Nueva Vizcaya tribe begs for action on Casecnan fund scam
BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya, Philippines — Officials and tribal elders of the Bugkalot community in remote Alfonso Castañeda town are growing edgy over the delayed resolution of a case filed against their former mayor involving the alleged misuse of P30.7 million in local funds.
Mayor Jerry Pasigian, a Bugkalot, said their people are wondering what has been keeping the Ombudsman from resolving the charges that four village chiefs filed in July 2006 against former Mayor Alfredo Castillo Jr.
“Our people have not forgotten about … the money that was supposed to benefit them. They want justice for our town,” he said.
The P30.7 million comprises the shares of villages Pelaway, Abuyo, Cawayan and Lipuga from the accumulated P250.7-million real property tax that was paid by California Energy-Casecnan, an American firm, in 2005.
CE Casecnan is the owner and operator of the Casecnan Multi-Purpose Irrigation and Power Project (CMIPP), a hydroelectric facility composed of two impounding dams and a power plant, connected by a pair of 26-kilometer tunnels.
In their complaint, Bugkalot village chairs Potado Gabogen (Pelaway), Tomas Cawad (Cawayan), Engagen Pasigian (Lipuga) and Milton Suaking (Abuyo) accused Castillo of allegedly defrauding them and appropriating for himself the proceeds of their village’s RPT share.
Mayor Pasigian expressed optimism that their case would not “fall into oblivion,” amid all the hype stirred by controversial national broadband network (NBN) deal.
“This anomaly may be too small compared to the other cases of corruption that we hear about these days. We may be a small town, but our people deserve justice as well,” the mayor said.
Pasigian defeated Castillo for the mayoral post in the May 2007 elections.
Contacted on the progress of the case, officials of the Office of the Ombudsman, however, said the charges against Castillo were still under review.
In a letter sent to this writer, Rolando Zoleta, acting director of the office of the Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon, said their findings on the case are now awaiting the approval of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez.
Official records revealed that when the case was filed, Pelaway, which hosts CMIPP’s weirs, has already received P20.3 million as its share in the RPT. Abuyo, which covers almost the entire length of the tunnels, got P10.4 million.
Lipuga and Cawayan were also given their share as a form of goodwill, as the chiefs agreed that these villages were also part of the CMIPP’s “primary impact zone.”
Aside from the village’s share, the town government of Alfonso Castañeda also received P110.6 million representing 40 percent of the CE Casecnan’s tax payment.
“This [case only involves] the share of the village. The Ombudsman should look deeper because this is just tip of the iceberg,” said an official, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal.
The source, who is privy to the disbursement of the Casecnan fund, said provincial officials have been very lax in releasing the RPT shares of Alfonso Castañeda despite the perceived irregularities, because “they, too, abused the Casecnan fund.”
“We see here a plunder case just waiting to be uncovered,” the source said.
The complainants said that Castillo, after they received their share of the Casecnan RPT, instructed them while inside a hotel in nearby Solano town to issue blank checks. This was supposedly to facilitate the start of projects in their villages.
“The mayor told each of us to issue about five or six blank checks, without knowing the exact amount that would be charged against them or the purpose for which we were issuing,” the complainants said in their sworn statements.
They said they waited for the projects to come as promised by Castillo but no projects were ever started.
They soon discovered that two checks, which had the amount of P3.2 million each, were issued to one Silvino Uera, supposedly the mayor’s close-in aide and driver.
This writer tried to contact Castillo on Friday, but he could not be reached through his mobile phone.
In an interview made before the cases were filed against him, Castillo insisted that he had nothing to do with the loss of the village’s RPT share.