US cries foul on $81M fund fiasco

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US cries foul on $81M fund fiasco

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* SP finds no basis on Diputado’s issue; asks NBI,media probe

The United States government cried foul on reports that funds were released to the provincial government from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

The reaction of the US government was released last Tuesday by the US Embassy based in Manila following reports that the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) will investigate the alleged transfer and misuse of some $81 million fund release from USAID.

The report published in last Sunday’s issue of The Chronicle generated immediate reaction from the US government.

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In a press statement released from the office of Yolanda de Guzman of the Public Affairs Section of the US Embassy, it was categorically denied that funds were released from USAID to the provincial government of Bohol.

The US Embassy said “The U.S. Government and the Province of Bohol ha​ve​ partnered in many activities over the past 25 years.  ​As the major development arm of the U.S. Government, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) provides technical assistance in Bohol in several development sectors.  In no case, however, has it transferred funds to the provincial government.”

The press statement however assured that the “U.S. Government remains committed to supporting the province in achieving more inclusive and resilient growth.”

The $81M deposit fiasco started when lawyer Salvador Diputado wrote in his column in the weekly Bohol Times the report that a bank book of a provincial official allegedly showed a bank deposit of $81 million which he could not defend as his source when invited by the SangguniangPanlalawigan to shed light on the matter.

A week after Diputado was called by the provincial law making body, the local NBI, accordingly received an email from a source which they declined to identify for the moment, calling for an investigation of the said fund mess which allegedly came from the USAID and deposited to the personal account of a provincial official.

Reading said news article in The Chronicle (On LIne News), the US Embassy issued its statement last Tuesday.

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SP FINDINGS

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The SangguniangPanlalawigan (SP) has found “baseless” the alleged $81 million bank account of an unnamed Bohol official and asked the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to pursue its separate probe and pinpoint the culpability of the source of the published “falsehood.”

It also asked the KapisananngmgaBrodkastersaPilipinas (KBP) and Philippine Press Institute (PPI) to conduct their own “impartial” investigations and “impose discipline” on who must have violated the journalist code of ethics.

In its Committee of the Whole report Friday, the provincial board asked the two media organizations to specifically investigate the accusing broadcasts and write-ups of mediaman Salvador Diputado, a son-in-law of SP presiding officer and Vice Gov. DionisioBalite.

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The NBI in Bohol has dipped into the sensationalized issue after receiving just recently an anonymous electronic complaint, by e-mail, of similar accusations although, like Diputado, its unknown source could not present any proof.

This has bolstered public suspicion of a “syndicated” black propaganda by a self-interest group of premium political motive that has persistently been into “wholesale” destruction of the credibility of certain Bohol officials.

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To some at capitol, this also explains why, notwithstanding Diputado’s inability to give specifics probably because his story is an invention, no identities could be divulged as the proximate underlying motive is for all target enemies to remain under public suspicion.

The anonymous complaint to the NBI even dragged the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) as the alleged source of the $81 million.

The whooping amount, equivalent to about P3.6 billion, was supposedly an aid to Bohol’s earthquake rehabilitation but diverted into the personal deposit of a provincial official, according to the allegation to the NBI.

The entire Philippine government could even only generate P2.3 billion for the Bohol Earthquake Assistance (BEA) program thru the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), which downloaded the fund to the official account of the provincial government.

The province in turn allocated and released the fund to the recipient LGUs based on their approved programs of works for different rehabilitation projects, majority of them already completed and turned over.

 

At the SP hearing on July 20, Diputado reasoned out that the allegations, which were first published in his newspaper columns here and in Cebu and aired on his radio program, were “not a news item but a narrative and a mere personal opinion,” the committee reported.

SP Floor Leader VenzencioArcamo presented and submitted the report which was approved, including its recommended resolutions for separate NBI, KBP and PPI probes, during the SP session on Friday led by Balite himself.

Balite and his son, Board Member Dionisio Victor Balite, both inhibited from the July 20 SP hearing attended by their in-law, who did not show up at the first committee inquiry on June 22.

Some inquiry observers believed the Balites, being responsible Bohol officials, should not inhibit themselves and instead prove to the Boholanos who voted them that they could be impartial for the interest of the people and not their in-law.

They thought the inquiry was in fact the right forum where they could be faithful to the public by telling what they all know of their in-laws’ allegations because common sense would tell that they must have asked Diputado who is the provincial official he has been taking a swipe  at.

NO FACTUAL BASIS

After due deliberations, the committee stated that “there is no factual basis whatsoever to support the allegations about the existence of the $81 million deposit/account of any provincial official of Bohol.”

At its first hearing “snubbed” by Diputado, the committee was told by attending officials from the different local banks that there is no such an immense dollar account by any person or even corporate entity in any Bohol bank.

The claims of Balite’s in-law, the “principal source of the narrative,” were a “mere hearsay” as he testified that he had “no personal knowledge whatsoever of the facts surrounding his allegations,” the committee reported.

Still, the provincial board passed a resolution for the NBI to verify the alleged huge account in a local bank and, if proven untrue, “determine the culpability of the media source of all these unfounded allegations.”

In another resolution, the capitol legislature asked the KBP and PPI to also investigate the “broadcast and press releases” of Diputado “to determine if there was violation of the code of conduct of media practitioners.”

“Impose discipline,” the board further asked the media organizations, “if necessary, on those who do not conform to responsible journalism” involving the dollar tale which, to some citizens, is plain rumor-mongering and parlor talk.

During the July 20 SP inquiry, Diputado admitted that he wrote in the Bohol Times, which is owned by the family of his in-laws, and a Cebu-based tabloid as well aired on DYTR the alleged account which depositor he could not identify.

