8 lawmakers got PCSO funds
Eight lawmakers, including Representatives Diosdado “Dato” Arroyo of Camarines Sur and Danilo Suarez of Quezon, were granted by the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) a total of P92.2 million in endowments for their constituents’ hospital and medical expenses in the last three and a half years of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s presidency.
According to PCSO documents showing the approved request for endowments in 2010, Arroyo’s younger son received P500,000 for a Naga City hospital while Suarez, a staunch Arroyo ally, received a total amount of P68 million for 16 hospitals.
Suarez, who claimed to have picked up the $20,000 dinner tab of then President Arroyo’s party at Le Cirque restaurant in New York two years ago, said that the P53-million fund was distributed to hospitals identified by other members of Congress.
The other six lawmakers who received endowments from 2007 to 2010 were Negros Oriental Representative George Arnaiz (P11.5 million), Bulacan Representative Ma. Victoria Sy-Alvarado (P8 million), Nueva Ecija Representative Rodolfo Antonino (P5 million), Cagayan de Oro Representative Rufus Rodriguez (P5 million), then Bulacan Representative Lorna Silverio and then North Cotabato Representative Emmylou Talino Mendoza (P1.2 million). PCSO general manager Ferdinand Rojas said the agency had stopped granting endowments to politicians because the practice smacked of “favoritism” and “political patronage.”
Rojas said that based on the documents, only Arroyo administration allies were granted endowments and only the constituents of the specific representatives benefited from the medical and hospital support.
“You cannot access the endowment fund without a signed endorsement letter from the representative,” Rojas said.
“We believe that representatives have more than enough funds in their pork barrel (P70 million annually) to provide their constituents medical and hospital support. We’d rather provide the endowment to all government hospitals so there would be no favoritism,” he said.
Directly to constituents
In a phone interview, Rodriguez said that the PCSO released only P1.5 million of the P5 million he had requested, and that the funds went directly to the Northern Mindanao Medical Center.
In a text message, Antonino said he received the full P5-million endowment, which had been fully liquidated by the PCSO and validated by the Commission on Audit.
“We should not obligate the poor to troop to Manila in order to obtain assistance,” Antonino said.
In a press conference, Suarez justified his demand for special funds from the PCSO by saying that the money went directly to the beneficiaries and nothing to his pockets.
‘For the countryside’
In a letter to then PCSO Chair Rosario Uriarte on June 18, 2010, Suarez asked for a total of P88 million in endowments as part of “the national government’s thrust to improve the quality of life in the countryside.”
Suarez listed 11 hospitals and the planned endowment for each: National Kidney and Transplant Institute (P15 million), Philippine General Hospital (P10 million), Philippine Heart Center (P10 million), Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center (P8 million), East Avenue Medical Center (P8 million), Philippine Children’s Medical Center (P8 million), Philippine Orthopedic Center (P8 million), Lung Center of the Philippines (P8 million), San Lazaro Hospital (P5 million), Quirino Memorial Medical Center (P3 million), and National Center for Mental Health (P3 million).
Three days later and nine days before Arroyo stepped down from office, the PCSO board—composed of Uriarte, chair Sergio Valencia, and directors Jose R. Taruc V, Nestor Camacho, Manuel Morato and Raymundo Roquero—signed Resolution No. 2141 approving a total of P53 million in endowment for all 11 hospitals at P5 million each, except for the National Center for Mental Health with P3 million.
Suarez wrote in his letter: “Having been fortunate to win another term as representative of the third district of Quezon, my congressional district is being flooded with requests for financial assistance for hospitalization and provision of medicines to my constituents. Much as this representation wants to grant their requests, I could not do so as my available resources are almost depleted and are allocated for other similarly important purposes.”
Suarez also anticipated that being an ally of Arroyo, he would be last on the list of representatives in the distribution of pork barrel: “I am likewise expecting that with my membership in the minority bloc of the incoming 15th Congress, resources for my district will further be limited.”
The other lawmakers had yet to respond to requests for comment at press time.
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