Body of evidence (Part II)

The avalanche of documentary evidence that established the financial interests of City Mayor Jed Patrick E. Mabilog in the corporations that misappropriated, and absconded, the P2 million financial grant given by the United Parcel Services (UPS) for the improvement of English language teaching skills of public school mentors in Iloilo City apparently put him in a corner.

And the best effort his spokesman and alter ego, Jeffrey Celiz, could do was try to pull a Houdini act and show that it involved private organizations, and that no injury to the public had been caused by the swindle. This was what happened last Wednesday night when Celiz, along with HALIGI Foundation executive director Norman Tabud, engaged me in a face-off over Bombo Radyo Iloilo over this scandal.

Basically, the defenses put up by Celiz and Tabud can be summarized as follows:

  • No public funds were involved, and the transaction was between private corporations;
  • Mabilog could not be held accountable for any unethical transaction or behavior under the concept of corporations have separate and distinct juridical personalities from their individual stockholders;
  • The training program did take place; and
  • That the TESDA training school was authorized to conduct the training despite the fact its license was only for technical and vocational courses, specifically call center agent training.

Maybe Celiz fancies himself as a topnotch legal eagle in the mold of a Raymund Fortun or Estelito Mendoza or Jose Flaminiano in trying to extricate his boss from the quagmire of financial scandal. But what he has done was sink Mabilog deeper in this mess because he merely strengthened public perception that he was only trying to punch holes in an airtight case.

Let me address the defenses raised by Celiz and Tabud one by one.

First, while public funds were not involved, and the transaction was by and between private corporations, there is still the primordial public interest that’s at stake. The transactions of private corporations are not beyond the scrutiny of media and regulators like the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). And contrary to what Celiz wanted to purvey, the officers of corporations can be held accountable for any misfeasance or malfeasance.

What happened in the swindle of the UPS funds is a classic case of corporate fraud. And Mabilog, as the chief financial officer of the HALIGI Foundation, is right at the center of it. It is clear he was the mastermind of this fraud. As such, it is a legitimate public issue to be tackled in an investigative report.

Second, HALIGI’s Tabud presented volumes of documentation to prove that the training did take place, to include photographs of the participants undergoing vocational/technical training in speech labs designed for call center agents. Unfortunately, I’ve seen equally voluminous documents submitted to justify expenditure of public funds for ghost projects. Just recently, 2nd district Rep. Augusto “Boboy” Syjuco furnished me signed delivery receipts for the P3.25 million fertilizer fund scam in Alimodian as part of his counter-affidavit to my complaint before the Ombudsman.

Indeed, there might have been a training course. But it wasn’t the type that could justify the exhaustion of the P2 million UPS fund. In the first place, Panpacific Career and Management Institution wasn’t the right school for the purpose. It was basically a speech lab center where English speaking skills of those aspiring to be call center agents can be sharpened over a certain course duration. The training that was required necessitated a series of lectures in a classroom setting.

The only purpose why Mabilog made it look like there was a training course with Panpacific Career and Management Institution was to siphon the money. He needed to submit a liquidation report to UPS that was believable. And this is the reason he changed the name of Panpacific which was originally known as Panpacific Call Center and Training School. Mabilog knew it would have raised suspicions of the donor UPS. So he resorted to a disguise, a camouflage.

Lastly, Panpacific Career and Management Institution lacked the appropriate license to offer training courses other than call center agent training. Its TESDA accreditation, it must be emphasized, was only for call center agent training.

Here, Celiz propounded a wildly twisted argument. He said the Department of Education was a higher authority than TESDA for the purpose of authorizing the training. DepEd, he said, was a party to the memorandum of agreement (MOA) along with HALIGI, Victory Educational Services Inc (owner/operator of Panpacific). There’s no more need for any other authority, he said.

Does Celiz really think Ilonggos are stupid enough to believe him? I’d venture to say even the DepEd officials who were involved in this program would have cringed in shame at this kind of argument. Of course, it’s not true. All schools are subject to regulation and monitoring. And the agencies who oversee education at all levels are DepEd (for elementary and secondary), TESDA for vocational/technical, and the Commission on Higher Education (for baccalaureate and graduate programs).

Mabilog is trapped by the very arguments used by Celiz and Tabud. This transaction exposes the dishonesty nature and scheming character of this young man who happens to be the City Mayor of Iloilo City. He masterminded a big swindle that deprived our teachers of an honest-to-goodness training program that would benefit our school children. It is a most shameful display of greed and opportunism on the part of Mabilog.

UPS saw an opportunity to help; Mabilog saw an opportunity to steal.

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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