BUDGET Secretary Benjamin Diokno and lawmakers backed a recommendation by the Commission on Audit to investigate the “questionable” release of P38.8 billion in Malampaya funds.
“These questionable releases, which totaled P38.8 billion happened from 2004 to 2012, not during my watch,” Diokno told The Manila Times in a text message on Friday.
He said that since the Malampaya Fund was a special fund, each release should be initiated by a request from an implementing agency.
Diokno said the funds should be for energy resource development and exploration and not energy consumption.
“It should be thoroughly evaluated by the appropriate DBM [Department of Budget and Management] operations unit. Absent these requirements, the request should be denied. So, I agree with COA’s findings and recommendations,” he said.
Probe ‘long in coming’
Sen. Sherwin “Win” Gatchalian, head of the committee on energy, said the investigation “has been long in coming.”
“In fact, I made it a point to flag the discrepancies in the collection and disbursement of the Malampaya Fund during the Senate deliberations on the DoE budget last month,” Gatchalian.
DoE is the Department of Energy.
“With CoA’s recommendation, it is clear that these anomalies are something we have to investigate,” Gatchalian said.
He said that the Malampaya fund was meant to build a brighter future for the Philippine energy sector and such misuse would put that future in jeopardy.
Bayan Muna Party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate said that it was imperative for members of the House of Representatives to exercise its “stringent” oversight power on the funds.
“There is no rational use of the funds. Obviously, the past administrations used the Malampaya funds like a secret campaign kitty and a reserve pork barrel. It is but right that all those involved should be investigated and charged,” Zarate said.
Zarate cited that last August, DBM and the Bureau of the Treasury (BTr) were pointing at each other as to where P21 billion of the fund went during deliberations by the House Committee on Energy on House Bill 3877.
The House bill sought the transfer of Malampaya funds to the general fund to determine how they were used.
Zarate said Treasury released a list stating that from January 2004 to February 2013, the past two administrations used the Malampaya funds to finance priority development projects and other projects identified by the Executive.
Zarate was referring to former president Benigno Aquino 3rd and his predecessor Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Zarate added that during this time, P2.27 billion was allotted for structures nationwide, P500 million for flood control projects and road repairs in Metro Manila and a budget between P15 million to P50 million were distributed among different regions in the country, with the highest allotment given to the Ilocos Region amounting to P551.5 million.
Zarate added that the Malampaya fund was used to buy junk boats and their docking expenses for a whopping P3.6 billion, while using P1.1 billion for sitio electrification and P1.2 billion for fuel requirement and genset rentals during the Aquino administration.
Zarate said the House Committee on Energy should fast track HB 3877.
Quezon City Rep. Winston Castelo echoed Sen. Gatchalian while Negros Occidental Rep. Alfredo Benitez said that he was okay with any investigation if the COA asked for it.
“[The investigation] is long overdue. The accumulated fund is in billions of pesos. There is a law that governs its usage. Any infractions should be investigated to the fullest with the use [of the]amount involved,” Castelo told The Manila Times in a text message.
‘A faucet without control valves’
Akbayan Party-list Rep. Tom Villarin likened the misuse of the funds to “money flowing from an open faucet without control valves,” and that “it was plunder to a hundred-fold.”
“[The investigation] is long overdue and accountability among high government officials [should]be exacted. It was a brazen exercise of wanton discretion without regard for basic project documentation, implementation and monitoring procedures,” Villarin said in a text message.
“The fund amounting to P38.8 billion was liberally disbursed by DBM to bogus [non-government organizations] and non-existent farmer beneficiaries when then-President Arroyo allowed it to be used for other purposes, not for oil and energy projects,” Villarin said.
Villarin added that the Executive Order 828 issued by Arroyo, which authorized the DBM to release funds from a special account of the DOE to be used for other purposes identified by her office, was “highly questionable.”
The COA recommendation stemmed from its discovery of the alleged “questionable” release of P38.8 billion from the government’s share in the Malampaya natural gas project off Palawan from 2004 to 2012.
In its report on August 31, COA said that the funds were not spent for the intended purposes, such as energy
resource development and exploitation, and that there was no proper documentation as required under Presidential Decree 910, which was issued by the late president Ferdinand Marcos.
The Malampaya Fund is a 60-percent share of the government from the operating proceeds of the Malampaya Deep Water Gas-to-Power Project, inaugurated by then-president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in 2001. This was based on the Service Contract (SC) and Memorandum of Clarification entered into by the government with the contractors on December 11, 1990.
Aside from the national government agencies, the provincial governments of Albay and Palawan also received a share of proceeds from the gas project.
From January 1, 2002 to June 2013 Malampaya contractors Occidental Philippines Inc. and Shell exploration B.V have remitted a total of P173.2 billion to the government.
Malampaya powers three plants in Batangas and provides 30 percent of electricity needs in Luzon.
WITH JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA AND RALPH VILLANUEVA