Surigao solon faces plunder charge

SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/7 February)—A plunder case has been filed against Surigao del Norte Rep. Francisco Matugas (1st District) in connection with the use of his “pork barrel” allegedly as intelligence funds by several towns in the province.

In a six-page complaint, Matugas was accused of illegally allocating at least P63.5 million from his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to be used as intelligence funds of 15 towns in 2010.

The complaint—filed by opposition figures Victor Bernal, Jose Begil and Rene Medina and private citizens Lolito Golo, Fernando Almeda, Jr. and Edgardo Canda—also asked the Ombudsman to issue a preventive suspension order against the lawmaker.

The case was filed on January 30, 2013.

Matugas, who is seeking reelection, declined to issue a statement since he has yet to read the complaint.

The lawmaker suffered a setback on the same issue last year when the Commission on Audit (COA) rejected his appeal to have the agency’s notice of disallowance overturned.

In a decision dated September 13, 2012, COA maintained that using the PDAF as intelligence fund, specifically for anti-insurgency activities, is prohibited by law. The Ombudsman affirmed the ruling in a related case decided last year and made public only last month.

Heavily relying on the COA ruling, the plunder complaint noted that the PDAF is “intended for specific services like education, health, livelihood, rural electrification, water supply, financial assistance, public works, irrigation, peace and order, housing, forest management, and historical, arts and culture.”

The complainants cited Republic Act 7080 or the Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, which provides that plunder is committed when a public officer “accumulates or acquires ill-gotten wealth through a combination or series of overt criminal acts as described in Section 1 (d) hereof in the aggregate amount or total value of at least P50 million.”

They noted that the PDAF issued by Matugas to the towns of San Francisco, Malimono, Bacuag, Tubod, Sison, Alegria, Mainit, Gigaquit, and Tagana-an in District II and Pilar, San Isidro, Del Carmen, Socorro, Dapa, and Sta. Monica in District I amounted to at least P63 million, which they said was well above the law’s requirement for a plunder case to be initiated.

They argued that Matugas should also be charged for grave misconduct and be preventively suspended “pending the preliminary investigation of the plunder case.”

In a separate ruling last year, however, the Ombudsman had already cleared Matugas and two other elected officials of any administrative liability on account of the Aguinaldo Doctrine, which says that a public official cannot be removed for administrative misconduct committed during a prior term, “since his/her reelection to office serves as a condonation for the officer’s previous misconduct.”

Still, the Ombudsman recommended that the criminal aspect of the case be pursued against Matugas and the other involved officials. (Roel N. Catoto/MindaNews)