Surigao del Norte First District Rep. Francisco Matugas on Thursday defended Akbayan party-list Rep. Kaka Bag-ao’s designation as caretaker of Dinagat Islands.
Matugas said he saw nothing wrong with Bag-ao’s appointment since Speaker Feliciano Belmonte could choose anyone he wishes to look after Dinagat Islands.
“It’s Speaker Belmonte’s prerogative to choose the caretaker,” Matugas said, adding that Bag-ao was selected because she’s from the province.
Bag-ao’s appointment was also endorsed by Surigao del Norte’s Second District Rep. Guillermo A. Romarate, Jr. Both Matugas and Romarate are members of the Liberal Party.
Dinagat Vice Governor Geraldine Ecleo also defended the appointment of Bag-ao as caretaker of the province’s lone congressional district, pointing out that the Akbayan lawmaker is a native of Loreto town, where she spent her elementary years before her family moved to Northern Mindanao.
“Those who criticize her appointment as nothing but political accommodation betray their ignorance of her roots,” she said.
Bag-ao has come under fire after she was named Dinagat Island’s caretaker even though she will run as its district representative in the May elections and is allied with the President’s Liberal Party (LP).
She was appointed caretaker after Dinagat’s representative, cult leader Ruben Ecleo, Jr., was dropped from Congress’ roll after he was convicted of graft and sentenced to jail.
After Bag-ao’s designation, the budget department released P140 million in priority development assistance funds (PDAF) or pork barrel for projects in the province.
Budget Secretary Florencio Abad Jr. said the release of the PDAF was facilitated through Bag-ao, whose party is closely allied with the Liberal Party.
But other lawmakers and militants criticized the arrangement, saying it smacked of patronage politics.
They said it was clearly meant to boost LP’s candidate in Dinagat. Bag-ao will run against outgoing Dinagat Mayor Gwendolyn Ecleo-Durano, a sister of the vice governor.
However, local officials in Dinagat Islands lamented attempts to “politicize” the pork barrel released to the province, saying the money was sorely needed for basic services to alleviate poverty in one of the country’s poorest provinces.
The vice governor pointed out that the P138.875 million released by the budget department last month represented at least two years of withheld PDAF for Dinagat following the conviction of her brother.
“The past two to three years have been tumultuous for my brother, who understandably could not perform his office well while behind bars,” said Ecleo, who is estranged from her family except Ruben Jr.
“To release the PDAF under such circumstances would have been impractical and problematic,” she said.