Senate rejects move to cut ecozone's cash allotment
MANILA, Philipines - Much to Senator Edgardo Angara's consternation, Senator Serge Osmeña III on Wednesday did not mince words in calling for a drastic cut on the proposed P353-million budget for the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone (APECO).
Osmeña delivered his barrage during the period of amendments before the Senate voted to approve the P2.006-trillion peso national budget for 2013.
In his speech, Osmeña said the Senate should slash APECO's budget from P353 million to just P3.5 million.
He said the ecozone "has been overfunded over the past few years, by virtue of their own submissions, according to Atty. Malcom sarmiento, president and chief executive officer [of the ecozone]."
Osmeña added that there are still unfunded special allotment release orders (SAROs) amounting to P226 million that are still with the Department of Budget and Management, and cash assets worth P183 million.
"Because they still have cash amounting to P400 million, we cut the budget this year with the condition that they adhere to COA reports and a study commissioned by the NEDA to determine the feasibility of the freeports not only Aurora but also in Zamboanga and Bataan with the view to guiding Congress on whether we should be setting more aside more money on freeports in the next years."
APECO's financial documents were also allegedly prepared sloppily, affecting the accuracy of its financial standing and transparency of the ecozone's transactions.
"In almost P2 billion the government has spent, management has simply failed to live up to its due diligence requiremetns by reporting on time to COA. We are sending them (APECO) billions, at least what they can do is to report how it is spent," Osmeña added.
Angara, author of the law that created APECO, refuted Osmena's allegations.
"It is absolutely false to say that nothing is happening on the ground," the senator from Aurora said.
In an interview with the media, Angara said COA reports are available and will be sent soon.
He added that Osmeña's attacks have become personal.
"'Di naman kami galit o magkaaway sa politika. Maaring nalapitan siya ng mga outsider pero sana maging discriminating siya sa mga kinakausap nya," he said.
"Sana ito na ang last na pag-atake mo every budget season. Tignan natin, kasi wala na ako dito sa next year eh," Angara said.
Senate finance committee chair Senator Franklin Drilon did not accept the proposed move to cut APECO's budget, prompting Osmeña to ask for a vote.
The Senate voted 7- 4 in rejecting Osmeña's proposal.