The budget department released close to P140 million in pork barrel to the province of Dinagat Islands last month or six months after its representative, fugitive cult leader Ruben Ecleo Jr., was stricken off the congressional roster.
Ecleo was removed from the list of members of the House of Representatives after the Supreme Court affirmed the Sandiganbayan’s guilty verdict on Ecleo for his role in irregularities in several infrastructure projects in San Jose, Surigao del Norte, where he served as mayor from 1991 to 1994.
He was sentenced to 18-31 years in prison and ordered to pay P2.8 million to the government.
Ecleo, a wanted man with a large bounty on his head, was also convicted last April of killing his young wife in 2002. He took over the cult, the Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association Inc., founded by his father, after the latter died in 1987.
Data from the official website of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) showed a total of P138.875 million in priority development assistance fund (PDAF), also known as pork barrel, was released between Dec. 4 and Dec. 19 for projects in Dinagat.
The amount includes P78.75 million for a road, bridges, buildings and water projects; P21.175 million for 77 multi-cabs; and P21.3 in financial assistance for hospital, burial and scholarships.
On top of the purchase of multi-cabs (with a passenger capacity of 12) for six municipalities in Dinagat, the DBM also approved the purchase of two ambulances (total P2.4 million) and six four-wheel drive vehicles (total P9 million).
Budget Secretary Florencio Abad Jr. defended the release of Ecleo’s two years’ worth of PDAF, noting that this was facilitated through Akbayan Rep. Kaka Bag-ao.
“The PDAF, as we have always maintained, does not go to the representative of the district but to the constituents. When Representative Ecleo’s name was stricken off the House roster, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. designated Bag-ao, who is from Dinagat Island, as caretaker of the district.
“She then facilitated the request for projects coming from LGUs (local government units) and national agencies with offices in the province. So what appears in the records as PDAF allocations for 2011 and 2012 was facilitated through this arrangement,” said Abad, campaign manager of the Liberal Party (LP) in the 2010 elections.
Two representatives, one from a party-list group and one from Mindanao who both declined to be named for fear of reprisal from the LP, said the release of pork barrel funds to Dinagat was politically tainted.
They noted that Bag-ao, an administration ally who was one of the House prosecutors in the impeachment trial of former Chief Justice Renato Corona, had filed her candidacy for the Dinagat congressional seat in the May midterm elections.
Bag-ao has forged an alliance with Dinagat Vice Gov. Jade Ecleo, a newly minted LP member, to wrest control of the province from the latter’s mother, Dinagat Gov. Glenda Buray Ecleo.
Bag-ao is closely linked to the President’s political affairs adviser and Akbayan president, Ronald Llamas. A P59.505 million in pork barrel was released last year for her projects as Akbayan representative.
In case of a vacancy in a congressional seat, the Commission on Elections holds a special election or the House appoints a caretaker for the district, normally a lawmaker from an adjacent province, according to two representatives.
No special elections
In Dinagat Islands’ case, no special election was held and a party-list representative was named caretaker instead of a representative from Surigao province from which Dinagat Islands used to belong until 2006.
“Instead of a special election to elect a new representative as is usually the practice, such as in the case of former Ilocos Sur Rep. Ronald Singson, Dinagat is left without a representative even as the DBM released the district’s pork barrel to a caretaker who happens to be the administration’s candidate in the next elections. Nice,” said the party-list representative, who asked not to be named.
“It is obvious from the purchases made through the pork barrel, from the multi-cabs to multipurpose buildings to financial assistance projects, that these PDAF releases are in aid of election,” the Mindanao lawmaker said.
The last-minute releases to Dinagat Islands courtesy of Bag-ao contrasted sharply with the DBM’s treatment of members of the opposition and rival groups of Akbayan who received zero pork barrel allocations last year.
They were Camarines Sur Rep. Dato Macapagal-Arroyo, Ang Galing Pinoy Rep. Juan Miguel Arroyo, Zambales Rep. Milagros Magsaysay, Iloilo Rep. Augusto Syjuco, Bulacan Rep. Joselito Mendoza, Lanao del Norte Rep. Vicente Belmonte, Bayan Muna Rep. Teodoro Casiño, ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio, Kabataan Rep. Raymond Palatino and Gabriela Representatives Luzviminda Ilagan and Emerenciana de Jesus.