Pabling seeks ombud action-A A +A
Wednesday, March 6, 2013
DEPUTY Speaker Pablo Garcia has asked the Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas to examine the “illegal and capricious” withholding of his Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF), allegedly by Acting Gov. Agnes Magpale.
At least P56.3 million of the congressman’s PDAF last year went to a trust fund in the Capitol’s account, but Garcia told the ombudsman that Magpale has withheld the checks intended for towns and barangays in the province’s second district.
He asked that checks charged against his PDAF be released within two days.
Deputy Ombudsman for the Visayas Pelagio Apostol called the congressman and Magpale’s representatives to a mediation to address the issue. Also present in yesterday’s meeting were representatives from the Department of Interior and the Local Government and the Bureau of Local Government Finance.
In a letter, Congressman Garcia asked Magpale why she refused to release his PDAF to various towns and barangays. The funds are allocated for “various development projects and social services.”
“Secretary (Florencio) Abad has called me up and told me that my problem has been resolved,” said Garcia, a former three-term governor of Cebu, referring to the
secretary of budget and management.
“There is no reason whatsoever why these municipalities and barangays should be deprived of the benefits of these projects and social services, except perhaps for some ulterior partisan political considerations,” he said.
The congressman also asked Acting Provincial Treasurer Emmanuel Guial to deliver the checks to his staff within 48 hours from receipt of his letter. Otherwise, he said, Guial and Magpale may be held liable for violating the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Official and Employees.
When the official campaign for local positions begins on March 29, 2013, the election ban on public works will also take effect.
The ban applies to “public works, delivery of materials for public works and issuance of treasury warrants or similar devices for a future undertaking chargeable against public funds.”
But lawyer Dara Acusar, Magpale’s spokesperson, said the funds will be managed in accordance with the Special Allotment Release Order (Saro).
She added that the budget secretary has also explained that it is the acting governor who has the authority to plan and manage the use of the Provincial Government’s funds.
Acusar said the acting governor’s office will identify first the beneficiaries of the allocations. “Definitely, they will be beneficiaries from the second district,” she said.
The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) guidelines require lawmakers to follow a priority list or standard design prepared by implementing agencies for their projects, such as construction, housing, electrification, health and education projects.
But on various dates from August to December last year, the provincial treasurer withheld eight checks chargeable against Garcia’s PDAF.
In a letter dated Feb. 15, Secretary Abad informed Magpale that Garcia’s PDAF deposited in the Capitol’s account is considered a trust fund.
Garcia, being the proponent lawmaker, is “the one authorized to identify the beneficiaries, as well as priority development programs and projects against his pork barrel, pursuant to the National Budget Circular.”
The Provincial Government is tasked to disburse the funds “in accordance with the purposes specified by the proponent legislator.”
As long as the funds are disbursed for the specified purposes, Abad said, the acting governor has the authority to “plan or manage the disbursement.”
“Once the PDAF allocation has been deposited with the local treasury, there is no specific time frame within which the fund shall be disbursed. Nonetheless, the purpose of the trust fund should not be defeated, especially when time is of the essence for the implementation of programs and projects specified by the proponent legislator,” said Garcia.
Rule of law
During the mediation at the ombudsman, Garcia told Apostol he will abide by the rule of law.
But Acusar told Apostol the trust funds are not just for 2012 alone.
“Some of these amounts are just like leftovers from previous years. The checks that were supposed to be issued to different municipalities date all the way back to August (2012). It’s not just the office of the acting governor that is withholding them,” Acusar said.
Magpale assumed office as acting governor on Dec. 19, 2012, when the interior department left a six-month suspension order in the office of Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia, the deputy speaker’s daughter.
Deputy Ombudsman Apostol said his office cannot decide on the issue immediately since the anti-graft body is a “very neutral office.”
“We do not side with any political party. We are just for the good of the people,” said Apostol, who told both parties to bear in mind the need for a steady flow of government services.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on March 06, 2013.