EDITORIAL: The incomplete story about Palawan’s Malampaya fund share

The recent Court of Appeals ruling affirming the Ombudsman’s dismissal of 18 former Capitol executives over the misuse of some P2.57 billion in Malampaya funds underscores the sordid narrative of Palawan and the natural gas project off the western coast of El Nido.

As early as November 2014, the Ombudsman convicted  the members of the Palawan provincial government’s bids and awards committee “for grave misconduct and serious dishonesty”. The case originated from the findings made by the Commission on Audit (COA) that infrastructure projects funded by Malampaya funds were rigged to favor certain private contractors. Last August 3, the CA upheld the Ombudsman’s ruling.

This case only referred to the funds that were administered by the provincial government. The amount of P2.57 billion included both its share and that of former 1st district Rep. Antonio Alvarez who had turned over his allocation to the provincial government. Another portion of the total Malampaya share was assigned to then Rep. Abraham Mitra for the projects he had identified for his own congressional district. A portion of Mitra’s congressional district share was slashed in favor of the city government for projects identified by its administration, then headed by Mayor Edward Hagedorn.

Palawan’s Malampaya sharing scheme was classic pork barrel. In order to resolve the impasse caused by the province’s legal challenge to the royalty money, an issue still pending in the Supreme Court, the Arroyo administration gave each of the key political players in the province a bulk of funds that they can use to fund their choice projects.

Malacañang in return got a free hand to utilize the bulk of the royalty. This side of the Malampaya narrative was all about how the national funds were used by certain politicians including senators and congressmen some of whom ended up in jail for plunder and corruption while others are present close political allies of the current administration.

The power intrinsic to having control of the Malampaya funds was overused in the case of the provincial government, as the CA ruling affirmed. According to the COA findings, the regular bidding procedures were ignored and several private contractors unqualified to undertake the prioritized projects benefitted from the funds. The 18 capitol employees, all members of the Bids and Awards Committee, facilitated it and in return they suffered the consequences.

Still, there is nothing in the COA report of the Ombudsman’s case that said who exactly benefitted irregularly from Palawan’s Malampaya funds and how. The BAC were on the receiving end of the penalty simply because they tampered with the bidding procedures.

The BAC had no hand in identifying the projects. Neither were they principal subjects in the formulation of the whole pork barrel scheme. In some ways, they were simply pawns. Whether they conspired as a group or were acting at the behest of a principal was never tackled in any investigation.

All 18 former senior Capitol employees are now barred perpetually from public service and have been stripped of retirement and other employment benefits. Ironically, the complete story of the Malampaya corruption remains hidden.

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