Ex-Bulacan solon, 5 others rapped over P3-M PDAF scam

MANILA — The Office of the Ombudsman has found probable cause to charge former Bulacan (1st District) Rep. Ma. Victoria Sy-Alvarado before the Sandiganbayan for her alleged involvement in the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam.

The former Bulacan lawmaker is facing trial for three counts of violation of Section 3(e) of Republic Act No. 3019, or the “Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act” and three counts of malversation of public funds.

Alvarado was charged together with officials of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in Region 3, namely Minda Brigoli, Adelina Apostol, Mely Pangilinan, Maria Piedra; and Nestor Custodio, General Manager of the Cooperative Rural Bank of Bulacan (CRBB).

The Ombudsman noted that this was the first PDAF-related case that involved a private financial entity, the CRRB, a rural bank headed by Custodio that became the recipient of a portion of Alvarado’s 2007 PDAF.

Documents showed that in January 2008, upon the lawmaker’s initiative, PHP3 million was released by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) for the implementation of the PDAF project under the DSWD’s Protective Services for Individuals and Families in Difficult Circumstances under the Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services (CIDSS) program.

Out of this allocation, PHP1 million was transferred to the account of the DSWD Regional III Office allegedly to establish a micro-financing scheme under the CIDSS program.

The Ombudsman’s Field Investigation Office (FIO), as complainant, asserted “that since the PDAF is for a public purpose, it may not be allocated for funding a private banking institution such as CRBB, a private stock corporation which operates primarily for profit and for the benefit of its members only.”

In her reply, Alvarado harped on the defense of “good faith with the intention of extending financial assistance to her constituents to boost economic activity.”

She added that CRBB was chosen “as [it] is a cooperative that reaches and maximizes the number of beneficiaries especially in the Province of Bulacan.”

In its resolution, the Ombudsman said that “the DSWD’s Protective Services Program provides a range of interventions or financial assistance to individuals, families, and communities in crisis or difficult situations, such as those affected by or vulnerable to disasters. Clearly, Alvarado’s P1million PDAF was never intended for microfinancing activities of CRBB.”

Under National Budget Circular No. 476, PDAF allocations should be directly released only to those government agencies identified in the project menu.

It did not authorize the direct release of funds to CRRB, a cooperative rural bank.

“Alvarado, Brigoli in behalf of the DSWD and Custodio in behalf of CRBB, conspiring with one another, entered into a Memorandum of Agreement designating microfinancing as the PDAF-funded project instead of the DSWD’s CIDSS Program.  Alvarado, who had control in the selection of her priority project and programs, thus exceeded her authority in endorsing CRBB,” the Ombudsman said.

In the related administrative case, Brigoli, Apostol, Piedra and Pangilinan were found guilty of grave misconduct, serious dishonesty and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.

The four DSWD officials were ordered dismissed from the service and meted the accessory penalties of perpetual disqualification from holding public office, forfeiture of retirement benefits and cancellation of eligibility.

In case any one of them is already separated from the service, the penalty is convertible to a fine equivalent to their salary for one year. PNA-northboundasia.com