MANILA, March 9 2004
(STAR) By Delon Porcalla - Several lawmakers denied yesterday accusations hurled at them by independent presidential candidate Sen. Panfilo Lacson that they received President Arroyo’s release of P758 million in agricultural funds in exchange for local officials’ support for her bid for a full, six-year term.

"I was listed as (the) second" legislator to receive the funds, Tarlac Rep. Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III (LP) said. "I categorically deny that I received the special allotment release order. We are still in the process of inquiring from the agriculture department as to how we can avail of the program."

"This program is being put in a bad light," Aquino said. "We strongly resent the fact that Lacson sought to malign so many of us who did not support him. We have taken great pains to ensure its implementation, but here is a very careless person in the Senate accusing us" of receiving a bribe.

Bukidnon Rep. Juan Miguel Zubiri (Lakas-CMD) also denied Lacson’s accusation. "I have not received any of the funds which reportedly have been released to me. I have not applied nor lobbied for Department of Agriculture (DA) funds for farm inputs," he said.

"If ever my district will receive such funds for the purchase of farm inputs, I would have the DA amend it with the request that it be used instead for agricultural projects, such as post-harvest facilities ... to be implemented by the barangays," Zubiri said in a statement.

Samar Rep. Marcelino Libanan (NPC) urged Lacson to "apologize" for his boo-boo, since Lacson has "unfairly and maliciously" besmirched the reputation of members of the House of Representatives, whom Lacson accused of receiving the so-called bribes.

"To fault the administration for doing its job and, worse, to drag the solons and local officials — who do not even get to touch a single centavo of these resources — is the height of irresponsibility and malice on the part of Lacson," Libanan said.

For his part, House committee on national defense chairman Rep. Prospero Pichay (Lakas, Surigao del Sur) said Lacson has stepped up his attacks against the administration as part of an opposition strategy designed to reverse the rise in the survey ratings of the President, while actor Fernando Poe Jr. continues a high-road campaign "sans the vicious attacks" which have characterized the campaign of Lacson.

"They are adopting a good-cop, bad-cop routine, with Lacson willing to throw the dirt because at the end of the day, he will give way to Poe," Pichay said in a statement.

Despite the deepening unification talks between Poe and Lacson, Pichay remained confident that the President will emerge victorious in May, with her ratings topping the surveys of respectable pollsters even before the administration machinery can move in earnest.

Aquino also challenged Lacson to file the necessary charges in case he finds irregularities, it being his sworn duty to do so under his mandate as a senator.

"It seems (Lacson) doesn’t have the evidence," he told reporters, as he insisted the agricultural fund release is "still in the formulation stage," contrary to Lacson’s claims that the money has already been released and distributed to local government units (LGUs).

Libanan also said Lacson was "again" merely "making irresponsible and unfounded accusations for the sake of gaining media mileage in what seems to be an effort to counter the growing trend towards a two-candidate race for the presidency between Mrs. Arroyo and Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) standard-bearer Poe.

"It is unfair to blame the government and the representatives for doing their jobs of bringing more development projects home to the people," Libanan said. "(Lacson) should realize that it is the government’s job to provide basic services to the people."

In a related development, the KNP asked Malacañang to explain the missing P600 million in funds for the mothballed National Electrification Administration, as well as the P3.55 billion in NEA funds that the Palace has yet to account for and dispel the suspicion that this money has been siphoned off into the administration coalition’s campaign kitty.

KNP senatorial candidate and former Senate president Ernesto Maceda said Malacañang should account for the missing funds that former NEA administrator Noel Sanchez said was released to the agency last year by the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management (Psalm).

Sanchez said P600 million, reportedly part of the payment for the P18 billion in loans granted to electric cooperatives, is separate from the "missing" P3.55 billion earmarked for the abolished agency this year, following the reenactment of the 2003 national budget.

"Malacañang should account for this P600 million allocation, in the same way that it has to make a full disclosure where the P3.55 billion in NEA funds for 2004 are right now, considering that the agency was virtually abolished last year following the early retirement of all its 700 workers nationwide," Maceda said.

"Only a detailed account of the P3.55 billion NEA allocation, plus the P600 million allocation from Psalm, would put to rest the growing public suspicion that billions of pesos of funds intended for an abolished agency might be diverted to Mrs. Arroyo’s campaign coffers, if such funds haven’t found their way already to the President’s overstuffed war chest," he said.

Sanchez and other former NEA officials and employees earlier accused Malacañang of eyeing the agency’s 2003 allocation for use as campaign funds.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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