2 ex-DAR secretaries liable for misuse of P70 million – COA

2 ex-DAR secretaries liable for misuse of P70 million – COA
P70.3 million from the Agrarian Reform Fund was used to pay for medical benefits of DAR personnel, which are not allowable expenses under agrarian reform laws

MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Audit (COA) said two former Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) secretaries are liable for the misuse of P70.3 million from the Agrarian Reform Fund (ARF).

Former DAR secretaries Hernani Braganza and Rene Villa were declared jointly liable for disbursing the amount for the payment of medical and healthcare allowances of their personnel.

Braganza was DAR chief from 2001 to 2003. Villa was his successor who took over the post from 2004 to 2005.

The COA Commission Proper, in its decision dated September 6, issued notices of disallowance to the two former chiefs.

Also held liable in the COA ruling were former DAR Employees’ Association President Violeta Bonilla, DAR Administration Service Director Nelson Genito, Accounting Division head Charlie Reyes, Accounting Division officer Angelita Cacanta, Finance and Management Administration Office (FMAO) Undersecretary Teddie Elson Rivera, and FMAO Officer-in-Charge Teresita Panlilio.

These officials would have to refund the full amount to government coffers. 

According to COA, allowing DAR to use the ARF for medical allowances under a Collective Negotiation Agreement is unlawful.  

Executive Order No. 229 and Republic Act No. 6657 or the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law do not include healthcare benefits as allowable ARF expenses. 

The ARF was created in 1972 through Presidential Decree No. 85 to “guarantee payment of farm lots acquired” under the land reform program of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.  

It is also intended to provide agricultural credit support, compensation, and other support services to farmers. 

In its ruling, COA disregarded the respondents’ arguments that the allowances were necessary for the implementation of the land reform program and that these were approved by the Office of the President.

The state auditor emphasized that the DAR employees are already covered by the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), making the ARF-funded benefits double compensation. 

COA Chairman Michael Aguinaldo and commissioners Jose Fabia and Isabel Agito ordered the forwarding of the case to the Office of the Ombudsman, which will then investigate if the respondents may be charged with corruption. – Rappler.com

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