Use of P750-M windfall angers N. Vizcaya folk
BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya–Local officials and civil society leaders here have expressed outrage over the alleged extravagant spending of the P750 million which the provincial government collected last year from the foreign owners of a multi-million irrigation and power project in upland Alfonso Castañeda town.
This developed following reports that town officials of Alfonso Castañeda purchased a fleet of sports utility vehicles from the town’s share of real property taxes worth P337.5 million last year.
“This is a total disgrace to these local officials who are now spending the money at will for their own benefit and enjoyment,” said human rights lawyer Ernesto Salunat.
Board member Patricio Dumlao Jr., said that in early December 2009, the town government of Alfonso Castañeda acquired 14 brand new units of Nissan Navara valued at P1.3 million each, two units of Nissan Urvan also costing about P1.3 million each and two units of Toyota Fortuner, said to be worth P1.6 million each.
The total cost of the purchase would be about P24 million.
The vehicles were reportedly issued to each of the town’s elected officials, chiefs of offices, barangay captains, including the town’s education officials.
“There are restrictions set forth by our laws, as well as administrative orders issued by the CoA (Commission on Audit) and DBM (Department and Budget and Management) involving the purchase of vehicles. In this case, I think they (town officials) went overboard,” Dumlao said.
This writer repeatedly tried but failed to reach Alfonso Castañeda mayor Jerry Pasigian through his mobile phone.
The Alfonso Castañeda government made the purchases in December after it got its share from the partial payment of P750 million by California Energy-Casecnan, the US company that owns and operates the Casecnan Multi-Purpose Power and Irrigation Project (CMIPP) there.
Pursuant to the local government code, the amount was to be shared among the provincial, town and barangay governments where the CMIPP is located. The other half comprises the special education fund, which is to be shared between the provincial and town governments.
CE Casecnan paid the amount under a compromise agreement it entered into with the provincial government of Nueva Vizcaya, in an effort to stave off the auction of the CMIPP due to tax debts totaling P1.7 billion, according to lawyer Leslie Costales, provincial special legal officer.
The US firm, however, made the payment under protest.
Costales said the provincial legal office has given pieces of advice to Alfonso Castañeda officials on what to do with the money.
“Whether they abide would still be entirely up to them,” he added.
Salunat said he will file graft charges against local officials who were responsible for the purchase of vehicles.
“We cannot allow this indiscriminate spending of people’s money. There are many people who are starving, who cannot even afford to eat three straight meals a day. Yet, here come public officials who waste people’s money by buying these luxury vehicles,” he said.
Dumlao expressed concern that Alfonso Castañeda officials may have been following the lead of the provincial government in a buying spree of luxury vehicles, citing the fleet of sports utility vehicles that have also been bought by the province last year.
He cited a DBM circular which limits the purchase of vehicles only to ambulances, fire trucks, vehicles for mass transport and other utility vehicles only when these are necessary in the interest of public service.
“How can (these officials) claim now that these vehicles would be used for the delivery of basic services to the people?” he asked.
Acting provincial treasurer Rhoda Moreno said Alfonso Castañeda’s share was released in full after they had submitted supplemental budget that was required by the provincial government. She, however, did not furnish reporters a copy of the document, saying she did not have it.
She said the use of the town’s share was the prerogative of local officials.#