CEBU CITY—Fruit tree seedlings worth P6.2 million and a goat house costing over P600,000 are among the projects on which public funds, credited to the pork of ex-Rep. Antonio Cuenco, were spent and which are now being investigated by the Ombudsman.
The goat house now stands empty in the mountain village of Taptap, this city. There are no goats in sight. Its wooden floors are intact. Its railings had gathered rust and its roof dotted with holes.
Antonio Cuenco, former representative whose pork was credited for the projects, admitted yesterday that he had requested a realignment of his priority development assistance fund (PDAF) originally meant for purchasing goats to buying cars instead.
The realignment was made on the request of villages that supposedly benefited from Cuenco’s pork. At least 10 cars were bought, but Cuenco said he could not remember what types of cars these were and which village received the vehicles, except for the village of Mambaling.
Where are projects?
Pelagio Apostol, deputy Ombudsman for the Visayas, said his office is now on the preliminary investigation stage of scrutinizing the projects.
The investigation is focused, however, on the absence of projects to show how P14.7 million of Cuenco’s pork, released in 2006, had been spent.
The funds were released to Eugenio Faelnar, former chair of the village of Guadalupe, for the construction of a goat house and purchase of fruit tree seedlings and goats.
Of the P14 million in public funds, at least P6.2 million was supposed to have been spent on the purchase of rambutan, lanzones, mango and durian seedlings from the firm WM Sprouts Center. More than P600,000 was spent on a goat house built by the firm Win Construction near the Cebu City agriculture office in the mountain village of Taptap.
At least P245,000 was supposed to have been spent on farm equipment. At least P7.6 million, supposedly for the purchase of goats, was turned over to the regional office of the Department of Agriculture in Central Visayas.
The goat house is now dilapidated and is being used as venue for monthly meetings of farmers, according to Jovencio Englatera, a staffer of the city agriculture office. The fruit tree seedlings had been distributed to 23 villages in the city.
Apostol said the Ombudsman has elevated the case, which was filed by the Public Assistance and Corruption Prevention Office (Pacpo) of the Ombudsman Visayas, from fact finding to preliminary investigation.
Aside from Faelnar, the Ombudsman is also investigating Wilfredo Gallardo, chair of the bids and awards committee of Barangay Guadalupe, according to Apostol.
Apostol said Cuenco would have to answer questions regarding his pork, although the former congressman is not yet covered by the investigation.
In a phone interview, Cuenco said he would answer any questions regarding the case. “I’m willing to testify in case they need me. I will tell the truth,” he said.
He said he had asked the DA to check if the seedlings had been planted and if their cost was reasonable. The DA, he said, has not replied.
“I really had doubts regarding the P6.2 million that was spent to purchase seedlings,” he said.
Faelnar insisted that the seedlings had been distributed to 23 Cebu City villages.
“The fruit-bearing trees were properly documented. Any barangay who asked for it were given. I also gave seedlings to barangays from the northern part of Cebu,” Faelnar said.
Barangay Adlaon, one of the 23 villages that supposedly received seedlings, got 1,000 seedlings, said Nieves Narra, the village’s former chair.
Narra said the 1,000 seedlings were distributed to residents and farmers who asked for them.
Most of the seedlings are now fully grown trees but some died due to lack of care and water and other factors.
One of the farmers who received the seedlings, Francisco Arde, said he gets 80 kg of rambutan from three trees per harvest. He sells these for P50 per kg.
Consuelo Go, secretary of the village of Guadalupe, said more than P7 million of Cuenco’s pork had been turned over to the regional DA office.
According to Faelnar, the amount was supposedly for the purchase of goats for meat and milk production. He said he decided to turn the money over to the regional DA office because the department knew more about goats.
Grace Dagala, information officer of the regional DA office, said she knows of no project to purchase goats, however, after Faelnar turned over checks to Ricardo Oblena, former DA regional chief, in 2006.
Oblena had been dismissed from service after he was linked to the P728-million fertilizer scam allegedly pulled off by former agriculture undersecretary Jocelyn “Jocjoc” Bolante and which also allegedly involved a nongovernment organization of pork scam queen Janet Lim-Napoles.