COA files 46 counts of graft vs ex-gov
PUERTO PRINCESA, Palawan—The Commission on Audit (COA) has filed 46 counts of graft against fugitive former Palawan Gov. Joel T. Reyes and 40 other ex-officials of the province as well as private contractors for the alleged misuse of P2.57 billion in Malampaya Fund that were granted to Palawan in 2008 by the Arroyo administration.
The complaint, filed in the Ombudsman by COA Chair Grace Pulido-Tan, stemmed from the findings of a COA special audit that key government officials misused the Malampaya Fund by either rigging the bidding for the projects funded by the money to favor certain private contractors, awarding contracts disadvantageous to the government, falsifying documents of accomplishment reports, or overpricing infrastructure projects.
Also included in the complaint is a group of Palawan-based private contractors who allegedly cornered all of the 23 projects funded by the P2.57 billion that represented the province’s initial share of the royalties from the Malampaya gas project off the coast of Palawan.
Before filing the complaint, the COA special audit team issued a supplemental report to its audit findings completed in 2011, indicting as well the private contractors involved in the projects.
Reyes, who reportedly fled the country early last year after he was charged for the 2011 murder of Palawan crusading broadcaster Dr. Gerry Ortega, was the main respondent in the COA complaint, stemming from his key role in approving the projects and authorizing the payments to the select group of contractors.
Link to Ortega slay
Fellow journalists believe that Ortega, an antigraft and environmental crusader, was killed because of his relentless questioning in his radio program of the role of Reyes in the misuse of the Malampaya Fund.
A COA source who furnished the Inquirer with a copy of the complaint said the Ombudsman was still at the stage of completing the delivery of the complaint/information to the 41 respondents, including Reyes.
The source, who asked not to be identified for lack of authority to speak on the matter, also declined to say when the complaint was actually filed, except to say that it was submitted to the Office of the Ombudsman “just recently.”
Also included in the charge sheet were members of the provincial bids and awards committee during Reyes’ incumbency and the department heads of the provincial government.
The Inquirer source said similar graft cases will be filed by the COA against the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) 2nd engineering district in Palawan, which was the implementing agency appointed by then Congressman Abraham Kahlil Mitra to utilize his pork barrel entitlements for southern Palawan.
(Mitra became the governor of Palawan after the expiration of his three terms as congressman but lost his reelection bid in the May 2013 election to the current governor, Jose C. Alvarez.)
According to COA records, Palawan received in 2008 a total of P3.9 billion from the Malampaya Fund, a special fund which holds the proceeds from the natural gas project began in 2001 and which has so far remitted to the government $4 billion in revenues.
But until a legal question on how the Malampaya proceeds are to be shared by the national government and the host local government is resolved, the President has full control over how the fund is spent.
The grant of P3.9 billion in 2008 was made in the form of a discretionary fund which was folded into the pork barrel entitlements of Palawan’s two congressmen at the time—Representatives Antonio Alvarez of the first district and Mitra of the second district—and the province’s governor, Reyes.
The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) released the money to agencies identified by Alvarez, Mitra and Reyes.
It was an interim arrangement negotiated by Reyes and the Arroyo administration while a legal dispute remains unresolved in the Supreme Court as to whether or not Palawan is entitled to a 40-percent share of the Malampaya royalties.
Where money went
Under the arrangement, Reyes and the two congressmen got to identify projects for funding from the Malampaya Fund made available by Malacañang.
Reyes funneled the bulk of his share to a reclamation project in his Coron hometown. Antonio Alvarez, a younger brother of the incumbent governor, funneled most of his share to an airport project in San Vicente but designated the provincial government as its implementing agency.
Mitra downloaded his share to the DPWH 2nd engineering district, mainly for roads and bridge projects throughout southern Palawan.
Last January, the Senate blue ribbon committee conducted an investigation into the DPWH projects in southern Palawan, during which Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson testified that public works officials in the province may have violated internal procedures in executing the infrastructure projects.
Committee chair Sen. Teofisto Guingona III concluded during the hearings that Ortega may have been killed for his repeated attacks against Reyes and other Palawan officials whom he accused of corruption.
The source explained that the filing of the case against Reyes et al. stemmed from the creation in April 2012 of a joint fact-finding body between COA and the Office of the Ombudsman after COA completed its special audit of all the Malampaya Fund that went to Palawan.
COA Chair Tan will be represented in the case by the audit agency’s general counsel, Commissioner Elizabeth S. Zosa, the source said.
Malampaya fund audit explosive, says COA
Malampaya fund lost P900M in JLN racket
Janet Napoles and the pork barrel scam
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.