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Mayor tagged as ‘narco’ builds stone palace in Iloilo

President Rodrigo Duterte named him as one of the “narco-politicians” on his list on August 7, 2016. Two years later, Calinog municipal mayor Alex Centena built a huge mansion using head-sized boulders from an illegal quarry and narra hardwood from the forests of his town worth about P40 million. It was like the municipal mayor sneering at the President. Here are some pictures of his palatial home.

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A day to remember: The assassination of Evelio Javier

I remember the date and the events that transpired as if these happened only yesterday.
At around 10:30 a.m. of February 11, 1986, I got a rare international call from Hongkong at my work place at the Development Bank of the Philippines. At the time, I was working as Credit Investigator at DBP and moonlighted as a journalist for Asiaweek Magazine, the regional weekly news magazine that had the same format as Time and Newsweek.
This was long before the era of cell phones, and Facebook and Twitter. News travelled rather slowly.
When I answered the phone, I recognized the voice of my editor, Zoher Abdoolkarim.
“Manuel, there’s been a murder in San Jose, Antique. Can you get a ride to go there quickly?” he said.
Zoher, in rapid fashion, told me what happened.
Former Antique Governor Evelio Javier was keeping watch over the canvassing of the electoral returns for President in the February 6, 1986 snap elections. Cory Aquino had challenged strongman Ferdinand E. Marcos, and there have been allegations of widespread cheating.
Antique province was then ruled by Marcos’s henchman, Arturo Pacificador. Javier knew that Pacificador would try to thwart the people’s will in Antique, and he kept a tight watch on the counting.
That fateful morning, Javier came down from the Capitol building in San Jose, Antique where the canvassing was being conducted to take a break. He went over to a big tree in the park to rest.
Just then, two or three armed men approached him and opened fire with M-16 armalite rifles. Javier was wounded but managed to run across the plaza in zigzag fashion to elude the bullets fired at him. He entered a store and hid inside the toilet.
His assassins, however, simply followed him. Once they got inside the store and learned where Javier had hidden, they fired their weapons at point-blank range. Javier was killed in an instant, his body peppered with bullets.
The gunmen then casually fled aboard a waiting vehicle.
I didn’t hesitate to accept the assignment. I knew history was being made. I filed a leave of absence for the day and negotiated with a taxi to drive me to San Jose, Antique.
I always brought my camera bag with me every day, and I had 3 rolls of transparency film (for slides) ready for exactly situations like this.
I don’t remember now how much the taxi driver charged.
I arrived in San Jose around 2 p.m. The atmosphere in the municipality was tense. PC soldiers were all over the place, and people looked anxiously from windows and doors.
I was told Javier’s cadaver had been brought to the Angel Salazar Memorial General Hospital, so I asked the taxi driver to take me there. Outside the hospital, I saw former Antique Governor Enrique Zaldivar and other political allies of the slain leader.
Zaldivar pointed over to the morgue. “That’s where he is now,” he said.
Without delay, I entered the morgue with my camera ready. To my surprise, the international correspondents were already swarming all over the place — Time Magazine, Newsweek Magazine, the U.S. television net works. I had to elbow my way inside to be able to take pictures of Javier’s bullet-riddled body.
I then talked with eyewitness to get their recollection of what happened.
A few minutes later, the taxi driver approached me, his face filled with dread.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
He told me a PC Major had put a handcuff on the steering wheel to disable the taxi. The PC Major apparently learned that a journalist was his passenger. So I went over to talk with the PC Major, who was the assistant provincial commander.
He asked me what I was doing there. Of course, I was there to cover the assassination of Javier. I presented to him my Asiaweek ID card. He wanted to detain me.
I wasn’t intimidated.
I told him that my arrest would become a secondary international event to the murder itself. “Sir, you will have to answer for this,” I warned him. I pointed to the international media nearby. “This will surely feast on this story,” I calmly said.
I must have seemed to be full of confidence that the PC Major relented. All right, he said, you can leave.
I didn’t waste a second in leaving. The tension had escalated. We were out of there by 6 p.m. If I remember right, my colleague Herbert Vego hitched a ride with me on the way back to Iloilo.
That night, I almost didn’t sleep as I furiously wrote the story on a portable typewriter (yes we had no laptops then). At 4 a.m. I went to the airport to send the 3 rolls of transparencies to Tony Lopez, Manila Bureau Chief of Asiaweek, through PAL cargo.
A picture showing Javier lying on the morgue table, blood pooling around hiim, and my story made it to the Asiaweek edition a few days later.
Now, 33 years later, I look back to this incident with a wish that such political violence will no longer happen again.
Javier had given his life to protect the sanctity of the ballot, and truly, he deserves to be honored on this day.

