Governor Jose Alvarez on Wednesday went on live public radio to debunk a graft and grave misconduct case filed against him and key provincial government officials before the Office of the Ombudsman by a private citizen.
In a simulcast interview over Radyo Bandera and Radio Mindanao Network (RMN), Gov. Alvarez brushed aside the complaint filed by Mansueto Fuertes, as having “no basis.”
Fuertes, a known political ally of former Puerto Princesa mayor Edward Hagedorn, has filed the case against Alvarez, Vice Governor Dennis Socrates and 15 other local officials for alleged fraudulent use of public funds.
Alvarez said he has yet to receive a copy of the complaint.
“Hindi pa ako nakatanggap ng official [copy] na galing sa Ombudsman nang sinasabing kaso, ngunit sa mga istorya-istorya? Nakakatawa dahil tatlo lang naman ang main issue. Primero, bakit ko daw dineposito ‘yong pera ng gobyerno, ‘yong trust fund doon sa time deposit kasi made-delay daw ang mga projects. Pangalawa, hindi daw puwede na merong admin at saka straight contract pagsamahin, at pangatlo, wala din daw debt policy ang provincial government, utang lang ng utang daw ng pera, wala mang makulong dyan sa mga akusasyon nilang ‘yan dahil sana makatanggap na ako ng kopya para sagutin na natin ng opisyal, eh, wala pa. Ito unofficial pa ito, wag na lang natin masyadong (inaudible) hindi naman ito labag sa batas na pag-usapan dahil sinabi lang sa akin sa text,” he said in the joint radio interview.
Alvarez said Fuertes’ complaint has no basis, explaining they did not make a time deposit but merely availed of a new product that anytime, the provincial government can get the trust fund to pay ongoing projects.
Fuertes has claimed that local government funds amounting to P1.7 million from Calendar Years (CYs) 2014 to 2017 were invested in time deposits instead of being utilized for the implementation of intended programs and projects of the provincial government.
Fuertes’ complaint was based on “the Observations and Recommendations of the Annual Audit Report on the Province of Palawan for the Year Ended December 31, 2017, by the Commission on Audit (COA).
Fuertes said investing the unused funds in time deposits was a violation of Section 309B of RA 7160 as the act will cause the delay in project implementations and will deprive the public of the benefits intended to be derived from them.
“Totoo, pero hindi time deposit kundi high yield savings account. Bagong produkto ‘yan na any time makukuha mo ‘yong pera trust fund para ibayad doon sa proyekto. Dahil napakalaki ang trust fund ng Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) na na-download sa atin sobrang isang bilyon. Ang trust fund ng Department of Health (DOH) sobra sa P800 million, ang trust fund ng Department of Transportation (DOTr) ngayon, ‘yong para sa paggawa ng pier sa Kalayaan, na una pa lang ‘yon, ‘yong daungan lang ng LCT mga P543 million. Tanungin kita, bakit dina-download ng national government sa provincial government itong mga kaperahang ito? Eh, syempre kasi may tiwala sila sa akin, di ba? Na hindi ko nanakawin ang perang ito,” Alvarez said.
He pointed out “it is not time deposit”, but “high yield savings account”, a product specially offered by banks with a higher interest rate.
Alvarez said time deposit is not the only product the banks have.
“Ambot kung meron crime na ikulong ang isang public official kasi kumita ‘yong habang hindi ginagamit ‘yong pera, kasi halimbawa may project ka, singkwenta milyones ang project, hindi man ‘yon puwedeng i-bill ng isang beses lang na P50 million kaagad ibigay mo sa contractor. Progress billing ‘yan,” he said.
He said while the remaining amount is not in use, it can be deposited in the bank to earn.
Alvarez added the amount was not deposited under his name but that of the provincial government.
“Habang hindi mo ginagamit yong pera ng gobyerno, ideposito mo para kumita. Syempre [dineposito ‘yon sa provincial government], di ba?” he said.
Contrary to Fuertes’ complaint, Alvarez said provincial government projects are not delayed unless there are no construction aggregates, there is bad weather, and if contractors have no capabilities to finish them on time.
