(Second of two parts)
VIRAC, Catanduanes—The P33.5 million in pork barrel that this capital town received this year was not the first that Virac received from party-list groups.
Documents obtained by the Inquirer also showed that the pork barrel received both in 2012 and 2013 by the Virac municipal government were channeled to two separate “nongovernment organizations” (NGOs) that have the same set of officers.
In 2012, a total of P7 million worth of projects from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) allocations of two party-list groups were received by the Gabay Para sa Masa Foundation Inc. (GPMFI) as part of an agreement entered into with then Virac Mayor Jose “Cito” Alberto II for the implementation of backyard livelihood projects in the municipality, documents obtained by the Inquirer from sources, who had requested anonymity, showed.
A Teacher Rep. Julieta Cortuna and Alagad Rep. Rodante Marcoleta both had written the municipality in 2012 that their funds be released directly to the GPMFI.
Cortuna allocated P4 million for the distribution of backyard vermicomposting and vegetable gardening starter kits costing P3,500 each, along with 104-page livelihood manuals costing P1,500 each.
Similarly, Marcoleta set aside P3 million for the same purpose.
Both legislators had written to the municipality that the amounts be released directly to the GPMFI “subject to the usual accounting and auditing rules and regulations,” cited the documents.
With the Sangguniang Bayan passing a resolution granting him authority, Alberto entered into a memorandum of agreement with the two party-list groups and GPMFI in January 2012.
The deal specified that the local government unit (LGU), as a mere custodian of the funding, will release 90 percent of the funds directly to the GPMFI, upon written authority of the congressman. It likewise directed the LGU to pay the foundation a three-percent “management fee” upon the initial release of the fund.
Municipal accountant Lilian Baloloy, however, had refused to act on the mayor’s request to release the fund to the GPMFI from the PDAF that came from the A Teacher party-list group. Instead, she submitted to the mayor’s office letters from the Commission on Audit (COA) on the restrictions on direct fund release.
Alberto, however, sent an emissary to Baloloy who instructed her to process the vouchers, saying that the mayor was assuming all responsibility for the transaction.
In acceding to the mayor’s request, Baloloy issued a certification that she was not in a position to question the propriety of the transactions and asked that she be exempted from any liability “as I have acted with objection and in compliance to the issued memoranda” of the mayor.
A two-day training was subsequently conducted at the municipality, with the recipients getting African Night Crawlers and Malaysian Blue Worms, bins and beddings, as well as assorted vegetable seeds and seedling trays and the livelihood manuals.
Up to now, little has been known about the actual impact of the two projects.
The Inquirer learned that local agriculture personnel did not monitor the implementation of the vermiculture and vermicomposting projects of the recipients.
The Municipal Agriculture Office did not even have a copy of the list of beneficiaries, as the records “were in the mayor’s office,” according to a source who asked not to be named for lack of authority to speak on the issue.
The Inquirer tried to get the side of incumbent Mayor Flerida Antonio-Alberto, particularly on how the projects came about, but her aide, Roger Zuñiga, said the mayor decided to keep mum.
Memoranda of agreement
Unlike the 2012 transactions that included partylist groups or legislators who authorized the release of the PDAF allocations in the memoranda of agreement, the 2013 MOAs had only the mayor and the NGO as signatories.
What were unchanged were the provisions that the PDAF, as requested by the party-list group or legislator, should be transferred to the NGO as the local government is merely considered the custodian of the funds. Ninety percent of the total cost was to be released to the NGO, upon receipt of the Notice of Award, and the remaining balance upon project completion.
It was the offices of the party-list representatives and Senator Sotto that forwarded the copy of the special allotment release order (Saro) to the local government unit, a municipal official said.
The GPMFI and Kaagapay Magpakailanman Foundation Inc. (KMFI) have similar sets of officers, as shown by the COA special audit report.
Aside from Carlos L. Soriano, who was identified as president of the KMFI, the report also named as officials of the KMFI three other individuals: Godofredo Roque, Marilou Ferrer and Francisca Mercado. A certain “Frances” arrived in Virac on or about the start of the series of seminars being conducted by the NGO, said a source interviewed.
Documents showed that Roque and Ferrer and one Marilou Antonio are likewise the same officers of the GPMFI which got the P7-million PDAF allocations from A Teacher and Alagad party-list groups in 2012. Ferrer submitted the project proposals to the two party-list representatives while Antonio signed the MOA as GPMFI president.
Soriano was also one of the people behind another NGO, Kabuhayan at Kalusugan Alay sa Masa Foundation Inc., which got P27.16 million in pork barrel from then Catanduanes Rep. Joseph Santiago in 2007 and 2009 through the National Agribusiness Corp.
The Inquirer could not confirm whether the Marilou Antonio identified as GPMFI president is related to Mayor Antonio-Alberto, a native of Dinalupihan town, Bataan province, who replaced her husband as mayor of this town.
Records from the Commission on Elections showed that a certain Marilou Antonio Cucueco filed her certificate of candidacy as mayor of Dinalupihan, Bataan, for the same elections.