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Bicol local officials expose P162-M ‘ghost’ projects

Monday, February 23, 2009 [ manilatimes.net ]

By Manny T. Ugalde, Correspondent

LEGAZPI CITY, Albay: Some P162 million in reforestation projects of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in the Bicol region do not exist, according to local-government officials.

The DENR said that it had planted seven million trees last year in the provinces of Albay, Camarines Sur and Camarines Norte in the region involving 77 sites.

Tomasito Monson, the presidential assistant for Bicol Development Affairs, earlier sought an investigation of the apparently failed reforestation projects. He also is the executive director of the Bicol River Basin Development Program.

The DENR-Bicol is headed by Executive Director Joselin Marcus Fragada, supposedly a neighbor and classmate of President Gloria Arroyo’s congressman-son Diosdado “Dato” Arroyo. Monson supposedly is also a classmate of Rep. Arroyo.

Mayors Evelyn Yu of Calabanga town and Romy San Luis of Pili town in Camarines Sur also earlier said that the DENR reforestation projects are non-existent.

In Albay, Mayor Juaning Garcia of Guinobatan town lashed at the DENR for claiming a P3.2-million reforestation project last year in Masarawag barangay (village).

“The Masarawag project was a mere tree-planting activity conducted by local-government units,” Garcia said.

After a reforestation project in 1994 and another in 1995 in Guinobatan, he added, no similar project was undertaken in his town.

Other local officials in the towns of Libon, Oas and Polangui and in Ligao City also denied the existence of reforestation projects in their areas.

According to Fred Araya, the Public-Affairs chief of the DENR-Bicol, the DENR reforestation projects are there for people to see.

For 2008, he clarified, the budget for reforestation and other related projects was only P129 million. From the fourth quarter of 2007, Araya said, came P33 million.

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