CoA asks Cebu lawmaker to explain use of pork barrelBy Doris C. Bongcac |Inquirer Visayas
CEBU CITY—The Commission on Audit (CoA) has asked fifth district Representative Benhur Salimbangon to provide details on where P7.8 million of his pork barrel fund in 2008 was spent.
Susan Garcia, the director of the Special Audit Office, said CoA failed to verify the authenticity of the list of beneficiaries submitted by the Aaron Foundation Philippines Inc. (AFPI), which Salimbangon used as a conduit for his livelihood training programs.
CoA is reviewing pork barrel projects from 2007 to 2009, including those implemented by the Technology Resource Center (TRC).
Garcia said TRC records showed that part of Salimbangon’s pork was released to AFPI for livelihood training programs from March to May 2008 and the distribution of training kits and livelihood technology information materials.
The training programs that AFPI held from 2007 to 2009 include ham making, mango processing, cakes and pastry making, tocino making, cut flower production, balut making and quail raising.
The 576 beneficiaries trained from March to May 2008 were from Bogo City and the municipalities of Bantayan, Daanbantayan, Madridejos, Medellin, San Remegio, Sta. Fe, Tabogon and Tabuelan.
On Oct. 11, 2011, Garcia wrote Bogo Mayor Celestino Martinez Jr. to seek help in verifying beneficiaries coming from his city.
Martinez told Garcia in a letter dated Feb. 15, 2012, that the list of beneficiaries furnished CoA was “fictitious.”
The Bogo City mayor also denied any involvement in the selection of the beneficiaries.
“Neither does my office know of such program in the first place, hence, it comes as a big surprise,” said Martinez’s letter to Garcia.
After receiving Garcia’s October 2011 letter, Martinez sent Jose Ursal, the head of an anticrime group in the Bogo City government, to investigate.
In a report on January 30, Ursal said he spoke with leaders of 25 of Bogo’s 29 villages and not one knew of Salimbangon’s livelihood training program in their areas.
Officials of four villages—Lourdes, Malingin, Pandan and Libertad—denied knowing the existence of AFPI or any of the people in their areas taking part in Salimbangon’s training programs.
Ursal said his investigation showed that only two people listed as program beneficiaries actually live in Bogo City—Elvira Abao and Ronald Lim.
“However, when interviewed, both personalities denied owning their signatures and manifested that they never knew that their names were included in the list of recipients of the Aaron Foundation Philippines Inc. or the Office of Congressman Benhur Salimbangon of the fourth district, Cebu,” Ursal said in his report.
Sought for his reply, Salimbangon said he partnered with government agencies in the implementation of his livelihood training programs. But he could not recall having tapped the AFPI.
When he was elected representative in 2007, Salimbangon said he partnered with government agencies like the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Science and Technology for his livelihood training programs.
He said it could be one of his partner agencies that tapped AFPI.
Salimbangon said he could not help but question the motive of the audit investigation because Martinez is a critic and a political adversary.
“But if CoA will furnish me a copy of their audit letter, I will verify this with TRC,” he said.