Aklan execs face raps over misuse of fees
The National Bureau of Investigation has filed graft and malversation charges against former and incumbent officials of Malay town in Aklan province for the alleged misuse of millions of pesos from the town’s environmental fees collected from tourists who visited Boracay Island from 2009 to 2017.
Charged were suspended Mayor Ceciron Cawaling, former Mayor John Yap, former Vice Mayor Wilbec Gelito and 18 former and incumbent councilors.
Municipal treasurer Dediosa Dioso and 11 town collectors were also included in the charge sheet.
The complaint was filed in the Office of the Ombudsman on Tuesday.
According to NBI-National Capital Region, it was under these officials’ watch when the collection of environmental and administration fees (EAF) was allegedly misappropriated.
The NBI said there was a “consistent pattern of discrepancy” between the amount of fees collected and reported by the town treasurer and accountant.
From 2012 to 2017, a discrepancy amounting to P30,678,920.73 was noted in reports submitted by the two treasury officials, the NBI said.
For the same period, a discrepancy of P84,860,570 was also noted in the report filed by the municipal treasurer compared to the report by the town tourism office.
“Noticeably, the report from the municipal treasurer always declared a lower amount (shortage) as compared to the reports from the tourism office and accountant,” the NBI said.
“When confronted with this observation, the municipal treasurer offered no concrete explanation but admitted that she was aware of the shortage,” it said.
The NBI said that from 2009 to 2017, the municipal treasurer failed to deposit the full amount of collection on time.
“This is an irregularity which creates a presumption that funds collected by the treasurer are kept and converted for personal use for a certain period … prior to depositing the same in a government regulatory bank,” the NBI said.
Malay officials on Thursday said they had yet to receive a copy of the complaint.
But former Councilor Rowen Aguirre, now executive assistant to Cawaling, suspected that discrepancies in collection were results of “exemptions.”
He said the municipal tourism office might have listed children, 12 years and below, and government officials as regular tourists who were asked to pay the P75 environmental fee. Boracay residents, children and government officials are exempt from paying environmental fee.
Aguirre said the Commission on Audit (COA) had not called their attention about the discrepancy. “The COA doesn’t cite any problems with our collections,” he said.
The NBI started the probe after President Duterte, early this year, ordered a six-month closure and environmental rehabilitation of the resort island. Boracay reopened to tourists on Oct. 26.
The President also formed an interagency task force that would draw up measures to reverse the degradation of Boracay.
Following President Duterte’s order, the Department of Justice tasked its main investigative arm, the NBI, to look into possible violations of environmental laws, municipal ordinances and administrative regulations committed by officials tasked to manage Boracay in the past 20 years.
Three NBI units—the NBI-NCR, the NBI Environmental Crime Division and the NBI office in Iloilo City—undertook the probe.
In July, the NBI filed five separate complaints against officials of Aklan province and business owners over their supposed involvement in the destruction of the island. —WITH REPORTS FROM HAZEL VILLA AND JOEL FRANCO
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