In N. Vizcaya, cement doled out to churches, private groups
BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya–A provincial official here has exposed the alleged illegal practice of the provincial government to give away thousands of bags of cement to villages, religious groups and private organizations.
Board member Patricio Dumlao Jr. on Sunday expressed disgust that provincial government continued to distribute bags of cement despite the clear prohibition in the local government code.
“This (practice) is a blatant disregard for our laws, which clearly outlaws the use of public funds for private purposes, especially the religious sector,” he said.
Documents revealed that the provincial government this month bought 6,790 bags of cement worth 3.4 million for distribution to various barangays, churches and private organizations.
In the records obtained by this writer, purchases listed 72 beneficiary-groups, which include towns and barangays, public elementary schools and people’s organizations.
Of this number, 11 were church groups, five were private schools while others were tricycle organizations and parents-teacher community associations.
Dumlao said such doleouts violate the basic legal principle that public funds may only be used for public purpose.
“While we understand that these groups are really in need of funds to finance certain viable projects, there are ways by which this can be resolved. this need cannot be used as an excuse for them to violate what is clearly prohibited by law,” he said.
According to a COA auditor, who declined to be named for lack of authority to speak on the matter, said the practice clearly violates the law, but officials remain scot-free because “no one is complaining”.
He cited section 335 of the local code, which states that “no public money or property shall be appropriated or applied for religious or private purposes”.
According to Dumlao, the latest purchases were part of those which the provincial government allegedly rushed using 2009 funds to beat the deadline on the closing of accounts for last year.
“We cannot also ignore the fact that these grants are being made very close to the local elections,” Dumlao said.
The purchases and the grant of bags of cement by the provincial government have been hounded by controversy for the past years here, amid public perception that unscrupulous provincial officials were making money out of these transactions.
In 2008, the Commission on Audit exposed the irregular purchases of cement by the provincial government amounting to P23 million, which did not undergo the required public bidding.
Such bags of cement were likewise given out to accommodate requests of private groups, barely weeks before the May 2007 elections.
Gov. Luisa Cuaresma was not available for comment. Provincial officials, however, defended the grants of cement.
“While such grants may not at first glance be for public purpose, a closer look at these may reveal that the public is being benefitted indirectly. For example, when an individual or group’s request is granted, that may have an effect on the peace and order in the community because they are happy,” said Vice Gov. Jose Gambito.
Manuel Tabora, provincial administrator, said the grants of cement are anchored on the provision of the local code that non-government organizations are partners of the government in the delivery of basic services to the people.