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Rep. Matugas laughs off plunder charges

Rep. Francisco Matugas
By Jun Lira

SURIGAO CITY --  Instead of creating a fuss, the much ballyhooed plunder charges filed against Rep. Francisco Matugas was met with laughter by the first district solon during a recent press conference held at the Philippine Gateway Hotel, this city.

“There’s nothing to worry for this is just another harassment case. I’m always the favorite target of harassment cases by some of these people who have been filing cases against me since the time I was a governor. But as it turned out, the said cases just fell or were dismissed one by one,” Matugas said.

The lawmaker was reacting to published reports that a plunder case was filed against him before the Office of the Ombudsman on January 30, 2013 by some of his opponents identified as Victor Bernal, Rene Medina, Fernando Almeda, Jr. and Jose Begil together with private citizens Lolito Golo and Edgardo Canda.

Matugas was allegedly accused of illegally allocating at least P63.5 million from his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) which was used as intelligence funds for fifteen recipient-towns of Surigao del Norte in 2010.

The plunder complaint was anchored on a previous COA ruling that the PDAF could not be used as intelligence fund specifically for anti-insurgency activities as it noted that PDAF was “intended for specific services like education, health, livelihood, rural electrification, water supply, financial assistance, public works, irrigation, peace and order, housing, forest management, and historical, arts and culture.”

For his part, Rep. Matugas said there was nothing irregular in the release of his PDAF which was being used as intelligence fund by some local government units for the same was officially covered and authorized through a DILG legal opinion earlier sought by some municipal mayors.

“The DILG legal opinion said that congressmen can release their PDAF as financial assistance which can be used as intelligence fund to support the campaign of LGUs against insurgency. The DILG said that intelligence fund is a trust fund. Based on that DILG opinion, I endorsed to DBM the release of my PDAF as intelligence fund for the concerned LGUs. The DBM, in turn, had released directly to the LGUs some of my PDAF as intelligence fund on the basis of the said DILG opinion,” Matugas clarified.

According to Matugas, the fund releases were made overboard and were all direct transparent transactions between the DBM and the LGUs concerned.

“These fund releases never passed through my hands. The role of congressmen was only to identify the projects and made the endorsement to the DBM which, in turn, would release the funds directly to the recipients or beneficiaries," the solon added.

Matugas also brushed aside the alleged plundered amount of P63.5-million as ridiculous and even challenged his critics to make a thorough review of the same. He said some of the questioned funds were donated by other congressmen and some were his releases for Philhealth coverage of thousands of indigent families.

“As a lawyer, I know very well the elements of plunder. I’m not afraid of this new case. I know very well that what I have done was all for the good of our constituents and the same were transparent, aboveboard and in good faith. As to the COA ruling which was the basis of the alleged plunder case, we have already filed a motion for reconsideration on it,” Matugas disclosed.

As of press time, the lawmaker is still awaiting an official copy of the alleged plunder charge from the Office of the Ombudsman. (FEA/Surigao Today)

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