, OCTOBER 19, 2007 (STAR) By Jess Diaz - A Manila congressman who has admitted receiving P500,000 after he and 189 congressmen met with President Arroyo last week clarified that the Chief Executive was not present when the money was distributed.

Rep. Bienvenido Abante Jr. told radio station dzMM that a report in a local newspaper (not The STAR) that quoted him as saying that Mrs. Arroyo was present when the funds were distributed was false.

“I did not say that. I am asking the paper that printed it to make a rectification,” he said., website of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, issued yesterday an apology for the erroneous report that Abante confirmed Mrs. Arroyo was present when the funds were distributed at the Palace.

The congressman said he was planning to return the money to Malacañang, although he did not think that the money was a bribe.

However, because of the scandal the distribution of the funds in Malacañang has created, he is willing to return the money.

He said the cash is now kept at his house by his wife.

Abante, who is a Baptist bishop, said he called Mrs. Arroyo on Wednesday night to explain his admission about the money before he left for Dubai.

He informed her that he had to tell the truth because he could not face his followers if he lied.

“The President did not say it, but I felt she was sad about this mess,” Abante said.

The President had ordered the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission to investigate claims of bribery that took place in Malacañang.

Palace officials have made conflicting statements on where the funds came from.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye was quoted as saying the funds came from private sources, while other officials said they were public funds.

Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno said the money came from the office of Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr., a claim the Speaker denied.

Baguio Rep. Mauricio Domogan said that the money he got was a regular allowance from Congress.

Domogan claimed in a hastily called press conference in his office at the Baguio City Hall on Wednesday afternoon that the money he got was not even a quarter of the supposed half million given in Malacañang and is a regular allowance given to congressmen during long breaks.

The congressman refused to say exactly how much he got.

He said that congressmen are given amounts ranging from P150,000 to P250,000 as regular transportation and representation allowance from the House coffers.

Domogan said it was given to all congressmen regardless of political affiliations and that there is nothing irregular about it because there is a lump sum appropriation in Congress.

Domogan, a staunch supporter of Mrs. Arroyo, said there is someone among the congressmen who wants to divide Mrs. Arroyo and Speaker De Venecia.

He refused to name the person but hinted that the people can notice it in the congressman’s actuations and positioning about the issue.

Meanwhile, local officials of Caraga Region affirmed their support for President Arroyo who met the officials last Wednesday night in Butuan City.

Rep. Guillermo Romarate, Jr. of Surigao del Norte’s first district and Rep. Francisco Matugas of Surigao del Norte’s second district said that the eight congressmen and five governors of Caraga Region decided to stay loyal to the President despite the on-going controversies.

Romarate said the region’s five governors and eight congressmen denied they received any amount during last Thursday’s meeting at the Palace.

Agusan del Sur Gov. Maria Valentina Plaza also denied receiving payola from the palace.

Surigao del Sur Governor Vicente Pimentel, Jr. said he did not receive any cash in Malacañang and vowed to support President Arroyo without conditions. — With Artemio Dumlao, Ben Serrano

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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