By Nestor P. Burgos Jr.
Visayas Bureau, Inquirer
ILOILO CITY – The Commission on Audit (COA) has found irregularities in the use of P10 million in taxpayers’ money to help towns on Guimaras Island that were suffering from the country’s worst oil spill.
An 18-page report of the COA, dated Feb. 8, said some of the funds were released to municipalities that were not listed as suffering from the oil spill. A copy of the report was sent to Iloilo Gov. Niel Tupas Sr.
The P10 million was part of at least P40 million released by the Office of the President to Guimaras, Iloilo and Negros Occidental in response to calls for help from towns hurt by the oil spill.
Funds for Iloilo province were released in two installments – P5 million on Aug. 25, 2006, and another P5 million on Sept. 25 the same year. These were used to buy fishing equipment, boat engines and kerosene lanterns.
The provincial government reported that it released P1.95 million to 19 coastal municipalities and P360,000 to 13 barangays.
The COA report, however, said the provincial government also released P1.1 million to 11 coastal municipalities that were not listed as suffering from the oil spill based on a report by the Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council (PDCC). The towns included San Joaquin, Guimbal, Tigbauan, Leganes, Zarraga, Anilao, San Dionisio, Batad, Estancia, Balasan and Carles.
The report said the release of P1.1 million to the 11 towns violated rules on the use of taxpayers’ money. It was signed by Marietta Sofia, audit team leader, and Arlene Togonon, regional cluster director.
Manuel Mejorada, provincial administrator, denied any irregularities in the use of funds for oil spill-stricken towns.
Mejorada said the PDCC report was not an accurate basis to determine whether or not a town was suffering from the oil spill.
While the oil spill didn’t reach the shores of some towns, they also suffered because of lower fish catch, he said.
The COA report also noted a delay in the purchase and distribution of fishing equipment worth P7.68 million.
“Had the equipment been acquired earlier, the equipment and supplies could have curbed the urgent impact of the oil spill …,” the report said.
It also noted a P1.48 million overprice in the purchase of boat engines worth P4.22 million.