He said his 16 co-accused are mulling to file a case of malicious prosecution against Fuertes that could give him jail time.
“‘Yong mga kasama ko, disisyete kasi kaming kinasuhan, eh, gusto nila file-an itong si Fuertes, kilala naman natin, dati naman itong sa kapitolyo din. Kapag finile-lan ‘yan, disisyete din kaming mag-file, ang malicious prosecution ay anim na buwan. I-multiply mo ang anim na buwan sa disisyete, eh, di mga less than 10 years. Doon namin i-file sa Quezon City, pabalik-balik, tingnan namin kung hindi mapagod,” he said.
On administration and straight project contracts, Alvarez said the provincial government is the only local government unit (LGU) in the country that “opened, repaired, and rehabilitated 5,580 kilometers of roads around Palawan.”
Balabac’s 83-kilometer circumferential road is reportedly being constructed now — a “feat” that no one has done in 116 years in the province.
“Ngayon, 83 kilometers of concrete roads all around Balabac, pagkatapos niyan tuloy-tuloy na ‘yan sa mga barangay para gumanda ang kabuhayan doon ng ating mga kababayang Muslim. Bawal ba ‘yon?,” he said.
He described the audit observation of the COA as “vicious”, saying there was nothing wrong with the provincial government saving funds to be able to extend and widen roads to villages that do not have them so their livelihood activities could also prosper.
Currently, he said the provincial government is saving P5 million for every kilometer of road projects. The savings was earned after the purchase of P1.2 billion of light and heavy equipment.
“Alam mo naman kung bakit maraming audit observation. Sabi ko sa ating mga administrators and department heads, sagutin lang ninyo isa-isa para kung kasuhan tayo, meron tayong makukuha kaagad. So noong sinabi sa akin merong ganyan-ganyan (kaso), pina-retrieve ko ‘yong mga dokumento, kumpleto tayo para pang-sagot,” he said.
On the provincial government not having a “debt policy”, he said it is merely a memorandum. What LGUs should do is really to adhere to Republic Act 7160 or the “Local Government Code of 1991”.
“Memorandum man lang ‘yan, ang sundin mo talaga ‘yong lahat ng LGU ay i-subject to RA 7160. Ang sabi ng act any national government or LGU can create independence. Anong ibig sabihin noon? Puwede kang mangutang ang hindi lang puwede ay kung sosobra ka sa ceiling mo… in other words, hindi ka papayagang mangutang kung hindi mo kayang bayaran,” he said.
He said the “debt policy” is that if LGUs want to borrow, they can go to the Bureau of Local Government Finance (BLGF) to request for their certificates of “debt ceiling” after they have presented their financial statuses and statements.
LGUs would also need to go to the Central Bank of the Philippines (CBP) and show to the monetary board how your loan for a certain project will create economic activity and increase gross domestic product in the province.
The third requirement to be able to loan, he said, is to request authorization from the Provincial Board (PB).
“Noong nag-takeover ako noong 2013, ang ating gross domestic product is negative one percent. Noong 2017, 6.2 percent na ‘yan. Kaya ngayon makikita mo kahit saan ka pumunta sa Palawan, grabe ang mga sarakayan (sasakyan), grabe ang mga tindahan, grabe ang mga resorts na nagbubukas… masama ba ‘yon?” he said.
Fuertes also filed graft, technical malversation, grave misconduct, and serious dishonesty complaints on January 31, 2019, against Governor Alvarez, Vice Governor Dennis Socrates, board members Roseller Pineda, Eduardo Modesto Rodriguez, Albert Rama, Winston Arzaga, Leoncio Ola, Sunny Batul, Marivic Roxas, Dennis Sabando, Joel Lumis, Cherry Pie Acosta, Sharon Abiog-Onda, Clarito Demaala IV, David Francis Ponce de Leon, provincial engineer Purisima, and provincial treasurer Elino Mondragon.
In his complaint-affidavit, Fuertes said all officials of the provincial government are guilty of “violation of Section 3, Paragraphs (a) and (g) of Republic Act (RA) 3019 otherwise known as the “Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act” and technical malversation punishable under Article 220 of the Revised Penal Code.