Yesterday, February 25, 2009, Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez ordered the filing of graft charges against former Bukidnon First District Congressman Neric Acosta, his mother former Manolo Fortich, Bukidnon mayor Socorro Acosta and his aunt Nemia Bornidor (member of the Board of Trustees of the Bukidnon Integrated Network of Home Industries, Inc. and JR Nereus Acosta’s aunt).
The case stemmed from a complaint filed by Fr. Venancio Balansag Jr., Fr. Wilredo Torayno, Vicente N. Abrogueña (now deceased), and Felix Vergara, Jr. representing the Bukidnon Crusade Against Graft and Corruption. The BCAGC alleged that on January 9, 2001, the former Bukidnon congressman and Yale World Fellow and then Mayor Amado Noble of Talakag, Bukidnon executed a Memorandum of Agreement providing for the appropriation of P2.5 million for the acquisition and installation of a Solar Tunnel Dryer for BINHI, Inc. The Purchase Request declared that the said solar dryer was to be used for agricultural services within Talakag. However, according to the Ombudsman report, Acosta “took possession of the said Solar Tunnel Dryer and transferred it to Manolo Fortich to be utilized by BINHI, Inc. which has as its incorporators his father Juan and maternal aunt, Bornidor.”
The press release from the Office of the Ombudsman also alleged that “on August 2, 2001, P2.5 million worth of funds from Nereus’ Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) was released to the Municipality of Talakag in favor of BINHI, Inc. Prior to the release of the said amount, Nereus allegedly instructed Noble that Talakag shall only serve as a conduit for the release of the said amount and even gave explicit orders that it shall serve as loan assistance with zero interest. Furthermore, on July 2, 2002, the amount of P5.5 million sourced from Nereus’ pork barrel was released by the Municipality of Manolo Fortich in favor of BVPC, which has as its cooperators and members Socorro, Bornidor, and Nereus’ father Juan.”
The following full statement from current Liberal Party Secretary Nereus Acosta was sent to Mindanaoan and Bukidnon Online:
To my shock — although given the climate of suppressing opposition voices, not entirely an unexpected turn of events — I learned today, February 25, 2009, from various media sources that a case filed against me (and my mother, former Mayor of Manolo Fortich, Bukidnon) six years ago will be brought to the Sandiganbayan by the Ombudsman with the intent to file graft charges against us. I (or my lawyers) have not received any formal notice or document pertaining to this development.
This case, used by my political opponents as an election issue against me during my campaign for a third term in 2004, involves my supposed channeling of public funds to private entities (BINHI, a Grameen Banking NGO I worked with prior to being congressman) and a cooperative my mother had helped establish at a time she was not in public office. I trained under Dr Muhammad Yunnus of Bangladesh (2006 Nobel Peace Laureate) in the early 1990s and with family and close associates began a pioneering replication program for Grameen Banking for rural women in Bukidnon under BINHI in 1989-1990. I continued with these projects when I entered politics in 1995, seeking new linkages between government and NGO entities. Today, BINHI is a partner of the Center for Agricultural Development (CARD), which was named Magasaysay Awardee for Public Service in 2008. I stand by my record of environmental legislation (as principal author of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts), NGO and community-based work in Mindanao, and the legitimate use of public funds for my district during my first two terms. I am fully prepared to present any evidence attesting to this, as we have answered all charges leveled against me and my mother previously.
At the height of the ‘Hello Garci’ scandal and just a few days after my endorsement of the impeachment complaint against President Arroyo in 2005, this case was revived by the Ombudsman. I was stripped of my chairmanship of the Committe on Ecology and did not receive any ‘pork barrel funds’ for the rest of my final term in Congress. In 2006 I was one of four congressmen who again endorsed a second impeachment complaint against the president. In 2007, Mr. ‘Hello Garci’ Garcillano himself ran for congressman in the district I represented for three terms.
I find it utterly malicious that this case is being sent to the Sandiganbayan at a time when Ombudsman Merceditas Guttierrez is under intense fire from various sectors for failing to act on large-scale multi-million graft cases involving the First Gentleman (Jose Pidal, World Bank reports on collusion with private contractors), Benjamin Abalos (MegaPacific deal, ZTE-NBN), Jocjoc Bolante (fertilizer scam), the ‘Euro Generals,’ Mr. Garcillano, and others. At present, I belong to a large group of private citizens and groups led by Bantay Katarungan/Kilosbayan and former Senator Jovito Salonga who are preparing an impeachment complaint against the Ombudsman.
I will face the bar of public opinion and any court of law, as any public servant ought to when called to account for his actions while in office. But if Ombudsman Gutierrez is indeed serious about doing her job and proving that she functions with the independence of her constitutional office, then I issue the challenge for her to file charges as well, in the face of a preponderance of evidence, against all political officials, even administration allies, without fear or favor. To single out opposition leaders or allies while covering up for those in power (or affliated to those in power) only reinforces the very reasons cited by calls for her impeachment: that she has acted unfairly, engaged in ‘vindictive politics’ and has failed to perform independently as the country’s top anti-graft official.
I join and fully support a growing chorus of citizens nationwide that demands an end to a politics that preys on enemies and voices of dissent, uses tools of deceit to hold on to power, and shields those in power from full accountability — and works for a renewed politics that fully respects the social contact between a people and their government, and restores faith in our leaders and institutions.
February 25, 2009