Meeting to solve Dinagat funding problems turns into catfight
SURIGAO CITY, Philippines—A meeting called to discuss Dinagat Island’s budget woes on Friday turned ugly when a confrontation between Vice Gov. Geraldine Ecleo and Surigao provincial budget officer Maria Gay Cotiangco degerated into a clawing, hair-pulling catfight.
The meeting, held at the Surigao del Norte Capitol here, was attended by officials of both provinces and was presided over by Rene Burdeos, regional director of the Department of the Interior and Local Government.
Burdeos said that a memorandum of agreement between officials of Dinagat and Surigao del Norte for the funding of Dinagat’s district hospital, whose employees have been working unpaid for a year now, was being discussed when the confrontation erupted.
Dinagat’s internal revenue allotment, which amounted to about P100 million, was scrapped from the 2011 national budget because its status as a province has yet to be settled by the Supreme Court with finality. It now relies on Surigao del Norte, its mother province, to fund crucial expenditures such as the 50-bed district hospital.
Witnesses told the Inquirer that in the middle of the heated exchange between Ecleo and Cotiangco, a physical confrontation occurred.
In her subsequent report to the Surigao City police, Cotiangco said Ecleo slapped her, pulled her hair and clawed her face.
Ecleo told reporters she might have grabbed Cotiangco’s hair when they scuffled but denied she slapped her.
The two had different versions of what the fight was all about.
Ecleo said Cotiangco attacked her after she told her to shut up. She said she was talking during the meeting but the budget officer interrupted her.
In her version, Cotiangco said it was Ecleo who attacked her when she gave a retort to being told to shut up.
According to Burdeos’ account, the two officials pulled each other’s hair. Burdeos said he did not see Ecleo slapping Cotiangco.
He said he could not categorically say who started it all.
Cotiangco said Surigao del Norte provincial administrator Primolito Plaza and DILG provincial director Domingo Bulabog could testify on her side. None of these officials, however, would comment on the incident when asked by the Inquirer.
Dinagat’s financial woes started with the flip-flopping decision of the Supreme Court on the legality of its conversion into a province.
The high court had earlier declared as valid the 2006 law that created the province of Dinagat when it was questioned by Surigao City residents in 2010. The court later reversed that decision.
Dinagat officials filed a motion for reconsideration, which remains unresolved to this day.
But the reversal of the original decision cost Dinagat its IRA when the Department of Budget and Management decided to withhold it in November.
In a privilege speech last November, Rep. Erico Aumentado of Bohol, chair of the House committee on ethics, said the non-release of the IRA has prevented the officials of the province from delivering basic services to the people and has also resulted in the non-payment of employees’ salaries.
”The consequent effect of the latter is that several provincial government employees have failed to send their students to college and even to high school,” Aumentado said.