Palace hit for 'patronage politics' over release of Dinagat pork

A progressive party-list representative on Thursday accused Malacañang of "patronage politics" after the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) supposedly coursed P140 million of "pork barrel" funds for Dinagat Islands through another lawmaker. ACT Teachers party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio said President Benigno Aquino III is "no different" from his predecessor, former President and incumbent Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, in using the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF)—commonly known as pork barrel—for political gains. "It's a reality of patronage politics that Malacañang makes use of its power to release or withhold pork barrel in the amounts, timing, and to whom it so chooses in order to exert influence on legislature, make or break election campaigns, and build or destroy political bailiwicks," Tinio said in a text message. He added that the administration's decision to make Akbayan Rep. Arlene Bag-ao, who is seeking a congresssional post in the island-province in the May elections, as the "caretaker" of Dinagat Islands goes against Aquino's "tuwid na daan (straight path)" slogan. On Wednesday, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported the DBM Secretary Florencio Abad Jr. admitted that the P140-million fund for Dinagat Islands was "facilitated through" Bag-ao after the province's former congressman, Ruben Ecleo Jr., was dropped from the list of House members last June. Ecleo, a cult leader in the province, remains at large despite having been found guilty of graft by the Sandiganbayan. The guilty verdict has already been affirmed by the Supreme Court. House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. reportedly chose Bag-ao, whose party-list is closely associated with the Aquino administration, as Dinagat Islands' caretaker after Ecleo was removed from Congress. 'All accounted for' Akbayan, meanwhile, defended Bag-ao and maintained that there was nothing irregular about her role as caretaker of Dinagat Islands. "Bag-ao, who hails from Dinagat, immediately attended to the pressing needs of the people of the province, particularly in securing funds for much-delayed infrastructure and social service programs," the party-list said in separate statement. It added that Bag-ao handled the funds transparently, and even described the release of the pork barrel through her as "a people's victory." "These releases were all accounted for and reflected in the report submitted to the DBM by the office of Rep. Kaka

Bag-ao, a practice that Akbayan party-list has been dutifully fulfilling for the last 15 years. It is sad that some only see the coming election with the release of the said fund," Akbayan's statement read. — KBK, GMA News

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