By Czarina Nicole Ong Ki
Palawan Governor Jose Chavez Alvarez, Vice Governor Victorino Dennis Socrates, and 15 other local officials have been slapped with graft and malversation raps before the Office of the Ombudsman allegedly due to their failure to utilize local funds from 2014 to 2017.
In his complaint, Mansueto Fuertes of the Advocates for Excellent Government (AEG), wants to charge Alvarez and 16 others with violation of Section 3(a) and (g) of R.A. 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act) and Article 220 of the Revised Penal Code (Technical Malversation).
He also wants to hold them administratively liable for grave misconduct and serious dishonesty.
Included in the complaint are 1st District Board Members Roseller Pineda, Leoncio Ola, Winston Arzaga, David Francis Ponce De Leon Jr., Cherry Pie Acosta, and Marivic Roxas, as well as 2nd District Board Members Sharon Abiog-Onda, Sunny Batul, and Albert Rama.
Philippine Councilor’s League Rep. Clarito Demaala Jr., ABC President Dennis Sabando, IPM Representative Joel Lumis Jr., Provincial Treasurer Elino Mondragon, and Provincial Engineer Saylito Purisima likewise face the same complaint.
Mansueto accused them of depriving the government of benefits when they invested trust funds in time deposits from 2014 to 2017 amounting to P1,701,140,399 instead of utilizing these to implement the intended programs and projects. They deposited the money with LBP Puerto Princesa City.
Mansueto said in the complaint that only “idle funds” have legal basis for being invested in time deposits, according to Section 21 of the Commission on Audit (COA) Circular No. 92-382 dated July 3, 1992.
But the abovementioned amount was intended for implementation of programs and projects covered by a different memorandum of agreements (MOAs) between Palawan and source agencies. While no time frame was indicated in the MOAs, it was still mentioned that the fund transfer must be liquidated to the source agencies after the completion of projects.
“Instead of investing in the time deposit accounts, the management should exert effort to improve its efficiency in the implementation of the funded programs and projects so that the utilization of the trust funds is maximized in accordance with their intended purpose and in accordance with the MOAs. Otherwise, the province should return those funds to the source agencies,” the complaint read.
Because of the absence of proper debt management, two loans totaling P2,548,800,000 were acquired by the government. Only P1,775,875,447.96 was utilized from the amount, although the government already paid its interest rate of P444,746,288.15.
“Management failed to establish debt management policies which should have served as guidelines in the overall financial strategy of the province in view of loan acquisition and utilization,” the complaint read.
Whenever a project or program is financed through a loan, Mansueto said that it is crucial for the management to determine the urgency of the project requirements and the economic costs of delay. This is because debt financing entails interest and other borrowing costs.
But the slow implementation of projects, in this case, was due to the failure of the Provincial Engineer to prepare monthly monitoring reports. And despite delays in the project implementation, he did not take appropriate actions against the erring contractors.
Raps vs Puerto Princesa officials
Meanwhile, Mansueto also filed graft and grave misconduct raps against Puerto Princesa Mayor Lucilo Bayron and several other local officials.
Mansueto wants Bayron, together with the unnamed City Accountant, City Treasurer, City Budget Officer, City Engineer, Planning and Development Coordinator, as well as members of the Bids and Awards Committee and members of the Technical Working Group of the city government to be charged with violation of Section 3(e) and (g) of R.A. 3019 for alleged
irregular and illegal projects amounting to P11 million funded from “ghost savings” and “invalid appropriations” back in 2017.
He also wants to hold them liable for the procurement of 18 infrastructure projects amounting to P102 million, as well as deficiencies in the implementation of 28 projects amounting to P46.9 million and bloated contract costs amounting to P33 million.
Mansueto also said in his complaint that these local officials allegedly failed to implement 149 infrastructure projects worth P741.3 million in 2017.