Lawmaker faces graft raps over pork-funded hotel, rallies

Published by rudy Date posted on August 4, 2011

MANILA, Philippines – A party-list lawmaker is facing graft charges for allegedly diverting portions of his pork barrel funds to build a hotel in a privately owned resort in Laguna and finance a protest rally against the controversial Reproductive Health (RH) bill.

Rene Estrada filed a complaint with the Office of the Ombudsman against Ating Koop party-list Rep. Isidro Lico, whom he accused of spending P15 million from his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) for 2010 for the improvement of roads in Barangay Puypuy, Bay town in Laguna.

Estrada, who identified himself as a member of good standing of Ating Koop, also alleged that Lico spent P30,000 from his congressional allocation to help finance a protest rally against the RH bill.

He also included Fr. Mar Arenas, president of the party-list group, as respondent in his complaint for violation of the anti-graft law and malversation of public funds.

The complainant claimed that road improvements were “inside the premises of a private resort owned by Fr. Mar Arenas.”

Estrada alleged that Lico also sought the issuance of Special Allocation Release Order (SARO) worth P5 million for the “completion of multi-purpose building” also inside the resort.

“The P15 million allocated for the Puypuy property is highly anomalous because the said property is a road within a resort which is a complex of cottages and swimming pools privately owned by Fr. Arenas,” the complainant said.

He said the multi-purpose building is “actually a hotel” inside the resort and the Department of Public Works and Highways had already warned Lico against spending PDAF for the projects.

Estrada said the party-list organization has never authorized either Lico or Arenas to allocate PDAF for these projects.

“With malice and criminal intent, Rep. Lico and Fr. Arenas conspired to conceal from the party the project proposal because had they presented it to the Central Committee of the party, these would have been disapproved,” he said in his complaint.

Sought for his side, Lico said the PDAF will be used to finance the construction of a training center to be run by Philippine Resortel Educational Service Cooperative (PRISCO).

He admitted that the training center will indeed be located inside a property previously owned by Arenas and that the training center will be used by the party-list and not just PRISCO.

He flatly denied that Ating Koop spent congressional funds for anti-RH activities.

Opposition will receive ‘pork’

Meanwhile, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. appealed yesterday to opposition lawmakers to participate in committee deliberations on the proposed P1.8-trillion national budget for next year, saying their inputs will be heard and considered.

Belmonte issued the statement after opposition lawmakers led by House Minority Leader and Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman boycotted the ongoing budget briefings and vowed to continue to do so at the start of the hearings of the House committee on appropriations next week.

Members of the minority bloc shunned the budget hearings after they assailed Malacañang’s move to withhold their pork barrel allocations that they said were entitlements for their constituents.

Lagman said the move to give portions of the PDAF to some opposition lawmakers and zero to others was a “divide and rule” tactic of the Aquino administration.

“Certainly, I hope that the minority (bloc) will not boycott these (budget) hearings and for the most part, like they said that some of them have received (their PDAF), some of them have received, so I appeal to them to join (the budget deliberations),” Belmonte told reporters.

“I would like to appeal to them to join and be heard and their questions be asked… so let’s not hold anybody hostage and let’s get on with our business, because this (hearings) will take a couple of months more. I appeal to my friends in the minority that in the past, there were situations like this, but we always put the interest of the country above the interest of a few,” he said.

He said many opposition lawmakers are actually supportive of the proposed budget but were “sympathizing” with their aggrieved colleagues.

Lagman said the minority bloc would be “calibrating” their presence in the deliberations but vowed to debate in earnest once the money measure reaches the plenary.

He said it would be fruitless to participate in the committee hearings since the majority would simply outvote them.

Lagman, House Senior Deputy Minority Leader Danilo Suarez and Zambales Rep. Milagros Magsaysay said they are gratified that President Aquino promised to have the PDAF of opposition lawmakers released.

Magsaysay, one of eight lawmakers who did not receive a single centavo of her PDAF, furnished reporters a list of scholarship and medical projects that have been put on hold because of lack of funds.

The stoppage of the congressional projects, she said, deprived some 25,876 students of scholarships and 30,790 families of medical assistance.

Lagman said no less than the Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of the PDAF as a “great equalizer.”

He said Aquino himself filed a bill when he was a senator that would stop Malacañang from impounding pork for lawmakers. –Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star)

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