Monday, April 16, 2007

Acostas cry foul, link accuser to Joe

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (Ben Balce / April 16) - THE Acostas lashed back at an anti-corruption group in Bukidnon and accused it of being used as a political tool to discredit them in time for this year's elections.

Three members of Acosta family are seeking three key positions in Bukidnon in hopes of wrestling power from incumbent Gov. Jose Zubiri and his allies. Rep. Nereus Acosta of the province's 1st District is challenging Zubiri's reelection bid, his mother Socorro is seeking to retain her position as the leader of the vote-rich Manolo Fortich town and his sister Ma. Lourdes wants to represent the 1st District in the Lower House.

Socorro a former congresswoman, called the Bukidnon Crusade Against Corruption (BCAC) a fake, saying it allowed itself to be used by the Zubiris for an alleged political demolition job.

Ms. Acosta said BCAC's accusations against her family were ill-motivated.

"These are all lies... malicious and politically motivated," said Acosta as she brushed aside charges she and her family benefitted from the release of public funds to two province-based cooperatives.

Acosta accused Zubiri of being behind BCAC in pursuing graft cases against her and other members of her family.

"The Zubiris are the ones behind the recycling of all these obsolete issues which should be best forgotten. They are always using these issues against us (Acostas) every time there is an election just for them to gain political mileage," said Acosta.

Gov. Zubiri, she said, was "kicking a dead horse."

Acosta said the leader of BCAC, Fr. Venancio Balansag Jr., is a known ally of Zubiri and even allegedly related by affinity to a nephew of Zubiri.

She said Balansag and his group's silence on the damning corruption issues against the Zubiri administration, including the capitol's controversial purchase and subsequent sale of a tomato paste plant in Manolo Fortich town, is suspect.

The Acosta camp said the plant was bought for some P20 million and subsequently sold for some P92 million. The Acostas alleged that "not a single centavo" from the sale of the property went to the coffers of the capitol.

"Clearly, BCAC is a political demolition campaign masquerading as an anti-corruption movement," said Acosta.

Balansag and his group have accused the Acostas of granting millions of pesos in public funds to Bukidnon-based cooperatives that allegedly being run by members of the Acosta family.

Acosta laughed off the accusations, saying the allegations were raised again because Zubiri and his allies were already feeling that heat.

Aggravating this, she said Zubiri's son Miguel, the representative of another Bukidnon didtrict, is poorly performing in the surveys among candidates for senators.

"Our political opponents are threatened and they are becoming more and more desperate," said Socorro.

Specifically, Balnsag's group accused the Acostas of releasing some P8 million in congressional funds for the Bukidnon Integrated Network of Home Industries Inc. (Binhi) and the Bukidnon Vegetable Producers Cooperative (BVPC). The group alleged that was given without the green light of the Manolo Fortich town council.

Elmer de la Rosa, a lawyer of the Acostas, said the funds that were released to Binhi and BVPC were intended for micro-credit loans with interest rates of 2.5 percent per month for operational expenses.

These loans, he said, were granted without collateral to people in need.

"The Grameen banking was scoofed at by the Acosta family's political opponents, particularly the Zubiris, as rather quixotic but when they saw its success, they then wanted to destroy it," de la Rosa said.

De la Rosa said Rep. Acosta's father Juan initiated the lending program, patterned after the Grameen lending program of Bangladesh, to address the credit needs of poor women in Mindanao.

"The programs really helped and uplifted the lives of the people in Bukidnon. They are now lauding the Acosta for the initiative," said de la Rosa.

He said Binhi and BVPC have independent boards of trustees and are not controlled by any family alleged by Balansag and his group.

De la Rosa however admitted that when Binhi was organized in 1989, Dr. Juan Acosta sat as a member of its 15-person interim board.

He said Zubiri's candidate for congressman in the 1st District, Candido Pancrudo, also sat in the Interim board together with Dr. Acosta, Nelson Binayao, Evangeline Urtado and Corazon Arboli.

De la Rosa said Juan left Binhi in 1991, long before the cooperative received a government grant through Rep. Acosta. Neither did Juan get elected as an official of BVPC," he said.

"The Acostas did not control and neither do they own or even have financial interests in Binhi. Of the 15 incorporators, only Juan was an Acosta," said De la Rosa.

Because the Acostas believed in the cooperatives, de la Rosa said the family donated a 1,500-square meter property to BVPC and they allowed Binhi to use one of the family-owned buildings for free.

Binhi, an organization registered with Securuties and exchange Commission (SEC), started with 20 members 17 years ago. It now has a membership of some eight thousand in 140 barangays in eight towns in Bukidnon.

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