DILG should curb abuses of LGU officials | Inquirer Opinion
As I See It

DILG should curb abuses of LGU officials

/ 09:15 PM March 29, 2011

LOCAL GOVERNMENT Secretary Jesse Robredo had better wake up. Local government officials are wasting taxpayers money under his nose. The Quezon City Council is spending hundreds of millions of pesos of QC residents’ taxes for ghost employees and ghost projects. The Pasig government took its barangay officials on a junket to the resort island of Boracay allegedly for a seminar. The Mandaluyong government will take its barangay captains to Baguio, while the San Juan government took its barangay officials on a vacation to Subic, all paid for by their respective taxpayers. All of the barangay officials are supposed to attend “seminars.”

“Seminar” is a much abused word. It has become synonymous with “junket.”

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Junkets to vacation spots are labeled as “seminars.” Indeed, towards the end of the year, whenever there are funds still unspent, you will notice that many local government officials are holding “seminars.” Instead of returning leftover funds to the treasury so they can be put to better use, local officials use them for “seminars.”

The “seminar” could be anything. It could be a junket, as Pasig, Mandaluyong and San Juan officials have done. Or it could be a party, with eating and feasting and speech-making by local officials. It could be any pretext to spend the people’s money, but entered in official records as a “seminar.” But it is actually a bribe to barangay officials who are the political leaders of the mayors and who bring the votes during elections.

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I think the local government units are getting too much Internal Revenue Allocations (IRA). Otherwise, why do they have excess funds to spend for “seminars”? In fact, rich cities like Quezon City and Makati, which collect enough taxes on their own, get the biggest IRA funds, while the poor municipalities get little of it, although they are the ones that need it most.

And going back to seminars, why do they hold it in faraway, expensive vacation spots? Wouldn’t it be better and more economical to hold them in their respective cities and municipalities?

Clearly the LGUs are getting away with murder and Robredo should be on his toes to prevent such abuses. Local government executives are in charge of ensuring that services trickle down to the general public, but instead they treat public funds as their own private funds. And wayward governors and mayors manage to evade accountability for misusing public money by hiding behind their popularity.

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Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez is being impeached allegedly for failure to act on several high-profile scandals. But when she acted promptly on a case, recommending the filing of charges and suspension of a popular mayor, the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) has not acted on her recommendation.

I am referring to the case against Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte for misuse of public funds. He is accused of misusing P11.5 million of public funds for parties and for giving away home appliances “in his honor.”

The P11.5 million “Pahalipay (gratuity) ni Mayor” that Duterte charged against the Special Education Fund (SEF) for his parties and giveaways was meant “exclusively” for textbooks, school supplies, scholarships to poor and deserving students, the construction and repair of school buildings and classrooms, educational research, equipment for school laboratories, salaries for school teachers, and for sports development. Instead Duterte used the fund to pay for catered food for the Christmas parties he held for school teachers and city government employees in December 2006, the Office of the Ombudsman lamented.

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In a ruling dated Feb. 28, 2011, the Ombudsman recommended the prosecution of Duterte and 11 other city and local school board officials for graft before the Sandiganbayan.

The anti-graft body also confirmed a Commission on Audit report that the purchase of home appliances “exceeded the number of intended recipients” who were all city officials and “not local and national school teachers be entitled to the proceeds of the (Special Education Fund).”

Instead of textbooks, school supplies and new classrooms, Duterte gave away to city hall employees P7.8 million worth of appliances, including four refrigerators, four color television sets, four washing machines, 100 flat irons, rice cookers, electric air pots, stand fans, and toasters, and 200 wall clocks.

Duterte also spent P3.55 million for four food caterers, Ombudsman investigators said.

The anti-graft body dismissed as “an attempt to evade liability” Duterte’s defense that the festivities were “carefully planned programs designed to bring Davao City Hall closer to the prime movers of public education….”

Duterte, now Davao’s vice mayor, faces charges of technical malversation and illegal use of public funds, along with the public officials during his term as mayor.

In the information filed against Duterte, the Ombudsman said that there is “basis for the finding of probable cause against respondents.” It said respondents “violated Section 11 of Republic Act 5447 (which created the Special Education Fund of Davao City) and illegally spent the fund for holding the  ‘Pahalipay ni Mayor’ program, serving food during the said occasion and giving away appliances, as such purpose is clearly not contemplated by law.”

It added: “Clearly, the law has earmarked the SEF for exclusive purposes. Feigning and orchestrating a purported DECS-related activity and expending the SEF therefore displays respondents’ manifest partiality and evident bad faith and caused damage to the government to the tune of P11.5 million.”

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TAGS: Advice, Government offices & agencies, Graft & Corruption, impeachment, Judiciary (system of justice)
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