7 Cebu lawmakers gave P189M to NGOs-A A +A
Tuesday, September 17, 2013
CEBU CITY -- Seven lawmakers from Cebu province allegedly funneled at least P188.6 million in three years to nine non-government organizations (NGOs), which government auditors later said were dubious or highly irregular.
But two of the lawmakers said they dealt only with executive agencies or government-owned and controlled corporations (GOCCs), and were not informed that these GOCCs had given the money to NGOs.
The Commission on Audit (COA), in a report released last month, said that more than 80 NGOs received public funds from the executive department in 2007 to 2009, but were not legally authorized to do so.
They also, among other lapses, were not selected by public bidding, failed to submit to government inspections or audits that would have shown what they did with the funds, or could not be located in their given addresses.
The nine NGOs that received the funds in those three years from Cebuano members of the House of Representatives are not among the groups allegedly organized by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles.
However, the three implementing agencies that worked with the congressmen and the NGOs were all implicated in the plunder and malversation cases filed on Monday by the Department of Justice (DOJ) against three senators, Napoles and 34 others. [Read related story]
These implementing agencies are the National Agribusiness Corp. (Nabcor), Technology Resource Center (TRC) and National Livelihood Development Corp. (NLDC).
All three are government-owned and controlled corporations attached to the Department of Agriculture (DA).
While he confirmed giving some funds to the DA for some tree-planting projects, former representative Antonio Cuenco said he has never dealt with the NGOs mentioned in the special audit report of the COA.
The NGOs, he said, were chosen by the DA.
The former representative of Cebu City’s south district denied giving P54.64 million of his Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF) to dubious organizations, saying some of the amount was charged to his pork barrel “by mistake.”
In its report, COA said that aside from Cuenco, these Cebuano lawmakers also recommended these amounts for certain NGOs in the three years covered by its special audit:
Nerissa Soon-Ruiz (Province, 6th district), P38.54 million for three NGOs;
Clavel Asas-Martinez (Province, 4th district), P33.6 million to two NGOs;
Eduardo Gullas (Province, 1st district), P28.4 million to two NGOs;
Antonio Yapha (Province, 3rd district), P19.3 million to two NGOs;
Ramon Durano VI (Province, 5th district), P7.2 million to one NGO; and
Benhur Salimbangon (Province, 4th district), P7 million to one NGO.
Sun.Star Cebu read to Cuenco the names of the NGOs mentioned in the audit report, which covered PDAF releases from 2007 to 2009, but he said he does not know any of them.
“That’s Greek to me. I’ve never heard of them, I never dealt with those NGOs. I never mentioned any NGO as recipient when I requested DBM for the funds,” he said in a phone interview last night.
According to the COA report, P4.9 million of Cuenco’s PDAF went to Buhay Mo, Mahal Ko Foundation, P9 million went to Farmerbusiness Development Corp., P23.28 million went to Gabay at Pag-asa ng Masa Foundations, Inc. and P17.4 million to Kabuhayan at Kalusugan Alay sa Masa Foundation, Inc.
The funds were coursed through the TRC and Nabcor.
Cuenco, however, said he was not responsible for choosing the NGOs that would benefit from his PDAF.
“I relied entirely on the line agency (DA) to choose and check these NGOs because I thought that it’s their job,” he added.
In a separate interview, Representative Benhur Salimbangon (Cebu Province, 4th district) said he did not know that the TRC chose an NGO, Aaron Foundation Philippines, to receive P7 million of his PDAF form 2007 to 2009.
Salimbangon confirmed that the amount was extended to TRC because he wanted a livelihood seminar to help his constituents.
A livelihood seminar was conducted in the different towns in his district, including Medellin, Bogo and Bantayan, and a representative from TRC went to Barangay Curva, Medellin during the training, Salimbangon said.
“Wa ta kahibaw nga naa’y (I did not know that there was a) foundation,” Salimbangon said.
Former third district representative and now Toledo City Vice Mayor Antonio Yapha also denied that P9.6 million from his PDAF went to a government-owned corporation and, in turn, to the Molugan Foundation Inc.
“I will tell you frankly wala ko’y kalibutan nga naa’y TRC ug Molugan (I do not know about the TRC and Molugan),” Yapha said.
The vice mayor said that in the nine years he sat as congressman, he distributed his PDAF as assistance to the local governments and to constituents confined in the Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center.
Yapha’s term as congressman ended in 2007. He ran for Cebu governor that year, then for congressman in 2010, but lost both times. He was elected Toledo City vice mayor last May.
For his part, Cuenco said he learned that some of the items charged to his PDAF were projects of Representative Pablo Garcia (Cebu Province, 2nd district), that is why he is not worried about plunder charges that may be filed against him.
“I’m not concerned about that at all because I sort of heard from somebody that some of Congressman Garcia’s projects were charged to my PDAF. They got confused with the second district of Cebu City and second district of Cebu Province,” he told Sun.Star Cebu.
Cebu City’s south district is officially called the 2nd district of Cebu City.
The COA special audit of PDAF releases from 2007-2009 does not mention Congressman Garcia among those legislators who endorsed NGOs to receive public funds.
Cuenco said he does not remember the exact amount that was coursed through the DA and what specific projects the amount was for because “that was a long time ago.”
“What I remember is that I gave an amount for DA for seedlings, which the barangays asked for. But none of that was for palay. I never requested for palay,” he added.
To clear his name in the controversy, Cuenco said, he will go to the DBM office in Manila next week to get records of the special allotment release order (SARO) for his projects so he can trace how much of his PDAF went to the DA.
“Then I’m going to call the attention of COA. They made a mistake here. I will check how much was charged wrongly to me. I’m sure the funds coursed through DA did not reach P50 million. P50 million in just three years? Impossible,” said Cuenco. (IDA/LRC/FMG/Sun.Star Cebu)
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on September 17, 2013.