The phone bill issue: a non-issue

The Capitol propaganda machinery whirled into action over the weekend trying to peddle the story that Governor Arthur Defensor Sr. wants to check the Globe cell phone subscription that was assigned to me during the past administration and find out if the calls made through it were “official”.

The issue is that Globe has sent a legal demand to the Capitol for the settlement of over P40,000 in charges. The Capitol spin is that this is scandalous, because it now appears I abused and misused the cell phone for excessive personal calls. Indeed, if I were in his place, I’d be appalled to see such a big amount on the phone bill, especially when it used to be assigned to his most hated enemy: me.

Defensor is wasting his energy trying to build up this issue. It is a non-issue. He is wandering in the forest, like a man who lost his memory and could not navigate through clearly-marked trails he had traversed over and over again. He should be spared the effort. I can see he can hardly walk straight, and walking 50 meters is already like a full marathon for him. Let me enlighten him.

The Globe subscription was contracted by the Capitol. It underwent the procurement process. The line was assigned to me by former Governor Niel D. Tupas Sr. because as Provincial Administrator, I handled a heavy volume of communications. If I remember correctly, it was started in early 2007. Hence, the legality or propriety of having a line to me is not an issue. The Commission on Audit never raised it as an audit finding.

As most subscriptions go, there is a “lock-in” period. In early 2009, it was renewed for another 24 months. My charges never exceeded the P3,500 monthly fixed rate that Globe billed for that plan. For the record, I have a Smart post-paid plan which I paid, and continue to pay, from my own pocket.

The problem arose in the middle of 2009 when the Sangguniang Panlalawigan cut by more than half the communications budget of the Office of the Governor. It was part of the political sabotage carried out by allies of Defensor in the previous administration led by then Vice Governor Rolex T. Suplico. Almost all operational budgets of the Office of the Governor were slashed to a bare minimum. The objective was to paralyze the Executive and weaken the political stature of Tupas.

With the communications budget drastically reduced, the Capitol wasn’t able to pay the monthly bills on that Globe subscription. Because of the lock-in, the company continued to send its monthly bill even though the service had long been cut. Hence, the amount now being demanded by Globe isn’t because there was excessive and abusive use of the line. It was because the monthly bills had piled up, and the amount rose to more than P40,000.

In other words, there is nothing for Defensor to investigate. The charges rose even though it wasn’t being used. The bills, I presume, continued to reach the Capitol since Defensor assumed office on June 30, 2010, but he, too, did nothing to settle that. He allowed the problem to persist, even though as a lawyer, he knew that it was a contractual obligation of the Province. My name appeared on the bill only because it was assigned to me.

It amuses me that Defensor would create so much fuss about the issue. But I guess he needs something to hit back at me because I embarrassed him a number of times with stories I wrote, especially on the lack of medicines. He needs to show to the people that I was involved in some anomaly. Unfortunately for him, the scheme will backfire on him.

A TV reporter told me Defensor had threatened to sue me to demand that I pay the charges. It’s a ridiculous threat. Defensor should read his law book on Obligations and Contracts. How can he make me pay for an obligation of the Province? Maybe he was misinformed. Maybe his aides didn’t tell him the true nature of the accumulated bill.

What Defensor ought to do is summon his aides and tell them to give him the complete picture. He was fed half-truths and he quickly bit on the issue, thinking he had a big bat to hit me. He should reprimand them for placing him in this embarrassing situation. This should teach him a lesson that he should study an issue thoroughly before he says anything.

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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