Budget Watch

Ex-PhilForest execs liable for releasing P19M in disallowed PDAF, says COA

Ex-PhilForest execs liable for releasing P19M in disallowed PDAF, says COA

photo by darren langit/rappler

COA dismisses the argument of Harlin Abayon, the former president of the defunct GOCC, that claim that he only relied on his staff's groundwork when he approved the releases

Harlin Abayon, former president of the defunct Philippine Forest Corporation (PhilForest) is liable for approving the release of P19 million in Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) allocations in 2009 and 2010, which the Commission on Audit (COA) eventually disallowed.

In a decision issued September 20, the commission proper affirmed a 2018 decision of the COA Corporate Government Sector on Abayon’s liability. COA said Abayon’s petition for exclusion, aside from being filed out of time, also lacked merit.

The COA also found liable the following:

  • Former Philforest vice president Glicerio Mondigo
  • Former Philforest vice president Erwin Krishna Santos
  • Former Philforest vice president Marijoyce Comel
  • Kapuso’t Kapamilya Foundation Inc. (KKFI) project coordinator Queenie Estanislao
  • KKFI representative Jaime Rodriguez
  • KKFI representative Miraflor Gapuz
  • Philippine Environmental and Ecological Development Association Inc. (PEEDA)

A notice of disallowance requires those held liable to return the full amount of the disallowed disbursement.

“It must be emphasized that his duties as an approving/certifying officer are not ministerial functions but involve the exercise of discretion, such that, these behoove him to inquire, investigate, evaluate and deliberate, and sign or refuse to sign the disbursement vouchers,” COA Chairperson Michael Aguinaldo and Commissioner Roland Pondoc commented on Abayon’s claim that he relied on his staff’s groundwork when he approved the releases.

Between 2009 and 2010, Abayon approved the release of the PDAFs of three congressmen: then-Negros Occidental Representative Jose Carlos Lacson, the late Northern Samar Rep. Emil Ong, and incumbent Cebu Rep. Eduardo Gullas.

Abayon himself is a former congressman, representing the first district of Northern Samar.

Abayon approved the release of P4.75 million from the PDAF allocations of Lacson; P4.75 million from Ong, and P9.5 million from Gullas.

Lacson and Guallas’ PDAFs were released to the PEEDA, supposedly under the Upland Agro-Forestry Development Program.

Auditors found that PhilForest did not submit the documents that would support the release of funds. These included the beneficiary organization’s project proposal, the special allotment release order from the budget department, work and financial plans, memorandum of agreement (MOA), and PEEDA’s liquidation reports.

Ong’s PDAF was transferred to the KKFI for the “rehabilitation of forest, mangroves, and watersheds in the 2nd District of Northern Samar.”

According to auditors, the KKFI didn’t submit a MOA, official receipts, the distribution lists, and attendance sheets.

PhilForest was the former agro-forestry arm of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. It was among the government-owned and controlled corporations abolished in 2014 by the administration of President Benigno Aquino III after these GOCCs were linked to the PDAF controversy uncovered by COA. The fund releases happened under the Arroyo administration from 2007 to 2009. 

The COA said: “Petitioner, as the former president of [Philforest], failed to discharge his primary responsibility of taking care of the government funds under his jurisdiction. He assumed an enormous responsibility which he could not hastily dismiss as simply a matter of relying on the groundwork of his subordinates.” – Rappler.com