A PICTURE in one local newspaper obviously caught the attention of a media colleague who forwarded it to my FB messenger account. The picture showed Benguet caretaker Congressman Eric Go Yap of Davao in slippers and tattered jeans holding a dustpan and broomstick.
Masquerading as a cleaner or janitor in the picture is a clear attempt to win the votes of Benguet voters as he has been rumored to run for congressman in the district where he is serving as caretaker after the death of Congressman Nestor B. Fongwan.
That is his style that nobody can oppose. Although, for one who has lived in Baguio and Benguet all the time, that method of promoting oneself is passé, worn-out and a shallow style of politics that does not convince, but instead insults the intelligence of Benguet voters.
Friendly advice to the caretaker politician who happens to be with ACT-CIS (Anti-Crime and Terrorism – Community Involvement and Support) is to clean his backyard in congress and act as suggested by the title of the party-list he represents.
As chairman of the committee on appropriation in congress, the honorable act is for him to answer the allegations of his colleagues about a “missing” P20 billion fund in the General Appropriations Act intended for the pension and gratuity of police and soldier retirees.
In a petition letter to Mike Defensor, chair of the House Committee on Public Accounts; and House Deputy Speaker Rodante Marcoleta, it alleged that the missing P20 billion was diverted to Benguet and other provinces in the Cordillera.
Earlier this month, Congressman Defensor in an exposé delivered on the floor of congress that was posted on YouTube attacked Speaker Lord Alan Velasco for not lifting a finger to stop the slashing of the pension and gratuity fund (PGF) intended for military and uniformed personnel in the 2021 GAA.
House appropriations committee chair Yap admitted that there was indeed a P20 billion cut in the PGF under the 2021 budget which he claimed was diverted to buy COVID-19 vaccines.
The Benguet caretaker from Davao said the Speaker should not be blamed for the reduction of the PGF because the move to cut the allocation was his decision alone and that the Speaker was not aware of his actions.
I am a bit familiar with the way things move in congress. It is quite impossible for the Speaker not to be aware of what the members of the powerful appropriations committee are doing. If so, this means expulsion from congress which should work as one body.
The Speaker, however, may keep other members or leaders of the House out of the loop in some of his actions and inform them later, but it would be never the other way around.
Congressman Defensor was aware that the money slashed from the PGF was diverted to public works which confirmed the petitioners’ allegations that part of it went to the “rock-netting projects” in Benguet.
He further said that the missing funds were never used to buy vaccines because both houses of congress never gave money for that purpose, instead, Malacanang resorted to borrowing money to purchase vaccines.
The petition letter alleged that this was distributed to favored public works contractors under a 68/32 scheme, which explains why the 2021 GAA budget of P6.5 billion for Benguet ballooned to P15 billion after the insertion of P8.5 billion.
Benguet residents should not even be appreciative or thankful for the huge amount of infrastructure funds because they are being misled as the money will likely fund substandard projects.
Earlier this year, caretaker Yap from Davao refuted corruption allegations by President Duterte who accused him of manipulating the bidding of infrastructure projects in Benguet based on a report by the Presidential Anti-corruption Commission (PACC), saying the DPWH projects were already bidded out before he sat as caretaker on January 2019.
The petition letter said Benguet was used as a venue for the missing P20 billion that was torn apart to avoid suspicion from other congressmen. In short, big money is allocated for the province’s infrastructure needs but a big portion is sliced away for the one who inserted it in the GAA.
To maximize profit, the petition letter said, projects were re-oriented to rock-netting, many of which lined the mountain slopes of Kennon Road because these were more lucrative.
Petitioners alleged that with the cooperation of DPWH officials, a square meter of rock-netting at P12,000 was doubled to P24,000 to ensure the mark-up of contractors after 32 percent was taken out of the equation.
The contractors have to squeeze the remaining 68 percent fund into the project but to be able to do so, they will resort to wire mesh, erosion or geo mat, and earth/rock anchor with bolts and nuts that are cheaper than materials set by the Bureau of Research and Standards.
It is double jeopardy. First, the PGF of so many soldiers, coast guards, firemen, and police retirees nationwide was already slashed; second, infrastructure projects will be substandard.
Benguet has been exploited and manipulated in the past but the benefits were shared by a nation. By this time, we should be conscious not to allow a few to control us and become filthy rich by using our province.
This time, we should be cognizant of a new brand of public service or the importation of a new style of complicated politics, and not allow it to thrive in our politically peaceful and united province.
They say politics is played dirty anywhere. Well, at least we are the ones who play it in our acceptable style, not by anyone who comes from afar and attempts to control us with the money that he brings in.