Eastern Samar gov accused of plunder

Posted at 08/20/2009 6:17 PM | Updated as of 08/21/2009 1:19 PM

Evardone says complainant congressman is just preparing for their 2010 face-off

MANILA - A plunder complaint was filed Thursday with the Office of the Ombudsman against Eastern Samar Gov. Ben Evardone for allegedly misappropriating P173 million that the provincial government borrowed from the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP).
 
The 7-page complaint was filed by Eastern Samar Rep. Teodulo Coquilla and his consultant Manuel Chicano.
 
Evardone and Coquilla both belong to the merged ruling party Lakas-Kampi-CMD, but it is widely believed that they will face off in the congressional elections next year. Coquilla is on his first term as representative of the lone district of Eastern Samar, while Evardone is on his second term as governor.
 
The complainants accused Evardone of misusing the P173 million in loan proceeds from the DBP that was intended for buying equipment for agriculture, fishery, and construction. They also alleged that the governor misused funds for poverty alleviation, assistance to NGOs, and financial aid for a crisis situation.
 
P173-M loan

For these, they said, Evardone violated the plunder law (Republic Act 7090), the Anti- Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (RA 3019), and committed malversation of public funds.
 
"There’s an anomaly because the money was not spent appropriately," Coquilla told reporters.
 
The congressman and his consultant based their complaint on 2007 report by the Commission on Audit that covered the provincial government’s P173-million loan from DBP. Citing COA findings, the complainants said Eastern Samar:
 

  • Lost P325,786.30 after the provincial government bought hand tractors. The tractors’ credit sale price of P80,466.63 per unit was lower than the acquisition cost of P91, 326.17.
  • Lost around P28,311 million after it failed to sell 30 units of the 340 hand tractors it bought. The unsold hand tractors were left unused and exposed to damage.
  • Incurred a P14.343-million loss after the 2 water trucks and 2 stake trucks it bought were left unused and idle and were never used because of lack of air conditioning system. The provincial government did not report the defects to the supplier.
  • Used without authorization portions of the 2007 budget intended for payment of loan amortizations to pay for the purchase of P1.1 million service vehicle. The purchase was made without the consent of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan.
  • May have diverted money to buy equipment, from the P1.1 million appropriated in 2007 for loan amortization.

‘Baseless’

Complainants also alleged that their province, as certified by Evardone, bought a new bulldozer worth US$240,801, but an examination by the Bureau of Customs showed that what was imported was “a used BEML bulldozer with rust but painted.”
 
Evardone dismissed the issues raised in the complaint as “baseless.” He said the case was filed to discredit him.
 
“There was no misappropriation because they [the purchases] were approved by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, went though the bidding process, and was cleared by COA,” Evardone told Newsbreak in a telephone interview.
 
“COA did not say that there was overpricing,” the governor said. He said that all the equipment bought by the provincial government were brand new and there were no irregularities involved in the procurement.
 
“They are twisting the facts,” Evardone said.
 
Why Only Now?

Evardone questioned the timing of the filing of the petition, saying Coquilla’s action is “shallow and highly suspicious.”
 
“The purchases were made in 2006. Why are they raising the issue only now?” Evardone said.
 
Vic Rodriguez, legal counsel of the complainants, said that they had difficulty getting documents related to the case. "It is not easy to get documents especially if is going to be used against an ally of the President.”
 
Evardone belongs to the Kabalikat ng Masang Pilipino (KAMPI), the party founded by President Arroyo, and he served as media affairs officer of the administration party’s Team Unity during the 2007 senatorial elections. (Read the profile of Governor Evardone.)
 
“They can always claim that I am doing this for political reasons, but I and the people of Eastern Samar want to know what happened to the money,” Coquilla said, He pointed out that Eastern Samar has remained poor all these years.
 
Poor Province

Eastern Samar, a second-class province in Eastern Visayas, is composed of 23 municipalities and 597 barangays. Based on the 2006 poverty statistics, more than half of its residents (51.9%) are considered poor.  
 
Evardone and Coquilla belong to the merged Lakas-Kampi party and talks are rife that they may face each other in congressional race in 2010. Both of them, however, told Newsbreak that they have no clear plans for next year’s election.
 
Evardone, a second-termer governor, said that mayors in his province are urging him to run for congressman.
 
“He is trying to get political mileage to boost his sagging popularity,” Evardone said, referring to Coquiilla. “I’m sure that I can give him a good fight if I decide to run against him that’s why he is running scared.” - Newsbreak