Solon in graft case gets P35-M pork
CALBAYOG CITY, Samar—At least P35 million of public funds has been released as pork barrel of a legislator in this province who is currently on trial at the Sandiganbayan for a P16-million graft case involving the purchase of supplies without public bidding.
At least P11 million of the amount released as pork to Milagrosa Tan, former governor of Samar and now representative, has been supposedly spent on road repairs for villages in this city that, a village chief said, appeared to be nonexistent.
As early as February this year, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has already released P35 million in public funds for Milagrosa’s pork, or half of what she is supposedly entitled to in Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) this year. PDAF is the official name of pork for legislators.
Milagrosa, a member of the ruling Liberal Party whose term limit as governor expired in June so she changed places with her daughter, Sharee Ann, ordered the release of P11 million purportedly for road repairs in at least two villages here.
The chief of a village that was supposed to benefit from the projects, however, said he had not seen any ongoing road repair project in his place.
Sharee Ann is now governor and her brother, Stephen James, is vice governor of this province, one of the country’s poorest.
In 2006, Milagrosa was charged with graft for the purchase of supplies worth P16 million without public bidding. Some of the funds used were meant to help survivors of a storm in the province and some of the money ended up being spent on appliances, like electric fans. The case is pending at the antigraft court Sandiganbayan.
Records at the DBM showed that Milagrosa was able to get P35 million in public funds as her pork barrel in February. The amount is already half of her P70 million in pork.
Of the P35 million, more than P11 million has been released for road repairs in barangays Lagundi and Peña in this city.
The road projects seem to be invisible, however. According to Felomino Cabariban, chair of Barangay Lagundi, he has not seen any project to repair roads in his village or in Peña.
“Since January of this year, I have not seen any road repair from Lagundi to Peña,” said Cabariban. “You can visit our barangay to check it,” he said.
What Cabariban saw was a riprap project being implemented by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). Barangay Lagundi is a 10-minute drive away from this city.
Records at the DBM also showed that more than P1 million of public funds, credited as Milagrosa’s pork, was allocated for a road construction project on 7th Street in this city.
The same records showed public funds, which took the form of Milagrosa’s pork, were spent on flood control structures(P5.3 million), footbridges (P600,000), health center (P1.2 million) and another road project (P300,000).
Councilor Coefredo Uy, who served his last term as mayor of the city in June 2013, said he would check the status of the supposed road projects on 7th Street, but added that he hadn’t seen any road project.
“I will check it,” Uy said. “I don’t see any road construction in the area.”
Some residents reported seeing a drainage system and a road repair project on 7th Street.
In a text message to the Inquirer, engineer Nestor Mate, head of the DPWH Samar second engineering district, insisted that the road projects in Barangay Lagundi and 7th Street existed. He, however, didn’t elaborate on the status of the two projects.
The Inquirer repeatedly tried to call Milagrosa for comment but to no avail.
The provincial government also received P15 million of public funds, credited as Milagrosa’s pork, for medical and dental missions in different towns shortly before the May 13 elections.
Fr. Cesar Aculan of the Calbayog Diocese Social Action Center questioned the release of public funds credited as pork of Milagrosa to the province.
“Why download the fund to the province when it can be directly given to the mayors in the second district who need medical assistance for their constituents?” Aculan said.
“And the problem with that, only the mayors known to be their allies will benefit from the project,” said the priest. “And of course, the political credit goes to the governor,” he added.
He expressed lament at the slow pace of the graft case against Milagrosa at the Sandiganbayan. “The judicial process is very slow because they said they are following due process,” the priest said.