Now it can be told: there are at least 90 billion reasons behind the murder of Dr. Gerry Ortega, the 142nd journalists to be killed in this country since 1986. The 90 billion represents the “financial assistance” granted to Palawan purportedly pursuant to an interim sharing agreement between the provincial and the national governments over the proceeds of the Malampaya natural gas deposits.
The late Ortega and his colleagues at the Kilusan Love Malampaya have opposed this agreement for being both unconstitutional and contrary to the Local Government Code. A case to annul the agreement—entered into during the Arroyo administration—remains pending with the Supreme Court.
While bulk of this sum remains unspent, a colleague and neighbor of Gerry, Dr. Jose Antonio U. Socrates, a renowned UP College of Medicine graduate and a part-time geologist, filed no less than six complaints with the Office of the Ombudsman involving the misappropriation of the staggering amount of half-a-billion pesos for projects identified by President Aquino’s party mate, then-Rep. and now Governor Abraham Mitra. This humongous amount was for projects identified by Mitra for 2008 alone, representing Southern Palawan’s share of the 20 percent financial assistance derived from the Malampaya funds for that particular year.
KLM has consistently opposed this interim sharing agreement for violating the constitutional norm that Palawan is entitled to an “equitable share” in all revenues and income realized by the national government from natural resources found within the area of Palawan. The Local Government Code provides, in turn, that this share shall be 40 percent of all such wealth, which sum should first be applied towards lowering the cost of power in the province. Despite earlier verbal pronouncement that she would honor this percentage, former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo reneged on her word (how typical of her!) and refused to give Palawan. The reason cited was that since Malampaya is 80 kilometers from the Palawan mainland, it is beyond Palawan’s “municipal waters.” Consequently, Palawan is not entitled to anything.
Doc Gerry and KLM argued in the Supreme Court that Malacañang was wrong since oil and natural gas is derived from the natural prolongation of Palawan’s land mass, called the continental shelf, and not from the municipal waters. Further,they argued that while Malacañang insisted that all wealth belonged to the national government, the “equitable share” mentioned in the constitution and the 40 percent mentioned in the local government code are still the constitutional and legal bases for Palawan’s entitlement to at least P90 billion representing the province’s 40-percent share in all revenues derived from Malampaya as of 2010. We make the disclosure that we represent the petitioners in this cause-oriented case.
While Mitra himself has not been charged in connection with this anomaly, the fact remains that under the notorious pork barrel system, members of Congress do make SOPs ranging from 10 to 30 percent of the total project costs for projects which they have identified. What made the spending of Malampaya funds in this manner more deplorable than the pork barrel system is unlike pork barrel funds, which is funded in the annual appropriations law, the “financial assistance” scheme of Madame Gloria to Mitra et al. is bereft altogether of statutory basis. Instead, it was former President Arroyo alone who arrogated unto herself legislative powers and unilaterally classified these Malampaya earnings as her own pork barrel to give away. The consolation is that as a result of Socrates and Ortega’s advocacy, the Ombudsman has at least suspended seven engineers and there more employees from the Department of Public Works and Highways for “anomalous implementation of infrastructure projects” in the district of then Rep. Mitra, either “by overpricing and/or falsification of documents”.
It is now a matter of time before these engineers and other employees start singing to tell the world who benefited from these documented cases of ghost projects and overpricing of infrastructure projects funded by Malampaya. Meanwhile, I would hope that Ms. Gina Lopez, the great lady that she truly is, should focus instead on the misappropriation of the Malampaya funds as the true motive for those who sought to silence Doc Gerry and not his advocacy for the environment. Ultimately, Doc Gerry knows from where he is right now who these powerful people who ordered his killing are. And yes, while there are murderers who would want to plunder the environment in Palawan, let us not discount the murderers who have already plundered the Malampaya funds.
In any case, kudos are also in order for P-Noy who has put an immediate halt to this anomalous sharing agreement that has enabled only a few in Palawan to benefit from the blessings of Malampaya. I am sure that Mitra’s current affiliation with the ruling party would have been a very strong basis to continue with the agreement that bred only corruption. Fortunately, P-Noy saw through political opportunism and opted to let the whole nation benefit from the Malampaya wealth instead. We hope P-Noy will go the extra mile and ensure that the brains behind Doc Gerry’s murder should be investigated, prosecuted and punished as soon as possible. This, after all, is a non-derogable obligation of the country, to protect and promote the right to life.
Meanwhile, our continuing condolences to the family of Doc Gerry and his province mates in Palawan. Doc Gerry may be gone, but his fight shall go on! Mabuhay ka, Gerry and congratulations for a life well lived!