OPAPP UNDER PROBE!
Presidential peace adviser Teresita Deles being questioned over funds use
COTABATO CITY – President Aquino’s peace adviser Teresita Deles is being questioned by the Commission on Audit or COA over hundreds of millions of pesos in government funds, reports said.
In the report which can be accessed on this URL http://politics.com.ph/what-price-peaceging-deles-in-hot-waterfor-leasing-300-carskeeping-p700m-dapfunds, COA is asking Deles to explain why her Office of the Presidential Assistant on the Peace Process or OPAPP rented 294 vehicles even though she and other peace panel officers had their own service vehicles and transportation allowances. State auditors said Deles’ decision to pay the lease for vehicles was highly questionable given the deal’s lack of “regularity and probity.” The COA questioned why Deles’ office went ahead with the vehicle rental without getting permission from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).
The report said COA asked OPAPP why it spent P45.3 million for vehicle rental which was more than what it spent for the rent of office space and equipment. The COA questioned the need to rent 294 vehicles when Deles and 34 other officers from her office and the government peace panel headed by UP Professor Miriam Ferrer had 23 vehicles at their disposal with at least 4 officials being issued more than one service vehicle; and were given regular transportation allowances. The COA discovered that Deles’ office had a total 56 vehicles in its motor pool.
The COA said that Deles entered into vehicle lease agreements with an employee in her office, who did not have prior experience in the rental business, without bidding to “the disadvantage of the government and in violation of Presidential Decree 1445 or the Government Auditing Code of the Philippines and Department of Trade rules and regulations.”
The report said COA also questioned why OPAPP did not return the P662 million DAP funds more than year after the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional. The COA said that Deles’ office could have understated the unreturned DAP funds because these were wrongly treated as liquidations by her office.
Deles’ office received a total of P2.067 billion in DAP funds of which P1.467 billion were used and transferred to the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Office of the Regional Governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and provincial government of Northern Samar and the Department of Interior and Local Government.
The COA said that only P800 millions of this amount was liquidated with the remaining P667 millions still unaccounted for. There was no immediate statement from Deles over the COA report.
Just early this year, the local government of Zamboanga had strongly criticized the secretive programs implemented by Deles for Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels and their supporters there.
Mayor Beng Climaco said Deles, without informing the local government, has since 2013 implemented the so-called “Sajahatra Bangsamoro Program for MILF communities,” raising fears that rebels and their supporters have encroached Zamboanga.
Climaco said there are no MILF communities in Zamboanga and that local residents and village leaders are opposed to the inclusion of the city in the proposed Bangsamoro autonomous government. She said village officials learned of the Sajahatra program through residents themselves.
She said village officials had been tasked to strictly monitor their areas of responsibility for possible uncoordinated activities such as those implemented purportedly for communities that are not recognized by the local government.
Civil groups and politicians have previously demanded the resignation of Deles over the killings of 44 police commandos by MILF rebels and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters on January 25 in Maguindanao’s Mamasapano town where members of the Special Action Force fatally shot Malaysian bomber Zulkifli bin Hir deep inside MILF territory during a secret anti-terror operation.
Some groups in Zamboanga wanted Deles be declared “persona non grata” for the secretive Sajahatra program there. Climaco ordered village leaders to stay vigilant and report any and all activities similar to Sajahatra being implemented in Zamboanga. She said the city is not part of the Muslim autonomous region nor shall Zamboanga be included in the proposed Bangsamoro region.
The government said Sajahatra is a program aims to uplift and develop the health, education and livelihood conditions of Muslim communities, especially in the MILF areas in southern Philippines.
A Filipino human rights group called Karapatan also questioned the allocated funds for OPAPP after it uncovered a huge amount of money channeled from the controversial Disbursement Allocation Program of President Benigno Aquino.
Karapatan said the OPAPP received as much as 400% more from its approved budget included in the General Appropriations Act or GAA for 2011 and 2012. It said a total of P2.294 to 2.542 billion went to OPAPP for 2011 and 2012. The amount covered the combined GAA 2011 and 2012 approved budget of P475 million, and the P1.819 billion and P248 million given through DAP in 2011 and 2012, respectively.
