Group seeks drop of “DENR Sec. Acosta” plan; Acosta: “It’s a demolition job”

MALAYBALAY CITY – A group who calls themselves the Crusaders for Good Government (CGG) has asked President Benigno Aquino III not to pursue appointing former Bukidnon 1st district Rep. Neric Acosta as environment secretary on merit of four graft cases at the Sandiganbayan.

In an open letter printed in a full-page paid space at the Philippine Star on May 11, the group invoked Aquino’s anti-corruption campaign in their appeal against Acosta, whom they accused of being “unworthy” to environment secretary because of the cases, including the alleged release of P10.5 million from his Priority Development Assistance Fund when he Industries and Bukidnon Vegetable Producers Cooperative.

“Mr. President we vehemently register our protest in the rumored appointment of former Cong. Nerius Acosta. Not only will his rumored appointment create disharmony in the government service but will also disprove – and disrupt your crusade for good governance,” according to the group’s 21-paragraph letter on the Star’s Page 21.

The group cited that the two firms were “organized and incorporated by close relatives of Acosta” and accused the latter of nepotism.

Acosta, in his statement to the media on May 11, dismissed the allegations as a “well-financed smear campaign” as he is being considered to the post.

He said the group used the media to publish an “old worn-out charge filed against me 10 years ago by my political rivals.”

“Well, many public officials have pending cases before various courts, but a pending case is not an indication of guilt,” he said in his statement posted on his Facebook account and was forwarded to news organizations.

Acosta cited that it must be his pledge to clean up the DENR that his detractors are afraid of.

“I promised President Noynoy I would clean up the well-placed mafia groups that are (i)mbedded in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)– from the issuance of fake land patents resulting to big land scams to the questionable grants of mining and logging permits,” he said.

He admitted that “he will be stepping on big toes. “But someone has got to do it. I will do it if given the chance,” he warned.

“I will do my best to rid the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) of the endemic corruption of some of its high-ranking officials that has deeply affected the system and demoralized hundreds of honest and efficient civil servants, if given the opportunity to serve,” he added.

But the group said Aquino may go astray in his anti-corruption campaign in case he pursues Acosta’s appointment once the one-year ban on appointment to government of defeated candidates.

They cited COA auditor and state witness Carlo Matias to have “categorically” identified in his testimony Acosta’s alleged link to corruption as it could not be dismissed that the release of the funds to the two firms was not “pure coincidence.”

The group named Acosta’s father Dr. Juan Acosta and mother, former representative and Manolo Fortich mayor Socorro Acosta as allegedly behind the firms BINHI and BVPC.

“The evidence collated by the investigating audit team is much too strong to ignore, its findings eventually convinced the Ombudsman that there was probable cause to prosecute, hence the Sandigan hearings in progress,” the group said.

A report at the Manila-based Daily Tribune cited that it was the Bukidnon Crusade Against Crime and Corruption, a Bukidnon-based non-government organization who appealed to Aquino in a letter on May 7, four days ahead of the publication of the full-page ad.

“Former Rep. Neric Acosta cannot make DENR corruption-free since he himself has been indicted and is now facing several cases for violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act before the Fourth Division of the Sandiganbayan,” the letter, signed by Fr. Venancio Balansag of the Bishop’s House in Malaybalay City and Felix Vergara, Jr. of Maramag, Bukidnon,a member of the board of the First Bukidnon Electric Cooperative. Both were reported members of the Bukidnon Crusade Against Crime and Corruption.

Acosta is a known environment advocate who authored the Clean Air Act and other environmental laws.

“I will protect our environment, but still encourage the mining industry to generate employment through a balanced development plan that does not deplete our natural resources,” he said.

This reporter tried to reach Acosta but he said in his media statement that he will no longer speak on the issue.

“..I refuse to be brawn into a mud-slinging contest with these vested interests who have all the money to spend in this smear campaign against me,” he said. (Walter I. Balane)

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