallowed the release of the funds, saying these were too extravagant for what was supposed to be a computer literacy program for poor Cebuanos. Perdido Lex then became one of the most talked-about issues in the gubernatorial elections of that year, when Osmeña and former congressman Celestino Martinez Jr. lost their “gladiatorial combat” (Osmeña’s phrase) to Gwen Garcia, now deputy speaker of the House of Representatives.

As part of the inquiry that followed, the National Bureau of Investigation visited Perdido Lex’s address but found neither a foundation at work nor any sign of a computer literacy program for poor Cebuano youth. If that sounds familiar, think back to the revelation that billions in congressional funds had gone to non-existent foundations from 2007 to 2009. Same modus operandi, similar results. How many other dubious transactions with fake foundations escaped the national public’s notice?

Fortunately, some legitimate foundations have worked with local governments in Cebu and other areas. They’ve used funds from the Capitol and other units to provide a range of services, such as repairing schools, rescuing distressed citizens during emergencies, supporting micro-enterprises, and operating local waterworks systems, among others.

What’s missing is a regular disclosure to the Cebuano community about how the Capitol’s partners in civil society have used funds entrusted to them, if any. More than a decade and five elections after the Perdido Lex controversy, let’s draw from its lessons to put our taxes to better use.