Political strategy in the age of social media

This political season is an interesting study on how candidates are making use of social media for their campaigns.
Without a doubt, social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube possess a tremendous influence on the minds of voters, particularly those below the age of 60.
While traditional media platforms like television, radio and newspapers are still very much in the game, studies have shown that their audience shares are dwindling.
This is particularly true for print media. But TV and radio have not been spared, and one indicator is the declining advertising revenue for these traditional media platforms and increasing advertising in social media.
As a political observer, I have been looking at the social media activities of local candidates, and there are still several who hardly have a presence even just on Facebook.
I liken these candidates to static, inflexible and clumsy armies over the centuries that have been decimated on the battlefield by opponents that were quick to adapt to changing times and embrace technology.
And social media requires a well-crafted message to voters.
Candidates must be aware that the competition for voters’ attention is broad and tight.
If you have lousy content, if you don’t present a message that resonates in the hearts and minds of voters, then you might as well pack up and leave the arena of battle.
Remember, as much as 75% (or even more) of voters depend on social media for their news, information and entertainment.

Gov. Defensor tries to salvage son’s candidacy as survey shows him sliding toward defeat

Up until mid-December 2018, the camp of Governor Arthur Defensor, Sr. has always trumpeted on the overwhelming lead in RACI surveys that his son, Toto, enjoyed over rival Cong. Ferj Gonzales Biron Full in the gubernatorial race.
Indeed, early surveys have placed Toto maintaining a comfortable 30% lead over Biron in the RACI surveys, giving the Defensor camp an overflowing dose of confidence.
But as I have always said before, that lead was influenced by a wrong notion among many voters that it was Arthur Defensor Sr. who was running.
As a result, Toto, by mistake, reaped a commanding portion of the expected votes from the surveys.
At the same time, Biron had not yet gone into high gear with his campaign.
And many people were unaware that the “knight in shining armor” image of the senior Defensor was a deception. His administration was a bird’s nest of corruption during the last 8 and a half years.
Then the flood gates opened.
The exposes on the corruption of the elder Defensor started.
Toto Defensor lined the highways and filled the airwaves with his propaganda using his “Toto” nickname instead of his real name with a “Jr.” prominently displayed.
And Biron went on the offensive with his personal visits to the different towns of the province.
At the bat of an eyelash (to borrow the phrase from John Bayona Castigador), Toto’s commanding lead vanished into thin air.
In the survey conducted by RACI for the period December 8-12, 2018, Toto’s numbers plummeted while Biron climbed steadily, and the two were statistically tied.
All of a sudden, the Defensor camp became silent about surveys.
From the grapevine, the Defensor camp also commission its own survey, and the results were the same.
It showed a trend: Biron was going up while Toto was going down.
This sent the Defensor camp into panic.
The father ordered new tarps printed; this time the name was “Arthur Toto (in smaller fonts) Defensor, Jr.”
Apparently, the father believes he can salvage the candidacy of his son by bringing back his name into the game.
But it is too late.
The truth that it’s a different Defensor who is running is out in the open.
Worse, Toto has failed to demonstrate an ability to communicate effectively to the people.
In fact, aside from his radio and TV spots, Toto has seldom been heard in public.
What is now happening is that the public perceives an aging father scrambling to force a victory for his son.
Too bad, Defensor could have preserved his son’s political future by agreeing to run as Vice Governor.
His ambition washed him out and will end his long political career in ruin and dishonor.
Instead of leaving a legacy, he will leave public life with heaps of unanswered issues of corruption on his back.

Liar, thief

“A LIAR IS A COUSIN OF A THIEF”
This aphorism couldn’t have found a better example than Governor Arthur D. Defensor, Sr.
But more than a cousin, Defensor is both liar and thief.
That’s because Defensor doesn’t just lie; he also steals and breaks the law and flaunts it.
There are countless examples to prove this.
What’s worse, Defensor has fooled a lot of people into believing that he is a knight in shining armor, a clean and honest public official who pursues “reporma kag pagbag-o” as a platform of government.
Such dishonest and deceitful character of Defensor is demonstrated by the anomalous contracts for what is supposed to be his “legacy” projects at the Iloilo Capitol Grounds.

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Governor Defensor toured Architect Paolo G. Alcazaren around the Capitol Grounds on January 25, 2016. (Photo credit: Erly Garcia/PIO)

It started with the procurement of the contract for a landscape architect.

