AN opposition lawmaker accused President Benigno Aquino III Tuesday of turning the P170 billion Malampaya Fund into his own pork barrel and releasing some P33 billion for non-energy-related projects, including the acquisition of refurbished US warships.
Kabataan Rep. Terry Ridon demanded that the Commision on Audit release its special audit report on the Malampaya funds under Aquino and that the Palace account for the Special Fund.
In September 2013, or two months before the Supreme Court struck down the use of the Malampaya Fund for non-energy projects as unconstitutional, President Aquino released P15 billion for 10 projects, Ridon said.
“Where did the rest of the gas reserve proceeds go?” Ridon asked.
Ridon said he wondered how the President considered the purchase of US warships or financial assistance to public utility drivers to be related to energy development.
The non-energy projects included the acquisition or transfer of the USCGC Hamilton for P423.06 million; the transfer, dry-docking and periodic hull maintenance costs of Weather High Endurance Cutter Class Vessel for P880.61 million; the Public Transport Assistance Program (PTAP) - Pantawid Pasada for P300 million and another Pantawid Pasada for P150 million.
Ridon also took the COA to task for its failure to release its findings on the use of the Malampaya funds under President Aquino.
“COA’s refusal to divulge more details on how the Malampaya funds were utilized under the Aquino administration has created a blind spot in public accountability. While things are clearing up on how the P900-million Malampaya fund scam under the Arroyo administration came to be, the public is still left in the dark on how Aquino used Malampaya during his term as President,” he said.
At the Senate hearing on Monday, Ridon said, COA chairperson Maria Gracia Pulido-Tan said of the estimated P170 billion Malampaya gas reserve fund, a total of P33 billion has been released to various government agencies as of June 2013.
Of the P33 billion, Ridon said the President ordered the release of P15 billion for 10 projects.
Citing Palace documents, Ridon said, apart from the US war ships, the other Malampaya-funded projects were fuel requirement of National Power Corporation (NPC) - Small Power Utilities at P2 billion; fuel requirement, genset lease/rental and half of capital expenditures requirements of NPC-Small Power Utilities Group at P1.62 billion; sitio electrification project at P814.41 million; NPC’s short term loan facility with LBP (missionary electrification) at P3 billion; and barangay line enhancement and sitio electrification projects at P1.10 billion.
Tan also revealed that a “special audit” is currently being conducted to review the use of the Malampaya funds, saying that her agency found red flags on several fund releases, particularly in the Department of Public Works and Highways and the Department of Interior and Local Government, Ridon said.
The chief state auditor, however, refused to give more details on the upcoming report, which she promised to release next year, he said.
“Since the Malampaya scam erupted last year, the Filipino people have been clamoring for the release of COA audit reports that cover the entire fund. Yet the COA chair has again dodged this request with another cliffhanger,” Ridon said.
In its ruling on the pork barrel issued last November, the Supreme Court ruled as unconstitutional the provisions of several laws that allow the President to use the Malampaya Fund for purposes other than energy related projects.
“With COA refusing to release its audit report on the Malampaya fund releases and the Aquino administration not releasing more details on the use of the special fund, the risk of a big-time corruption cover-up is very high,” Ridon noted.
Ridon said the Malampaya fund question was just another proof that the Palace’s “straight path” rhetoric is hollow.
“With billions of unaccounted public funds left in the discretion ofvthe President, we fear that a government-run mafia is orchestrating a big-time corruption scheme, with the aid of no less than COA itself,” Ridon said.
United Nationalist Alliance interim president and Navotas Rep. Toby Tiangco lashed out at the manner by which the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee handled the Malampaya probe.
Tiangco said after wantonly crucifying Vice President Jejomar Binay in the court of public opinion based on mere “red flags” raised by COA from its Makati audits, Senator Teofisto Guingona III’s Blue Ribbon Committee was now so protective about disclosing preliminary findings of the state audit agency about the more than 15-billion worth of transactions involving the Malampaya Funds.
He also hit the Guingona panel for having a double standard, compelling the COA to present its preliminary report on the Makati City Hall Building 2, but refusing to do the same on the Malampaya Fund scam.
“Is it because the Malampaya audit could implicate, not just the former Arroyo allies who transferred to LP with the promise of protection from cases, but also the ‘Tuwid na Daan’ pretenders who are officials and allies of the LP-led Aquino administration?” Tiangco said.
Tiangco said if Guingona really wanted to ferret out the truth and go after those who were actively involved in siphoning the Malampaya Fund, then the Senate Blue Ribbon should also summon Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and order her to produce the five-and-a-half-hour recorded testimony of alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles.
He challenged the Senate ethics committee to conduct on its own an investigation of any lawmakers mentioned in the Napoles sworn statement.
“But the Liberal Party allies in the Senate seem to be hiding something. That’s why they don’t want Napoles to appear before the Malampaya Fund probe,” Tiangco said.
Senator Nancy Binay, meanwhile, criticized the COA for the slow pace of its Malampaya Fund review.
“I find it unacceptable the admission of COA that it has yet to complete its audit report on the releases made from the Malampaya Fund,” said Binay.
The senator said she was baffled why COA was still on the preliminary review stage when it has already been eight years since “red flags” were raised. With Macon Ramos-Araneta
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