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The public’s message is clear. It is a request for accountability of public money that came from the sweat of their brows, entrusted to an elected official to steward that fund. It goes without saying that it is as well a request to manifest integrity of holding public office if it is answerable to public trust.
But the answers to that public request may not be forthcoming. And public opinion is now being swayed by the pattern they see – that the Dutertes love tons of public money and once they are caught running away with it, they turn their backs on how they spent it.
Instead of being forthright with the people they vowed to serve, Sara Duterte for example, in typical Duterte irascible action, instead threatened those who questioned her confidential funds as enemies of the state. Now comes her brother Paolo.
Let’s make the context clear. In the last three years of the Rodrigo Duterte presidency, Paolo sat in the House of Representatives for the first district of Davao City. The office endowed him with fiscal largesse that other congressmen who are no scions of the sitting president did not enjoy as favor – P51 billion in funds. Let’s make that simpler – the other congressmen did not receive P51 billion.
This is the breakdown of the funds – 2020 P13.7 billion, 2021 P25 billion, 2022 P13 billion. P51.7 billion is equivalent to about 102,000 low-cost housing units that could have benefitted his district (the Davao City glamorized by fake news has actually a high incidence of poverty). Take note, and this is important – each congressman receives on the average about P500 million to a maximum of P1 billion in so-called development funds. Notice the gargantuan leap of privilege only because he was the sitting president’s son.
The amount alone is exceedingly scandalous by any standards. A House stalwart bared the release of such funds to Paolo. Nothing is rumor here. Hence, it should merit a special audit by the Commission on Audit.
It is nothing short of an abuse of power. Listen to how this happened. In fact, it happened in a very surreptitiously political manner. Aside from the being the son of the sitting president, the chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations then in the 18th Congress was Paolo’s buddy Eric Go Yap of the ACT-CIS party list.
Despite not having a sterling record by co-authoring with Paolo the bill that proposed to rename the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, Yap was chosen to head the powerful Appropriations Committee even if he was just a neophyte congressman at that time.
The appointment appeared to have been deliberate, which was to put a loyal Duterte ally to head the committee. His predecessor as chair was in fact another Duterte loyalist, Isidro Ungab of Davao City’s third district, from July 24, 2019 to March 2, 2020.
Now, understand the role of the Appropriations Committee, which is the determination of salaries, allowances, and benefits of government personnel. It also functions in determining payments to government’s debts, yet it ignored that essential need of debt servicing by awarding a political buddy with P51 billion in unprogrammed development funds.
So how did Paolo spend the funds? A rundown of his projects from his own website raises more questions. These were his projects from 2020-2022:
On October 15, 2020, his website announced that he donated construction materials to General Baptist Church in Barangay Gallera in Talomo District. How much amount was donated, the website was silent.
The next month on November 2020 he donated “cooking equipment” for the use of children in the Catotal Home for Child Therapy and Learning Center, Inc. Again, no amount was indicated.
At the end of 2020, his office released a “first year in office” accomplishment report. It said that Paolo “dealt with many projects,” not saying explicitly if it actually funded them: multipurpose buildings, flood control and drainage works, road widening and/or maintenance, construction and reconstruction of roads and bridges, and preventive maintenance.
Then on January 2021, he gave a press conference saying he was “planning” to donate tablets or cellular phones to students “in line with the ongoing distance learning amid the coronavirus disease 2019.” There were no subsequent reports if the “plan” was concretized.
In July 2021 he provided “much needed assistance to fire victims of Punta Dumalag 2 in Barangay Matina Aplaya.” Then on the same month he gave “rice packs and cash assistance” to fire victims in Barangay 38-D. Earlier in April, his office also gave cash aid and rice packs to “84 people affected by fire in Barangay 5-A Pag-asa in Bankerohan.” Why do fires habitually gut Davao City? The “progressive” city actually has dozens of shantytowns.
Moving forward to the succeeding year, on February 28, 2022, his congressional district office announced that he had sponsored a virtual job fair that immediately hired on the spot 27 applicants.
On March 18, 2022, his office released an information video titled “Davao City First Congressional District Accomplishment Report.” For COVID-19 responses, he distributed 150,000 face shields and masks to 54 barangays. It did not indicate the number of beneficiaries. There was also a “food pack distribution” to the same number of barangays; again no mention of how many individuals benefitted. The reports are very generalized.
During the pandemic’s Enhanced Community Quarantine period, his office sponsored the ECQ Cluster Games consisting of the Cluster Music Video War and Pulong Distance Duet Competition.
He also had a Barangay Caravan that consisted of free dental aid, medical check-up, and eye check-up with free reading glasses, livelihood programs, and legal services. His report does not indicate how much was spent for the caravan.
It also said he gave immediate relief assistance to “victims of man-made and natural calamities and other social disorganization to help alleviate the distressed condition of displaced families.”
Then his website reports on August 17, 2022 that Paolo distributed cash to various non-medical frontliners and tricycle operators and drivers as part of the Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers (TUPAD). His office’s Communication and Information Office did not say how much was given each beneficiary. His office calls them “emergency grants.”
On November 25, 2022, it announced that he sponsored the 10th Pulong Duterte Taekwondo Championship, a yearly event by the various taekwondo clubs of the Davao region that he supports. How much money he donated for taekwondo, the report was silent.
On December 29, 2022, Paolo gave out cash assistance to indigent beneficiaries from 54 barangays in his district, again as part of the previously mentioned TUPAD.
Finally, I was eager to see the infrastructural side of his projects funded by his development fund, but the so-called accomplishment report immediately segued to say, “Daghang salamat sa padayon ninyong pagsuporta (Much thanks to your continued support).” There were no infrastructure projects on his last year in office after cumulatively receiving P51 billion.
So where did that huge stash of money go? It is a question that each Duterte in public service is unwilling to answer. – Rappler.com
Antonio J. Montalván II is a social anthropologist who advocates that keeping quiet when things go wrong is the mentality of a slave, not a good citizen.