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SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

The Commission on Audit (COA) started looking into the utilization of the congressional pork barrel shortly after President Aquino assumed power.

We can guess that the COA, an independent constitutional body, took its cue from the anti-corruption thrust of the new administration.

The results of this scrutiny constitute the bulk of the “truckloads” of material evidence now being used to indict senators and congressmen in connection with the pork barrel scam.

Even if the bickering whistle-blowers and “provisional” state witnesses change their stories about the scam, the COA documents should be enough to send several crooks to prison.

Some whistle-blowers have said they are still waiting for more senators and congressmen to be charged for alleged misuse of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel, this time under President Aquino’s watch.

The COA documents also cover these cases. The longer the wait for the charges to be filed against more lawmakers, the stronger the perception that the government is engaged in selective prosecution and is shielding its allies. Former Customs chief and congressman Ruffy Biazon does not count, since it looked like the administration just needed an excuse to kick him out of government.

It will be an understatement to say that at this point, the COA has a lot on its plate. The same goes for prosecutors of the Office of the Ombudsman and the Department of Justice who are handling the PDAF cases.

Midway through his term, P-Noy also looks bent on having some big fish convicted of large-scale corruption before he steps down. The failure to send any corrupt big fish to prison has to be the biggest reason for the persistence of this problem and the impunity of crooked public officials.

So we wonder if auditors and prosecutors still have the resources and time to expand their probe to local government units (LGUs).

*   *   *

Local executives utilize their internal revenue allotment (IRA) from the national government with as little accountability as lawmakers used to enjoy in their use of the PDAF and their maintenance and other operating expenses.

As in the legislature, local executives’ wide discretion in utilizing vast amounts of people’s money is prone to abuse. That kind of discretion can quickly make local executives think that public coffers are their personal piggy bank.

The Ampatuan clan is just the worst example of what happens when local officials are given total control over public funds and other resources. In the country’s poorest region, the Ampatuans built mansions and accumulated a large fleet of luxury vehicles, secured by one of the largest private arsenals. It wasn’t surprising that they thought they could get away with the massacre of 58 people.

Across the country, this impunity in abusing power and misusing tax money is common, although on a smaller scale.

P-Noy and his daang matuwid should take on abusive local executives if he wants his anti-corruption campaign to be felt at the grassroots.

Some party-list lawmakers are asking the COA to launch a probe into the use of the IRA by local governments. The lawmakers describe the IRA and assistance to LGUs (ALGU) as pork barrel. But with the general elections approaching and his party’s presumptive standard bearer being clobbered in the surveys, P-Noy may have no appetite to tangle with local political kingpins.

As it is, the administration is reeling from the unintended consequence of the PDAF scandal: the end of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), and alienation of allies who have been named in the COA report.

*   *   *

They may be small units of government, but the amounts allocated to LGUs are not peanuts.

For this year, LGUs get P361 billion as their share in national revenue: P342 billion in IRA and P19 billion in ALGU. The P19 billion reportedly includes funds realigned by senators to their favorite local governments.

Of the country’s 16 regions, Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, Quezon) has the biggest IRA appropriation of P37.7 billion.

Metro Manila is allotted P21.5 billion. Typhoon-devastated Leyte gets P1.9 billion, with P187 million going to Tacloban City. Eastern Samar will get P589.3 million, of which P60.9 million is going to Guiuan where Super Typhoon Yolanda made landfall.

The disaster areas certainly need the funds, but the urgency of rising from the ruins should not mean skirting good governance regulations.

LGUs, like national agencies, have their resident auditors. The auditors should get unequivocal marching orders to scrutinize IRA utilization, especially since the general elections are approaching. For politicians, this is a creative time for utilizing public funds for personal gain.

Apart from being on alert for fund utilization by incumbent local executives, the COA may also be interested in looking into potential IRA misuse in the past. Putting together a solid case against even one or two former local executives for misusing the IRA should prove alarming enough to discourage incumbents from committing the same offense.

Even with limited resources for the COA and DOJ, prosecutors may focus only on the suspected worst offenders. A perfunctory lifestyle check should make their identification easy.

This task would be much easier if backed by political will from the top. Auditors can be happy with a hint from daang matuwid.










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