Former anti-poverty chief blames Pagcor, military for ₱49M idle funds

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Former Anti-Poverty Commission Secretary Liza Maza (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 28) — The former head of the government's anti-poverty agency on Tuesday faulted the gaming regulator for stopping the use of over ₱49 million in special funds meant for the poor.

Liza Maza, former lead convenor of the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC), issued this statement in response to the Commission on Audit's report flagging the idle funds under her watch. State auditors said over ₱50 million was turned over by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) for poverty-alleviation projects in 2017. The funds were supposed to be utilized within a two-year period which expired last April 4, but only around ₱970,000 was used.

Maza in a statement sent to CNN Philippines explained that Pagcor "demanded that the NAPC stop any further disbursement" in December 2017, just months after the turnover in April, to make way for a "full audit" amid allegations the money was being given to armed communist rebels. She believes the military was behind the order.

"To my mind, this was indicative of the creeping power of the military in the affairs of government that ultimately made my position untenable and led to my resignation," Maza said. "Looking back, however, it appears that the anti-reform elements were dead-set on blocking any sort of benefits that we might have delivered to the poor while working with the administration in good faith, if only to discredit the larger reforms that we were advocating for."

She said she submitted to the audit despite the "baseless" accusations.

"We were, however, never informed of the results of said audit, if it were actually conducted, despite multiple follow-up attempts," she added.

In a separate media briefing on Tuesday, NAPC Secretary Noel Felongco said the fund rollout never resumed as Maza faced a revived murder charge, which she called political persecution, and resigned.

Nagpalabas po ng kautusan din yung dating secretary ng NAPC na huwag na ituloy... So hanggang naabutan ito ng nag-leave siya dahil nagkaroon ng problema, may WOA (warrant of arrrest) na lumabas against sa kanya... Tuluyan na nagresign dahil dun sa mga pangayayare na yan, naging idle talaga yung pera,” Felongco said.

[Translation: "The former NAPC Secretary issued an order to not pursue the projects... Then she went on leave because of a problem – a warrant of arrest was issued against her... She resigned because of the turn of events and the money remained idle."

Maza was among left-leaning individuals President Rodrigo Duterte appointed to the Cabinet as he reached out to communist rebels to talk peace. But peace negotiations have been called off and officials with leftist affiliations have either been fired, rejected by the Commission on Appointments, or resigned.

Maza quit her post in August last year, leaving the NAPC with eight months to tap the funds. Felongco was appointed in November 2018.

Felongco said the NAPC is now working with the gaming regulator to sign a new agreement that will extend the use of funds beyond the two-year deadline.

CNN Philippines' AC Nicholls contributed to this report.