Malampaya Fund: Great opportunities lost
It has been overwhelmed by events like the war in Marawi City, the unabated extrajudicial killings, and the Asean Summit, but the report of the Commission on Audit resurrecting the case involving the Malampaya Fund deserves deeper probing and public exposure. It strikes at the core of what ails our governance system: great opportunities lost or bypassed and huge sums of public money kept idle or juggled around with impunity.
According to Presidential Decree No. 910 (1972), the funds accruing from royalties paid by the Shell-Chevron group, operators of the Malampaya gas fields in Palawan, must be used for: 1) energy resource development, and 2) energy–related projects authorized by the president. Unfortunately, neither of these two objectives materialized. A large chunk of the funds was diverted to nonenergy projects.
Shrouded from the public eye for years except during the controversy over the 40-percent mandated share of Palawan as host site of the gas fields, the Malampaya Fund was P173.28 billion as of May 21, 2012 (Inquirer, 11/3/17). Between 2004 and 2012, P38.807 billion or 22.41 percent of the amount was released by the Department of Budget and Management to various implementing agencies. The COA sought an “immediate” investigation of DBM officials who released these funds under questionable circumstances.
To the people of Palawan, rumors of the release of part of the provincial share triggered a crusade akin to the search for the Holy Grail. The search for the missing funds became bloody. Gerry Ortega, a fearless commentator, was shot dead in broad daylight. The investigation of Ortega’s murder led to the indictment of the brothers Joel and Mario Reyes, then the governor of Palawan and the town mayor of Coron, respectively, as the alleged masterminds of the crime. The brothers fled the country and were arrested in Phuket, Thailand, after two years of hiding. Both claimed innocence. The Ortega murder still begs final closure.
The more devastating effect of the missing funds on Palawan was the tremendous setback in its infrastructure development. Its share of the Malampaya royalties could have jump-started projects crucial to its economic growth. Rich in natural resources, Palawan has been treated like a distant cousin by the national government.
Greater, however, was the loss suffered by the Filipino people: the chance to have gradually crafted a needs-responsive and affordable power program. For today we are held captive by power producers who can make the government whimper in a dilemma over onerous contracts and the Energy Regulatory Board a mere ventriloquist of their pricing schemes.
Question: Will the Duterte administration dare step on these sacred toes or, like its predecessors, also leave the power problem at the mercy of a privileged private sector?
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Eva Maggay-Inciong, a former teacher of history and political science, has her roots in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan. She says her blood pressure rises every time she sees her electricity bill.
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