Conflict of interest

One of the first statements that came from the new Iloilo provincial administrator was to belittle the accomplishments of former Governor Niel Tupas Sr. in the campaign against illegal fishing.  In his words, Dr. Raul Banias described the anti-illegal fishing campaign as nothing but an empty boast, pointing to the beat-up Bantay Dagat patrol boat as evidence. He also cited a decline in apprehensions during the last two years of the Tupas administration as an eloquent manifestation of such failure.

What Dr. Banias omitted was the fact that the provincial government was literally crippled by the incessant assaults staged by former Vice Governor Rolex Suplico and his allies in the Sangguniang Panlalawigan during the last three years. Fuel expenses were slashed, no money was allocated for boat repairs, and virtually every support needed to mount an effective campaign was wiped out from the face of the province’s budget. The Tupas administration had nothing to work with in terms of logistical support.

Even then, the anti-illegal fishing task force struggled to carry on its mission in stopping the destructive activities of illegal fishing operators in the seas of Iloilo province, particularly in the northern portion that includes Carles, Concepcion, Ajuy and San Dionisio where the richest fishing grounds are situated. Gov. Tupas tapped the help of barangay officials in Concepcion and Carles in this fight and released financial assistance to their LGUs to be able to build their own patrol boats. This is the reason that contrary to the lie peddled by Banias, illegal fishing was still kept to a minimum despite the imposed obstacles. No less than Dr. Ildefonso Toledo, provincial agriculturist, released statistics to show a different picture.

But there was one thing that Banias said that disturbed me. He was personally taking over the anti-illegal fishing campaign with a vow to mount an honest-to-goodness enforcement drive. What he is not saying is that this puts him in a conflict-of-interest situation. Not too many people know this, but Banias is engaged in the fish trading business. This started when he was still vice mayor of Concepcion where he controlled the buying-and-selling of marine products. During this time (until he became mayor), Banias didn’t raise even a whisper against illegal fishing. In fact, many of the illegal fishing operators were his suppliers. Several times when he was mayor of Concepcion, Gov. Tupas admonished him to stop his friends from plying their trade. Nothing happened. The seas of Concepcion proliferated with illegal fishing activities during his incumbency.

Now that he is provincial administrator, and poised to take control over the anti-illegal fishing campaign, Dr. Banias will enjoy unbridled monopoly over the fishing industry in Iloilo province. I challenge him to make a disclosure about his business interests in fish trading, to include his proprietary stake in a giant fishpen in the Plandico Bay between Concepcion and Ajuy in partnership with board member Jett Rojas.  This fishpen was subject of complaints from small fishermen for a long time. Two years ago, the DPWH had ordered it demolished, but Banias used his clout as Presidential Assistant to block that move. The fish business has made Banias rich.

I have a nasty feeling that allowing Dr. Banias to handle illegal fishing would be like giving the Kuratong Baleleng gang the combination to every bank vault in the country so they will just have to walk in and grab the cash without firing a shot.

About Manuel "Boy" Mejorada
Manuel "Boy" Mejorada is a journalist and social media activist. A former Iloilo provincial administrator, he is now waging a crusade against corruption and narco-politics.

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