Where’s the money?
Cristina Palabay, Karapatan’s Secretary General, said while OPAPP acknowledged the P248 million it received from DAP in 2012, but she noted the amount was not included in the Malacañang’s release of DAP-funded projects.
“Is the OPAPP deliberately evading public scrutiny by not including their proposed projects for proper allocation in the GAA? Did they find DAP as a way to evade scrutiny for the large amount of money that goes to OPAPP?” she asked.
“Whatever magics the OPAPP and DBM do, such huge amount of people’s money supposedly spent for the peace initiatives of the government did not translate in concrete gains for the people. At best, only allies of the administration benefited from the DAP funds,” she added.
“The government’s peace initiatives have become a business venture rather than a sincere effort to go into the root causes of the armed conflict and solve poverty, landlessness and joblessness. Presidential pork (barrel) oils OPAPP to put up every obstacle it can think of in the peace the process, especially with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, as it continues to ignore all previously signed agreements and commitment. The government continues to insist on the surrender of the members of the revolutionary movement as if this will end the armed conflict,” Palabay said.
She said even in the guise of livelihood projects through the Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan or PAMANA, OPAPP could not boast of judicious use of billions of people’s money especially because it is allegedly being used to finance paramilitary groups like the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army or the Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Boncayao Brigade.
She said both groups are involved in several cases of human rights violations in the Cordillera region and Negros provinces. The CPLA received P264 million supposedly for projects coursed through PAMANA while the RPA-ABB got P31 million.
“The peace process should serve the interests of the majority of our people and just a few groups that sow terror. Through DAP the money stolen from the people are used against them. With OPAPP, it becomes worse as paying lip service to the peace process only denies the people of a venue where their basic social and economic problems can be discussed and solved,” Palabay said.
Senator Nancy Binay also questioned – in a recent Senate Finance Committee hearing – why the Moro National Liberation Front, through the OPAPP, was given P1.8 billion in DAP funds. She said Abad failed to clarify issues related to DAP and OPAPP.
OPAPP Undersecretary Jose Lorena said their DAP funding allocation in 2011, which amounted to P1.8 billion as reflected in the DBM report, was used for different peace and development initiatives in conflict-affected and vulnerable communities across the country, and in support of several existing peace tables and not in support of the MNLF peace process alone.
Of this amount, nearly P 704 million was used to fund 219 projects – such as community infrastructures, post-harvest facilities, local roads, and water systems, among others – in MNLF peace and development communities in 14 provinces and four cities, which were implemented by national agencies and local governments under the PAMANA program, he said.
The OPAPP website has no entries on where its funds went or how its budget was spent, but President Aquino approved the DAP in 2011 on the recommendation of the Development Budget Coordination Committee and the Cabinet Clusters as a “stimulus package” by the government for the projects.
From 2011 to 2012, DAP funding reached P142.23 billion – P83.53 billion in 2011 and P58.70 billion in 2012 – and most of the funds went to healthcare, public works, housing and resettlement, agriculture, tourism, road infrastructure, school infrastructure, rehabilitation and extension of light rail transit systems, and electrification project in the villages.
In 2013, some P15.13 billion in DAP funds were also released by Abad and these went to the police and redevelopment of the Roxas Boulevard in Manila and other rehabilitation projects in areas affected by typhoons.
Aquino said the DAP funds came from the savings of various government agencies and is legal, citing Article VI Section 25 (5) ng 1987 Constitution. “…the President, the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and the heads of Constitutional Commissions may, by law, be authorized to augment any item in the general appropriations law for their respective offices from savings in other items of their respective appropriations.”
And Book VI Chapter 5 Section 39 of the 1987 Administrative Code: “Except as otherwise provided in the General Appropriations Act, any savings in the regular appropriations authorized in the General Appropriations Act for programs and projects of any department, office or agency, may, with the approval of the President, be used to cover a deficit in any other item of the regular appropriations….”
“If there is a singular legacy that I am leaving and sana, masanay ang kababayan natin na ito ang kaya ng gobyernong pinapatakbo nang matino,” Aquino said.
Various civil groups question OPAPP’s alleged misuse of funds