COA’s unenviable task
(The Philippine Star) - September 29, 2013 - 12:00am

Of the three constitutional commissions, the Commission on Audit (COA) probably has the most uneviable task these days.

The 1987 Constitution provides that COA has the power, authority, and duty to examine, audit, and settle all accounts pertaining to the revenue and receipts of, and expenditures or uses of funds and property, owned or held in trust by, or pertaining to, the government, or any of its subdivisions, agencies, or instrumentalities, including government-owned or controlled corporations with original charters, and on a post-audit basis.

COA chairman Grace Pulido-Tan, who has basically in the past stayed out of the limelight, has found herself thrust into it when the agency released the results of the special audit of lawmakers’ priority development assistance fund or PDAF from 2007-2009 or the last three years of the Arroyo administration.

The audit discovered that a number of senators and congressmen channeled their PDAF or pork barrel to non-government organizations which either misused the funds or failed to account for them.

One of the legislators who has found himself at the receiving end of this audit is House Speaker and Camarines Sur Rep. Arnulfo Fuentebella.

The COA audit team discovered that 4,000 bags of rice worth around P26.4 million bought from the NFA using pork barrel funds of Fuentebella were never received by the intended beneficiaries.

There are other items, also costing millions of pesos, that the COA is questioning in the disposition of Fuentebella’s pork barrel.

Fuentebella is also being asked to explain the release of around P18.6 million also from the pork barrel funds to the Partido District Development Cooperative Inc. (PDDCI) with the Technology Livelihood Resources Center (TLRC) as implementing agency.

Questions have been raised over the legitimacy of suppliers for the projects of this particular NGO. One of these, Almost Construction Supply, had no permit to operate a business, had issued invalid sales invoices that had no BIR authority printed on them, and did not reply to the COA team’s request for confirmation.

Another allegation contained in the COA report concerns two unliquidated funds totaling P9.6 million for livelihood enhancement projects that were released in 2007.

Also noted as having doubtful legitimacy was the claimed purchase from RMN Feeds Vet Poultry Supply of yellow corn seeds and complete fertilizers costing P4.21 million.

Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala was reported to have identified the former Speaker as one of six lawmakers who channeled PDAF funds intended for the Department of Agriculture to one of the 10 allegedly fake NGOs of Janet Lim Napoles.  The outfit was named as Kapudanan Para sa Mangunguma Foundation, Inc. (KPMFI) which purportedly got a combined P83.2 million.

Fuentebella has denied having authorized the release of his PDAF funds by the Agriculture department to the questioned NGOs and purposes, and has asked for a return of his funds.

Women in maritime

As part of its continuing efforts to work for the interests of Filipino seafarers, Angkla Partylist filed last Sept. 20 House Resolution No. 314 urging the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) to aid in advancing the global seafaring careers of undervalued Filipino women mariners.

Spearheaded by Angkla Partylist Rep. Jesulito Manalo, the resolution highlights the strengths in both character and skill that women in maritime possess, but are most often overlooked in the male-dominated industry in which they operate. Angkla has appealed to various government and maritime stakeholders to create the policies and programs that will increase opportunities for women who dare to dream of sailing the world’s oceans.

This comes at a most crucial time for the international maritime industry due to a perceived shortage in marine officers and the urgent need to develop the abilities of women seafarers.

According to the resolution, with the country’s intrinsic affinity to the sea due to its archipelagic composition as well as its reputation of being the “seafaring capital of the world”, the possibilities for Filipino global maritime professionals should transcend all gender barriers.

In particular, support for the “She-to-Sea Campaign” launched by the non-profit maritime organization Women in Maritime-Philippines (WIMAPHIL) on the Day of the Seafarer last June 25, 2013 is likewise deemed indispensable by the resolution. WIMAPHIL was established in 2007 in response to the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) directive to empower and widen the participation of women in the global maritime industry. The “She-to-Sea Campaign” aspires to promote women seafaring and heighten gender sensitivity awareness.

The program aims to draw the attention of global ship owners to the important role women seafarers play in the merchant marine profession and to encourage them to create more job opportunities for women on board their vessels. Planned activities of the campaign include publishing stories of successful women in the maritime industry to important global shipping stakeholders, researching on the status of Filipino women seafarers, encouraging the idea of women seafarers as a viable solution to the shortage in merchant marine officers, enlightening ship owners to the various employment issues women seafarers face, and working with relevant government agencies such as DOLE and MARINA  to establish programs that will facilitate employment access to the maritime industry for women seafarers.

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