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Davao legislator gets sympathy but militants insist on probe

Rep. Carlos Zarate. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

DAVAO CITY—The involvement of Rep. Isidro Ungab in an alleged pork barrel scam only bolsters calls to scrap the fund allocations for pet projects of lawmakers for being sources of corruption, according to a militant party-list representative.

“That’s why we are filing the bill for the scrapping of the pork barrel not only in the legislative but also in the executive branch of government,” said Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate.

Ungab’s name cropped up in the wake of a series of Inquirer reports linking a total of P10 billion in pork barrel, officially called the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), from five senators and 23 members of the House of Representatives that went to ghost projects over the past 10 years.

A whistle-blower, Benhur K. Luy, earlier furnished the Inquirer with documents showing that Ungab, chair of the House appropriations committee and stalwart of the ruling Liberal Party (LP), used P5 million from his PDAF for livelihood projects in the third district of Davao City, where he ran unopposed in this year’s elections.

Zarate said he was surprised to find Ungab’s name dragged into the controversy being looked into by the National Bureau of Investigation.

He said the probe was leading toward a syndicate involved in falsifying documents and prying upon unsuspecting members of Congress.

“As a fellow Davaoeño, I know Representative Ungab. Even as a Davao City councilor, he was never linked to charges of corruption,” he said.

But the local chapter of a militant farmers’ group said it was impossible that Ungab had no knowledge about the channeling of his pork barrel to a bogus nongovernment organization (NGO) allegedly set up by Janet Lim-Napoles.

Probe necessary

The lawmaker must be investigated despite his statement that the project was legitimate, said Pedro Arnado, secretary general of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) in Southern Mindanao.

“Farmers in Davao are already fed up with these scams. We are already very poor, yet government officials and their partners are siphoning the money allocated to help us. These officials, including Ungab, must be investigated,” Arnado said.

“They were tasked with tracing even a single peso coming out of their funds. How come they cannot trace millions of pesos?” he added.

According to the KMP, more than 75 percent of residents in the city’s 3rd district depend on agriculture, yet the majority of them live below the poverty line. “It will be a very big help if this amount [of pork barrel] reaches the farmers,” Arnado said.

LP ‘instrument’

“Ungab is just an instrument of the Liberal Party (LP) inside the House of Representatives. Napoles has really something to do with President Aquino and the LP. Since Mr. Aquino’s presidency many NGOs suddenly came out,” said Sheena Duazo, spokesperson of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan in Southern Mindanao.

“These so-called NGOs divert funds and promote reforms in adherence to the daang matuwid (righteous path) policy, which actually deceives people that there is change under his administration. In reality, it only deodorizes the worsening poverty in the country,” Duazo added.

If the President is really serious in his anticorruption campaign, “it will do him well if he will order the immediate abolition of this lump-sum graft-enticing pork barrel funds in the proposed 2014 national budget,” Zarate said.—Reports from Germelina Lacorte and Karlos Manlupig, Inquirer Mindanao

Originally posted: 8:52 pm | Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

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