CEBU CITY – A foundation in Metro Manila received P7.8 million in “pork barrel” funds from a congressman of Cebu Province, but state auditors were told the beneficiaries it listed did not exist.
Representative Benhur Salimbangon (Cebu Province, 4th district) urged the Commission on Audit (COA) to go after the foundation itself and to press charges against those responsible, if any irregularities are proven.
“I would never hold a single centavo from my Priority Development Assistance Fund (Pdaf),” said Salimbangon. The Pdaf is coursed through government line agencies, he pointed out.
One such agency, the Technology Resource Center (TRC), chose the Aaron Foundation Philippines Inc. as one recipient of the congressional funds.
The alleged irregularity came to light when COA Special Audits Office Director Susan Garcia wrote Bogo City Mayor Celestino Martinez Jr. in October last year to ask for his help.
A portion of Salimbangon’s Pdaf was supposedly released to the Manila-based foundation to conduct livelihood training, for beneficiaries selected by local governments.
“Obviously, the listed beneficiaries are fictitious and I vehemently deny any participation in the selection of the same,” was Martinez’s answer to Garcia, in his letter dated February 15, 2012.
In that letter, the mayor also stated that he checked the foundation’s background, through his anti-crime task force. He received a 12-page list of beneficiaries. There were about 48 names per page.
It turned out that nearly all of the names, provided by Garcia, were not of people from Bogo. Two were found to be those of Bogo residents, but they denied signing the list.
He was surprised when told about the program, Martinez said.
The mayor also stated in his letter that Aaron Foundation, listed in the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s directory of registered and licensed non-government organizations, reportedly operates in the National Capital Region.
The phone number it gave no longer works and its address on Planas St., Gagalangin district in Tondo, Manila is “a vacant lot.”
Martinez also told Garcia that Aaron Foundation was one of the foundations involved in the P728-million fertilizer scam in 2004, based on a Philippine Star report dated Aug. 12, 2009.
The same report stated that the foundation had also received money in 2007.
Salimbangon explained that when he got elected, he joined a seminar for new members of Congress and they were given instructions on the various government line agencies where they could course their Pdaf to implement projects.
Since Salimbangon chose livelihood, his Pdaf was coursed through the TRC, and it was the center that picked the foundation.
“In the implementation ilaha na ‘na, kung kinsa ‘tong tawo nga ilang gi-hire, wa na koy control ana (They take charge of the implementation. I have no control over whoever they hire for the project),” he said.
He recalled he was even invited to witness a livelihood training program in Barangay Curba, Medellin town at that time.
“I just asked them to submit a report on how they conducted the training,” he said, and the TRC submitted a CD.
The auditors, he added, should file charges against the TRC.
Each member of the House of Representatives is allocated about P70 million in PDAF each year. This may be used for infrastructure projects, as well as “soft” projects like scholarships, health care, livelihood programs, aid for local governments, and the purchase of IT equipment.
Salimbangon already questioned the TRC earlier, but lacked documents. Had he been furnished a copy of the documents, he said, he could have formally complained against the agency.
Told about former congressman Martinez’s comments, Salimbangon answered: “Of course, what can you expect from a political opponent?”
Salimbangon defeated Martinez’s son, former Bogo City mayor Celestino III, in the May 2010 elections.
The younger Martinez earlier won his election protest against Salimbangon and was declared the winner of the May 2007 elections, but by the time the Supreme Court’s ruling came out, his three-year term had practically ended. (OCP of Sun.Star Cebu)