MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/12 May) – A group that calls itself the Crusaders for Good Government (CGG) has asked President Benigno Aquino III not to pursue appointing former Bukidnon first district Rep. Neric Acosta as environment secretary on merit of four graft cases at the Sandiganbayan.
In an open letter printed in a full-page paid space at the Philippine Star on Wednesday, the group invoked Aquino’s anti-corruption campaign in its appeal against Acosta, whom it accused of being “unworthy to be environment secretary” because of the cases, including the alleged release of P10.5 million from his Priority Development Assistance Fund to the Bukidnon Integrated Network of Home Industries Inc. (Binhi) and the Bukidnon Vegetable Producers Cooperative (BVPC).
“Mr. President, we vehemently register our protest in the rumored appointment of former Cong. Nerius Acosta. Not only will his rumored appointment create disharmony in the government service but will also disprove – and disrupt your crusade for good governance,” said the group’s 21-paragraph letter on PhilStar’s Page 21.
The group cited that the two firms were “organized and incorporated by close relatives of Acosta” and accused the latter of nepotism.
Acosta, in his reply emailed to media organizations on the same day the paid ad came out, dismissed the allegations as a “well-financed smear campaign” as he is being considered to the post.
He said the group used the media to publish an “old worn-out charge filed against me 10 years ago by my political rivals.”
“Well, many public officials have pending cases before various courts, but a pending case is not an indication of guilt,” he said in his statement posted on his Facebook account and forwarded to news organizations.
Acosta cited that it must be his pledge to clean up the DENR that his detractors are afraid of.
“I promised President Noynoy I would clean up the well-placed mafia groups that are embedded in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) – from the issuance of fake land patents resulting to big land scams to the questionable grants of mining and logging permits,” he said.
He admitted that “he will be stepping on big toes” in his planned campaign should he be appointed environment secretary.
“But someone has got to do it. I will do it if given the chance,” he warned.
“I will do my best to rid the [DENR] of the endemic corruption of some of its high-ranking officials that has deeply affected the system and demoralized hundreds of honest and efficient civil servants, if given the opportunity to serve,” he added.
But the group said Aquino may go astray in his anti-corruption campaign in case he pursues Acosta’s appointment once the one-year ban on appointment of defeated candidates.
They cited that state witness Carlo Matias, auditor at the Commission on Audit, have identified in his testimony Acosta’s alleged link to corruption as it could not be dismissed that the release of the funds to the two firms was not “pure coincidence.”
The group named Acosta’s father, Dr. Juan Acosta, and mother, former representative and Manolo Fortich Mayor Socorro Acosta, as allegedly behind the firms BINHI and BVPC.
“The evidence collated by the investigating audit team is much too strong to ignore, its findings eventually convinced the Ombudsman that there was probable cause to prosecute, hence the Sandigan hearings in progress,” the group said.
A report at the Manila-based Daily Tribune cited that a group called the Bukidnon Crusade Against Crime and Corruption also appealed to Aquino in a letter on May 7, four days ahead of the publication of the full-page ad.
“Former Rep. Neric Acosta cannot make DENR corruption-free since he himself has been indicted and is now facing several cases for violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act before the Fourth Division of the Sandiganbayan,” said the letter signed by Fr. Venancio Balansag, of the Bishop’s House in Malaybalay City, and Felix Vergara Jr., of Maramag, Bukidnon who is a member of the board of the First Bukidnon Electric Cooperative. Both were reported members of the Bukidnon Crusade Against Crime and Corruption.
Acosta is a known environment advocate who authored the Clean Air Act and other environment laws.
“I will protect our environment, but still encourage the mining industry to generate employment through a balanced development plan that does not deplete our natural resources,” he said.
(Walter I. Balane / MindaNews)