Sunday, April 24, 2016

Lagman brands charge of alleged fund misuse as malicious, baseless
By Floreno G. Solmirano

LEGAZPI CITY, April 24 (PNA) -– Former Rep. Edcel C. Lagman has branded the complaint against him and his daughter, former Tabaco City Mayor Krisel Lagman-Luistro, for alleged misuse of his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) in 2007-2009 as inordinately belated, malicious, partisan and baseless.

Earlier on Friday, Hernando Bruce and Roberto Barcela charged Lagman and his daughter with graft and malversation of public funds before the Office of the Ombudsman in connection with the alleged pork barrel scam.

Burce and Barcela alleged that Lagman misused Php129.7 million of his PDAF or pork barrel for various projects of Lagman-Luistro in Tabaco City.

They cited a Commission on Audit (COA) report on Lagman's PDAF from 2007 to 2009 that alleged, among others, that he diverted Php86 million of his PDAF for areas outside his legislative district.

They also alleged that Lagman funded the construction of private properties in Quezon City worth Php18.56 million, including the repair of a clubhouse in a private subdivision.

Lagman said on Sunday he is presently running for representative in the First District of Albay while Lagman-Luistro is an aspirant for mayor in Tabaco City.

He said the alleged special COA report referred to by the complainants is tentative and lacks sufficient basis.

Lagman said he was never previously informed of any investigation on this matter by COA and he was not notified to submit controverting evidence.

“The accusation that I had misused my PDAF is utterly false and malevolent,” he said.

The veteran lawmaker said the erstwhile Php70-million annual PDAF per congressional district was inelastic and cannot be exceeded in any given year.

“Consequently, the huge total amount which I had allegedly misused is much more than my PDAF allocations,” Lagman said.

He said he had allocated his entire yearly PDAF to programs and projects solely for the First District of Albay.

“Not a single centavo of my PDAF was used to fund projects outside of my district -- definitely not for Quezon City, Pampanga and Nueva Ecija,” the well-known human rights and labor lawyer said.

He said the reported projects elsewhere were funded from his leadership fund which was traditionally allocated to ranking leaders of the House of Representatives like the Speaker, the Deputy Speakers, the Majority and Minority Leaders and the Chairman of the Committee on Appropriations, which position he held during the first half of the 14th Congress (2007-2008).

The leadership fund is a nationwide allocation to allow leaders of the House of Representatives to respond to requests outside of their respective districts.

It is legitimate and appropriated in the previous annual General Appropriations Acts, Lagman said.

“The projects outside of my district were thoroughly validated and fully implemented by the Department of Public Works and Highways which would never allow construction in private properties. They were accurately covered by Special Allotment Release Orders, indicating the source of funds as released by the Department of Budget and Management,” Lagman said.

The consistently chosen outstanding congressman every year during his term in Congress said the scholarship fund under his district’s PDAF was awarded to applicants who: (a) had passed qualifying examinations; (b) were enrolled in accredited schools, colleges and universities; and (c) submitted their semestral grades.

Moreover, he said, certificates of enrollment issued by the scholars’ school, college or university formed part of the attachments submitted and the corresponding checks were made in the name of the scholar and/or they signed receipts corresponding to the amount of their scholarship.

“The grant of small loans to cooperatives and associations were transparent and overboard. They are covered by requisite documents, including memoranda of agreement between the recipient and the LGU concerned where the amounts covering the loans were downloaded,” said the author of Republic Act No. 9502, or the “Universally Accessible Cheaper and Quality Medicines Act of 2008.”

Lagman said the loan to San Carlos Agro-Industrial Multi-Purpose Cooperative is only Php500,000, not Php1,500,000.

He explained that the salutary purpose of the loan was to assist the members of the recipient cooperative to acquire or access post-harvest facilities.

Meanwhile, the former vice chair of the special committee on Bicol Growth Area said the loan to the Bacolod-Tayhi PNR Homeowners Association Inc. in the amount of Php134,000 is almost fully paid.

The purpose of this loan was to help the informal settlers with one-percent equity payable to the Philippine National Railways for the amortization of the abandoned PNR property they were occupying.

Both recipients are existing and legitimate organizations, unlike the fake NGOs in the Php10-billion Napoles scam where, Lagman said, he has never been implicated. (PNA) SCS/FGS/CBD/SSC