P365-million pork went to 6 disqualified lawmakers

By Jess Diaz, The Philippine Star

Posted at Oct 18 2012 06:59 AM | Updated as of Oct 18 2012 07:23 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Six congressmen representing party-list groups disqualified from participating in the May 2013 elections have used up nearly P365 million in taxpayers’ money as pork barrel funds.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has banned from next year’s party-list polls Ako Bicol whose representatives are Rodel Batocabe, Christopher Co and Alfredo Garbin Jr.; 1st Consumers Alliance for Rural Energy represented by Salvador Cabaluna III and Michael Angelo Rivera; and Association of Philippine Electric Cooperatives (APEC) whose congressman is Ponciano Payuyo.

Records of the Department of Budget and Management showed that Batocabe, Cabaluna and Rivera have already exhausted their full-year P70-million pork barrel allocation for 2012, while Garbin, Co and Payuyo have used P69.650 million, P49.750 million and P35.2 million, respectively, or a total of P364.6 million.

The three Ako Bicol representatives naturally spent their funds for their region, mostly for Albay and mainly for road construction and flood control projects.

But even Cabaluna and Rivera allocated large sums for Albay.

Ako Bicol is identified with businessman-contractor Zaldy Co, whose Sunwest Construction group reportedly owns the Embarcadero mall in Legazpi City and the high-end Misibis resort.

Rep. Co is the contractor’s brother.

Batocabe’s fund disbursements include P19 million for the rehabilitation of flood control along Taqui River in Malinao, Albay; P15 million for the construction of a bridge in Barangay Sula, Bacacay town, also in Albay; P7.5 million for flood control system rehabilitation along Balauan River in Malilipot, another Albay town; and P5 million for first aid and safety training in Sorsogon.

Among Co’s projects are P19 million for flood control in Irosin, Sorsogon; and P9 million for first aid and safety training in Camarines Sur.

Garbin’s big-ticket projects are a P19.5-million flood control rehabilitation in Buyo River, Manito, Albay; another flood control improvement worth P15 million in Malinao town, also in Albay; and a P16.9-million road repair in Barangay Mapulang Daga, Bacacay.

In Cabaluna’s case, he allocated P20 million for a road project in Barangay Sampongan, Libon, Albay; while Rivera allotted P18.6 million for another road project in the same barangay.

Cabaluna also spent P29 million for projects on training on soap and jewelry making and procurement of rubber tree seedlings mostly for Basilan residents, and P10 million for water systems in three barangay communities in Talisayan, Misamis Oriental.

Rivera allocated P20 million also for training on soap, jewelry and candle making in Davao Oriental, while Payuyo spent P2 million for the same project and P3.5 million for medical missions, including the purchase of medicine, in San Juan, Abra.

Cabaluna, Rivera and Payuyo are supposed to represent rural electric cooperatives.

None of their fund allocations was for the procurement of electric posts, barangay electrification or training for cooperatives officers.

They designated the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) as the conduit of the more than P51 million they set aside for training on soap, jewelry and candle making.

However, responding to a query from The STAR, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said NCMF “is not an implementing agency” and lawmakers should not use it as fund conduit and project implementor.

In disqualifying the six congressmen, the Comelec said they do not represent marginalized sectors.

It said the Ako Bicol representatives are businessmen and lawyers.

In the case of Cabaluna, Rivera and Payuyo, the Comelec said the Constitution does not mention electric rural cooperatives among the marginalized sectors that should be represented in Congress.

During the Arroyo administration, the Commission on Audit chided APEC representatives for allotting funds for fertilizer procurement, instead of rural electrification.

Take it to the SC

The Comelec has asked those intending to question the disqualification of party-list groups to elevate their concerns directly to the Supreme Court (SC). Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes said motions for reconsideration (MR) should be filed with the SC because commission decisions are “no longer subject of an MR.”

“That’s a prohibited pleading. It’s going to be accepted but we are going to rule that it’s a prohibited pleading. Anyway, it’s not yet late for them to go to SC. They can go up anytime,” he said.

The Comelec had come up with the policy to speed up the process for MRs concerning the disqualification of party-list groups.

The poll body aims to come up with the lists of qualified candidates in the 2013 polls by the end of December.

This as the number of aspirants for senators have gone down to 83 from 84 after Marcos loyalist lawyer Oliver Lozano of Kilusang Bagong Lipunan withdrew his certificate of candidacy (COC).

“I hereby withdraw, at my sole initiative, my COC in order not to stain the integrity of Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and instead preserve it above suspicion,” Lozano’s letter showed.

Lozano took note that Marcos is in coalition with the Nacionalista Party while he is running under KBL, which was founded by his late father, dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Brillantes had thanked Lozano for this development because it would ease the job of the Comelec, which is now screening the COCs for senator and close to 300 party-list groups. – With Mayen Jaymalin, Sheila Crisostomo