On his broadcasts and writings, he mentioned—but also did not name—a priest as his source of the information about the alleged bank account and its owner.

Diputado alleged that the priest was depositing at a bank and learned of the $81 million when the bank teller accidentally returned to the churchman not his passbook but of another which supposedly contained the huge dollar account and its owner’s name.

Disturbed by his “big discovery,” the priests allegedly decided to confess and leak it to him, Diputado.

PRIEST DEBUNKS

DIPUTADO ‘TSISMIS’

At the first SP hearing on June 22, Fr. Patricio Galon of the Songculan Parish in Dauis turned up and straightly denied having ever accidentally got hold of and seen a passbook of such a huge amount as alleged by Diputado.

The church official said he had neither seen nor talk to Diputado.

The priest was so surprised why he was dragged to the issue which he first learned when two persons, whom he identified as certain SalvioMadanguit and Allan Mangmang, went to him and asked if he was the priest referred to by Diputado.

Like Diputado, the two have been known members of the circle of critics and detractors of the incumbent provincial administration. They are paid, according to media members who know them.

But in another write-up of stunning inconsistency, Diputado, who is a lawyer, wrote that it was a sister of a priest depositing and to whom was accidentally returned the wrong passbook containing the same dollar account and depositor’s identity.

Gallon also told the SP members that he had only one sister who had died long time ago.

After Galon’s testimony effectively refuting the intrigue peddled by Diputado, the latter later “linked” to his serialized “tsismis” a dead priest and a dead bank worker.

Diputado himself described in one of his column writings the dollar account as a “big tsismis” and yet he chose to sensationalize it, according to an SP member close to his father-in-law.

At the provincial board hearing, Diputado “declared he had no personal knowledge of the identity of the priest, of the bank involved, and of the existence of the account,” the committee report said.

He could not name his information source whom he admitted having “no document presented” to him and that he has still been validating the information until now since repeatedly publishing his baseless claims in May after the election.

NAMEDROPPING DUTERTE

Diputado also told the committee that he could not divulge anything as he was still then “awaiting instructions from his peers in Manila and the executive order of Pres. Rodrigo Duterte on the Freedom of Information (FOI).”

While he flaunted on air his “neutrality” as a media member, Diputado was on the contrary heard even openly endorsing and campaigning for opposition candidates in the last election.

The committee noted that the president already signed the FOI executive order on July 23 “and yet there was still no revelation from Diputado, even if he had all the time and none of the prohibitions (in the FOI order) to do so.”

FACEBOOK TO E-MAIL

While Diputado has also used the social media, specifically facebook, for the world to see his blind item, the SP recognized the fact that the issue was recently raised to the Provincial Peace and Order Council (PPOC) when the NBI reported to it the e-mail complaint.

The allegation from the unknown this time claimed that the $81 million was supposedly a rehabilitation fund from the USAID, the assistance arm of the US government, but pocketed into the personal deposit of a provincial official.

According to NBI Bohol Executive Officer Archie Albao, who is a lawyer, the anonymous e-mail sender has failed to present any supporting documentary proof despite advice.

PERFECTLY WRONG

Responding to a media query during his weekly press conversation Friday, Gov. Edgar Chatto quickly and straightly told critics they are “100% wrong” in putting Bohol in bad light by dragging the USAID to the controversy.

He recalled the foreign agency’s useful partnership with Bohol dating back to Chatto’s vice governorship when the USAID-assisted Governance and Local Democracy (GOLD) Project was implemented here.

Chatto could not remember any USAID funds downloaded to any LGUs as the overseas aid institution manages its own assistance.

The governor said all USAID partners here, including the non-government organizations (NGOs), could attest to the ways of the foreign aider and he is sure they could all safely and honestly say he is right in his assertion.

Chatto pleaded them to “help explain” to the Boholanos, adding that even training or capability-enhancing aids are managed by the USAID people and they are very stringent in administering their funds.

The USAID has at present very essential assistance and intervention programs for Tagbilaran City and nearby localities that matter to sustainable development in the face of urbanization.

“We are so concerned of the falsehood spread,” Chatto said, not just because foreign development partners are sensitive to issues that insinuate corruption even if they are untrue.

“We do not really want to project Bohol in bad light as we instead treasure and sustain the hard-earned image of our province as a darling of the foreign official development assistance” providers, the governor said.

The critics must have not known this, Chatto said, “and we are warning these people.”

“We ought to watch our actuation, or we get blackeye,” further warned the number one official of the province.

Running the affairs of the government and securing the welfare of the people are not a joke, “so we must value the trust of our partners,” the governor said.

Chatto stressed, “Confidence earned by mutual respect is something we don’t allow to tarnish.  This is not just even about our linkage with the USAID but the entire gamut of the overseas development support institution.”

SHOULD NOT

BE DISREGARDED

For the capitol legislature, Diputado’s sheer allegations alluding to all unnamed provincial or Bohol officials, except probably for his vice governor and board member in-laws, should not pass unacted properly.

The committee said the accusations, even not true, are “so serious and should not be easily disregarded as they involve the propriety of the bank officials and their industry, conduct of public officials and their relation with other government agencies/institutions, and the sanctity of the media.”

“These allegations unfairly cause suspicion to all provincial officials and other concerned parties of wrongdoing even without any factual basis at all,” lamented the Committee of the Whole in its report.

The Committee of the Whole is actually the entire membership of the provincial board convening as one committee to deliberate on a special, specific issue or concern in aid of legislation.

Meanwhile, amidst the controversy involving Diputado, the local media circle has started to asked the mediaman regarding the missing fund of a local cooperative among media practitioners which he used to head as president. (with reports from VenArigo)

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