In 2016, Defensor engaged the services of Architect Paolo G. Alcazaren to prepare the conceptual designs for the landscaping and park development of the capitol grounds.
Their first meeting took place in January 2016. Defensor proudly announced that he was hiring Alcazaren to do the designs.
On December 9, 2016, Alcazaren came back to the capitol to present his drawings and perspectives. Defensor and members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan were present at his presentation.arch-alcazaren-presents-capitol-masterplan5556943543562139841.jpg
The conceptual design was met with laudatory approval.
Hence, the logical next step was for the procurement of professional services (consultancy) to carry out the master planning, urban design and landscape architecture.
This involve the actual preparation of the detailed design.
Defensor wanted to give the P1.582 million contract to Alcazaren.
But there was a hitch.
As project consultant who did the conceptual designs, Alcazaren was disqualified under RA 9184 and its revised implementing rules and regulations from taking part in the public bidding.
He had a conflict of interest because of his involvement in the conceptual design phase.
This is where the dishonest and deceitful, and even criminal, character of Defensor came in.
(To be continued)

If government wants to stop smuggling, then it should embrace XLOG technology

The country’s Bureau of Customs is leaking like a sieve, which explains why until now, smuggling of illegal drugs hasn’t abated. Shabu that is being sold on the streets of the archipelago are manufactured in China. There are no shabu laboratories in the country anymore. Several shipments worth billions of pesos have been intercepted, but this represents only a fraction of the shabu coming into the country. This leaves me wondering if President Duterte is raising his hands in surrender in the face of this pipeline of shabu flowing right under the noses of our customs bureau. Or put another way, it raises questions on whether the government even wants to stop smuggling of shabu.

This is rather tragic because putting a stop to smuggling could have been accomplished as early as the first quarter of 2018 with software developed by Filipino IT experts. Called “XLOG”, the software has been tested and retested, and consistently proved that the leaks in the system could be plugged permanently. It basically removes human intervention in the entire process, and with it, the opportunities for corruption.

If put to use by our Bureau of Customs, XLOG can eliminate delays in getting cargoes processed and released, and ensure that the government collects the right tariffs. What more can the government ask for? It will make exporters and importers happy, get rid of corruption, and increase collections. It’s a simple formula and it’s hard to understand why Customs officials refuse to embrace the technology.

On top of the crystal clear benefits it will bring to the government, XLOG is not even to cost the Bureau of Customs a single centavo. It is being offered entirely for free. All it needs to do is accept the technology, install the application at all ports of entry, and government will reap the rewards in one smooth movement. The technology has been proven effective in plugging the leaks in the present set-up. Government cannot possibly find a better solution to the smuggling problem and the corruption issue.

Of course, once in place, XLOG will eliminate corruption, which is perhaps the reason why there is resistance in the Bureau of Customs. No matter how many shake-ups will be carried out, the corruption will continue to plague the agency, for as long as officials are given broad discretion on letting a cargo shipment go through its checkpoints. Money, especially when it involves millions of pesos for a single transaction, can dilute the strongest of principles among officials.

Hence, we can only watch with despair as more and more smuggling take place on a daily basis at our ports of entry, both for sea and air cargo. We are losing the war, and government has only itself to blame. If Customs chief Isidro Lapena wants to change the situation, all he needs to do is get XLOG to come into the picture. It’s been waiting there on the sidelines. The picture can change in an instant: smuggling can be eliminated once the buttons for XLOG are pressed.

 

 

Drilon was the protector of drug lords in Iloilo

Until now, President Duterte hasn’t fathomed the real picture of illegal drugs in Iloilo City. He has blamed dismissed City Mayor Jed Patrick E. Mabilog for the rise of drug lords and their grip on the local community before he came to power. But the truth is that Mabilog was only a pawn. He was never the political boss of Iloilo City. He took orders from Senator Franklin Drilon.

But isn’t it strange that despite the massive reportage and media commentaries on the illegal drugs problem in Iloilo City, Drilon never ever said anything about it? He reads my every blog and Facebook post, and there is no denying he knew about how bad the illegal drugs problem had grown during the years 2010-2016. In fact, I sent him an email sometime in 2012 beseeching him to do something about it. And when the late Melvin “Boyet” Odicta tried to storm into the premises of Aksyon Radyo Iloilo on November 19,2015, Drilon squelched the calls for a Senate investigation into the incident, saying it was a minor police matter.

Drilon was not just the political kingpin of Iloilo at the time. All the national government agencies, including the PNP, PDEA and NBI, bowed before him like a demi-god. Only those who received his blessings were given assignments as Regional Directors in Western Visayas, which has Iloilo City as the regional center. Despite such power that he wielded, Drilon never issued orders for the police to crack down on the drug syndicates. What he did was show a fondness for Barangay Monica-Blumentritt Punong Barangay Keith “Dabing” Espinosa, wife of Jing Jing Espinosa, a top lieutenant of the Odicta syndicate.

Kap dabing with drilon

VIP treatment palagi si Kap Dabing Espinosa na asawa ni Jing Jing Espinosa sa mga okasyon ni Drilon.

Drilon with Kap Dabing

And he was always quick to downplay the magnitude of the problem. Not once had he chastised Mabilog, his cousin and protege, about the growth of the syndicates. In short, it was Drilon who gave protection to the syndicates. And it’s time President Duterte took him to task for this crime against the nation.