The Ombudsman has ordered an investigation on the two Surigao del Norte congressmen over the allocation of their respective pork barrel as intelligence fund in the municipality of Sison.
“Let a Preliminary Investigation be conducted against subjects Congressman Francisco T. Matugas, Congressman Guillermo A. Romarate Jr.,” said Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales in a May 14, 2012 decision made public last January 15, 2013.
Carpio-Morales’s order stemmed from a 2010 case filed by three Sison residents which sought to hold the two lawmakers liable for handing out funds to the local government for intelligence purposes, particularly “for anti-insurgency.”
The case was recently used as basis for the filing of plunder charge against Cong. Matugas. Click here for related story
Carpio-Morales said there was basis to probe Matugas Romarate and Sison Mayor Leicester P. Fetalvero for illegal use of funds and for graft and corrupt practices.
Matugas declined to comment on the case, including the plunder charge, when asked for comment. He said he will issue a statement after reading all pertinent documents relating to the case.
When pressed for answers about the intelligence fund controversy earlier, Romarate’s chief of staff, Victor Buiser, had earlier said he can’t recall the lawmaker’s Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) fund being disbursed for intelligence fund.
Also ordered investigated by the Ombudsmanb are Sison municipal accountant William E. Sardovia Jr. and municipal treasurer Alicia A. Solloso for graft and falsification of public documents.
Sardovia and Solloso were likewise held accountable by the Ombudsman for “grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of service,” pursuant to Section 52 of Rule IV of the Civil Service Commission.
A fifth respondent in the case, Sison municipal budget officer Warlito Paronia, was exonerated, the complaint against the latter ordered “closed and terminated.”
Romarate, Matugas and the three Sison officials acted “with evident bad faith, conspired with each other in using the financial assistance funds for intelligence purposes,” the Ombudsman said in her ruling.
“The poor people of the Municipality of Sison who will supposedly benefit for the 4.5 Million financial assistance suffered because the programs and projects for them cannot be materialized,” Morales-Carpio added.
She noted that Romarate and Matugas “informed subject Fetalvero that the funds are for intelligence funds but in truth as stated in the SAROs (Special Allotment Release Order), the funds are for financial assistance. Subject
Fetalvero, on his part, approved the payment and received the funds for intelligence purposes despite the fact that the SAROs show that the funds are for financial assistance.”
Carpio-Morales, however, cleared Matugas, Romarate and Fetalvero of administrative liabilities following their victory in the May 2010 elections. In doing so, she cited the Aguinaldo doctrine, which says that a public official cannot be removed for administrative misconduct committed during a prior term, “since his/her reelection to office serves as a condonation for the officer’s previous misconduct.
The criminal aspects of the case, however, remain, and Carpio Morales has directed the agency’s anti-corruption unit to act as a nominal complainant.
In a Sept. 13, 2012 ruling, the COA denied the motion for reconsideration filed by Matugas who sought to overturn the COA’s Oct. 26, 2009 opinion that pork barrel funds “cannot be utilized for intelligence purposes.”
Similar to the Sison case, Matugas had also disbursed pork barrel funds to other towns. Interestingly most of the recipient towns are in District 2, though the Ombudsman said this did not constitute any irregularity.
Auditors said that under the General Appropriation Act of 2009 (RA 9524), “intelligence purposes” are not among the identified uses. They added that the PDAF, as a “trust fund,” can be spent only for the specific purposes the trust was created.
As a result, notices of suspensions and disallowances were issued by COA.
In his motion for reconsideration, Matugas pointed out Interior Undersecretary Austere Panadero approved the use of the pork barrel funds for “intelligence purposes.”
Panadero had opined that “there is no legal impediment” to the proposal to use the funds for such purpose.
Matugas argued that there was “no conflict” between the COA position and that of the DILG’s.
He said respect and deference should be accorded the opinion of Panadero, adding that even if the DILG stand cannot be accepted by COA, the local governments involved should not be held liable for the subsequent suspensions and disallowances because of good faith and honest belief.
The local government that received such funds reportedly included towns that are part of the district of Rep. Guillermo Romarate. These are the towns of Bacuag, San Francisco, Sison and Tubod.
But in unanimous decision signed by the COA chairperson Ma. Gracia Pulido Tan and commissioners Juanito Espino Jr. and Heidi Mendoza, the Commission denied Matugas’s motion for “lack of merit.”
The Commission stood pat on its view that PDAF is a trust fund that should only be spent for education, health, rural electrification, public works and similar undertakings. By Danilo V. Adorador III