We did not initiate Sotto-funded project, says Rizal town execBy Maricar Cinco
Inquirer Southern Luzon
Teresa, a first-class municipality in Rizal province, did not initiate a supposed antidengue project funded from the pork barrel of Sen. Vicente Sotto III, a town official insisted on Tuesday.
The official, however, said a letter shown to media by Sotto supposedly sent by then Teresa Mayor Rodel de la Cruz to the senator’s office in 2012 and requesting funding for the antidengue project could be authentic.
“That was the only way for the transaction to proceed,” the official, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal from his superiors, told the
Inquirer by phone.
Sotto’s office released copies of letters from the mayors of Teresa and Tanay, another first-class municipality (annual income: at least P55 million) in Rizal, asking the senator for financial help from his 2012 pork, officially known as Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).
Teresa received P1.5 million from Sotto’s pork, while Tanay received P5 million, both on March 29, 2012. The fund releases are listed on the website of the Department of Budget and Management.
Requests on need basis
“We did not initiate the project,” the Teresa official said, adding that he was unaware of any official request for the project made to the office of Sotto.
While the town had forwarded several requests for PDAF from lawmakers, the official said these were all made “on a need basis.” Effective Microwealth Probiotics (EMP) solutions, which were purchased with Sotto’s pork for the supposed antidengue project, were not needed by the town, he said.
Sotto’s pork to Teresa was used to purchase 2,140 liters of EMP from Innsbruck International Trading, which has a fictitious address in Rodriguez town, also in Rizal. Teresa still has an unused stock of more than 2,000 gallons of the EMP liquid generally used to deodorize garbage.
Marlon Pielago, Teresa environment officer, said the municipality did not want to buy EMP because it could produce the same enzyme using unrefined sugar and spoiled rice mixed with water to culture bacteria that speeds up garbage decomposition.
“We can make it ourselves,” Pielago said.
Tanay mayor returns money
Tanay, according to a letter from its mayor, Rafael Tanjuatco, to Sotto, returned the money in November 2012 and requested that it be allocated instead for the repair of a farm-to-market road.
In a phone interview on Tuesday, Tanjuatco confirmed having sent the letter requesting permission for an alternative purpose for the funding. In his letter, the mayor said the municipality was returning the money to the National Treasury.
The Inquirer asked Teresa officials if they had kept a duplicate copy of the letter request for funding supposedly sent by then Mayor Rodel de la Cruz to Sotto. They did not, they said.
Even the municipal accounting office could not show copies of bidding documents when the Inquirer asked to see these last week. “It could have been one of those top-level (agreements),” the official said.
The official defended De la Cruz, who served for three terms as mayor. De la Cruz might have been just a “victim of circumstances,” he said, describing him as someone who would not get involved in shady deals.
Pressed further, the official said it was common practice for staff members of lawmakers to approach local government units and proffer projects for pork funding. Beneficiaries, like LGUs, have no say in choosing which company or group would supply the materials being funded “because it comes as a package deal.”
In Pililla, another first-class Rizal municipality that received P5 million for EMP in 2011 through the pork of another senator, Manuel “Lito” Lapid, officials narrated a similar practice of lawmakers’ staff members.
Daniel Ricardo, Pililla planning officer, said in an earlier phone interview that it was Lapid’s office, through a staff member whose name he could not recall, that offered pork projects to the town.
All that the LGU is required to do, he said, was to submit written project proposals and letters requesting pork funding to the senator.
In Baras, still another first-class Rizal municipality and beneficiary of Lapid’s PDAF, no bidding took place after the LGU was told that Innsbruck would be the exclusive distributor of the EMP.