Hostaged

Politics rears ugly head in N. Vizcaya budget row

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya–More than 200 casual employees of the provincial government are in danger of losing their jobs by month’s end due to lack of funds held hostage by political bickering among local officials here.

The workers have blamed members of the provincial board for failure to pass a supplemental budget that was intended to fund, among others, the salaries of casual employees.

In the past weeks, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan here has not acted on the request for funding due members’ long-drawn disagreements on the passage of the 2012 budget, with some members reportedly boycotting previous Monday sessions that has led to lack of quorum.

On Monday, the board held their session but skipped deliberations on the province’s 2012 budget, which has been questioned by board members who are identified with the camp of Nueva Vizcaya Representative Carlos Padilla, an estranged political ally of Governor Luisa Cuaresma and Vice Governor Jose Gambito.

Alejandra Dacumos, provincial budget officer, expressed concern that the stalled approval of the proposed P16-million supplemental budget may cripple the operations of the province due to the impending termination of casual workers, whose three-month appointments end on June 30.

“It will be inevitable to resort to mass termination of casuals which will be prejudicial to the government in the delivery of basic services to our constituents more particular on…health services which comprise the highest percentage of casual employees,” she said in a letter to Cuaresma.

Employees aired their disgust on board members belonging to the majority for supposedly trying to push their political interests over and above those of rank-and file workers and their families.

“These board members have shown their true color–that their foremost concern is to push their dirty style of politics even at our expense. They do not care even if our families will go hungry,” said a hospital worker who declined to be named for fear of reprisal.

The majority board members have been questioning the March 19 passage of the 2012 budget, which, they said, was endorsed by Gambito and approved by Cuaresma despite violations to the SP rules. The governor and vice-governor had both dismissed the accusations.

With the belief that the approval of the province’s annual budget was flawed, the SP majority, in a controversial May 7 special session, passed another budget which contained the provisions that were previously objected to by Gambito and his allies in the SP.

Sought for comment on Monday, board member Efren Quiben, SP committee chair on finance, declined to make further statements on the issue, saying they were still waiting for the action of the governor on the second annual budget that they submitted to her for approval.

“It is a basic principle that the SP cannot pass a supplemental budget if issues surrounding the annual budget have not yet been resolved,” he said.

Board member Maybelle Blossom Dumlao-Sevillena, SP majority floor leader and Quiben’s ally, wondered why their group was being blamed for the budget impasse.

“I don’t know why the board members are being blamed when the vice governor should take the lead (in causing the passage of the supplemental budget). He has been imposing his will in the SP all along; then why can’t he pass that now?” she said.

But majority board members drew jeers from critics after they claimed their salaries that were drawn from the questioned 2012 budget, which also imposed salary increases that benefited employees and officials, including SP members.

“If they are saying the budget was illegal, then they should not have received their salaries. That is just hypocrisy,” another employee said.#

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