Culture of Impunity (Part II)

Much of what is going wrong in this country can be attributed to our failure to punish those who have committed grave crimes against its people. There is no justice when powerful officials can just steal money right under our noses and whistle their way to the bank. And we can’t expect ordinary crimes to be solved when the big, pestering corruption cases remain unresolved.

These are the basic principles that need to be underscored as we tackle the issue of corruption in Iloilo City, particularly those involving its highest elected officials like Rep. Jerry P. Trenas and Mayor Jed Patrick E. Mabilog. We will never get anywhere for as long as these corruption cases taunt our justice system. It will never restore public confidence in our government.

Worse, these public officials are getting bolder and bolder and bolder each time.

This is what we have witnessed with the secret transaction that Mabilog made with F. F. Cruz and Co./Freyssinet Filipinas Inc. Joint Venture for the supplementary works contract worth P260 million to complete the new Iloilo City Hall building. Until now, City Hall hasn’t disclosed much after reporters covering the City Hall asked questions about the work resumption at the scandal-ridden project.

Is this the transparency in governance that Mabilog boasted about? Was the contract a result of “open, competitive public bidding” that Mabilog announced last June? Is the city government trying to scale down its proposed expenditures on the overpriced project so that more funds can be channeled to other vital services and programs in the city?

Of course, the answer can only be “no”.

Mabilog is shrugging off these questions. For him, he can do as he pleases, even contrary to what the Commission on Audit has advised him, about the project. For him, he is the City Mayor, and he can ignore the mandate of Republic Act No. 9184, or the Government Procurement Reform Act, which clearly set down the rule that all government procurements, with a few exceptions, must be done through public bidding.

It’s not hard to understand why Mabilog feels this way. He feels secure and protected by the culture of impunity that has taken root in our community. He has seen that his predecessor, Trenas, hasn’t been indicted before the Sandiganbayan after all these years. He will only need to apply thick make-up to turn his face into pachyderm. No shame. No guilt. No remorse.

This attitude reflects the contradictions in what Mabilog preaches, and what he does. He put up the HALIGI Foundation at the start of his political career purportedly to espouse an “honest and accountable living for a graft-free Iloilo”. Is this just a camouflage for his true intentions? Or was he just swallowed by the monstrous jaws of corruption? Nothing about his actions during the first 16 months in office suggest he wants to get rid of corruption. On the contrary, he looks to me like a young man in a hurry to steal millions and millions from the public coffers.

I am hoping the COA will stand its ground on the issue of the lack of public bidding. The first contract for the City Hall project is already fraught with irregularities. Right now, the vigilant media seems unable to stop these corrupt-filled activities. Trenas has hunkered down in the trenches, keeping himself hidden from the issues, with not a word to explain his past actions. Mabilog is sticking as close as possible to the model set by Trenas, looking almost like a clone.

Much is expected of COA to redeem its image. In the past, COA was a toothless tiger, utterly helpless in the fight against corruption, because those involved were too powerful to be hailed to the Ombudsman. Now is the time to prove that it has shed its old image and be a strong watchdog against corruption.

When our officials are not afraid of the repercussions of their actions, then our community has a serious problem on our hands. We hope this culture of impunity is banished from Iloilo, for we can never truly become progressive with such festering issues swirling in our community.

Meanwhile, our readers can count on us to remain vigilant against corruption.

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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