Mabilog is unrepentant about drug lord liaisons

The inclusion of Jed Patrick E. Mabilog among the local chief executives revealed by no less than President Rodrigo “Digong” Duterte as a drug lord protector didn’t come to most Ilonggos as a surprise. It was public knowledge for the last six years. The local media has been vocal about it. One of the known drug lords, Jing Jing Espinosa, even liked to post pictures of him and Mabilog on his social media account.

Still, the announcement when it came was cataclysmic. It shook the entire Iloilo City! For those who have known about it for a long time, it was a moment of liberation, and celebration. For critics of Mabilog, it was vindication. But there are still legions of loyal political supporters of Mabilog who insisted that Mabilog is clean.

The day after President Duterte revealed the names in a midnight speech, barangay captains in Iloilo City — supposedly acting upon the instructions of Mabilog — organized a small rally to manifest their support for him. In the Iloilo City Council, Mabilog’s political allies passed a resolution expressing their unwavering support for his leadership and integrity.

In the days following the announcement, a blog post on his magnificent “White House” mansion on the banks of the Iloilo River went viral and triggered a frenzy of criticism and debate on the source of his new-found wealth. Quite a number of professionals working in the United States and Canada questioned the capability of Mrs. Ma. Victoria T. Mabilog to earn the kind of money to be able to build the mansion. The house is believed to be worth not less than P50 million.

While he was visibly stressed from the scandal that engulfed him, Mabilog reported for work on Wednesday, August 10. And the first thing he did was hold a press conference in which he talked about, among others, his friendship with Melvin Odicta and Jing Jing Espinosa, both identified by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) as drug group leaders in Iloilo City.

Mabilog press conference

Photo credit: Nestor Burgos, Philippine Daily Inquirer

Mabilog insisted there was nothing wrong with his association with Odicta and Espinosa.

He said he visited the house of Odicta during a barangay fiesta. Odicta’s brother is the barangay captain, and Mabilog said it was part of his constituency work to honor an invitation to the drug lord’s house for a fiesta. When Odicta’s mother died, Mabilog also visited the fortress-like compound to pay his respects. He consoles with constituents during their time of grief, he said, and Odicta, also known as “Dragon”, is no exception.

Far from being repentant about his closeness with Jing Jing Espinosa, Mabilog told both Iloilo and Manila media it was also part of his constituency work. Espinosa happens to be a barangay kagawad of Barangay Monica and his wife, Keith, is the barangay captain. He claims he gets invited to the barangay fiesta of Monica and other events, and he doesn’t see anything wrong going there and be photographed with Jing Jing. In a number of photographs, Mabilog is seen with Jing Jing while surrounded by heavily armed bodyguards.

But one thing that Mabilog was careful to avoid was mention he had knowledge both Odicta and Espinosa were known drug lords. The way he talked, he behaved as if the two were ordinary constituents with no known record in the illegal drugs trade. He also didn’t dwell into why he seemed to enjoy more time with them, especially in the house of Jing Jing, who is also his “kumpadre”.

Apparently, Mabilog didn’t care about the consequences of his public liaisons with known drug lords. In the past, Mabilog would often respond arrogantly to questons about his liaisons with Espinosa. There was an instance when he retorted to media, “Nonsense”, when it was suggested that his behavior was improper. Jing Jing, he said, didn’t need to submit an NBI clearance to him to become his friend.

Now that he is caught in this whirlpool of scandal, Mabilog will have nobody else to blame but himself. His problems have only been aggravated by disclosures that 21 policemen were assigned to him as bodyguards. For a city with an undermanned Police Department, the detachment of 21 policemen to secure the safety of Mabilog has drawn vicious criticism from media and the public.

It also doesn’t help Mabilog that he has lived lavishly and extravagantly. His “White House” mansion is now considered a monument of corruption. His fleet of expensive vehicles will also be taken into account as a lifestyle check is being done on him.

For many, his sudden rise to wealth couldn’t have come from legitimate income. There’s strong suspicion that the “White House” came from kickbacks and protection money from the drug lords.

Definitely not world class

It’s been three months since the last meeting in the Iloilo leg of the APEC 2015 was held at the Iloilo Convention Center, but the grossly overpriced building — originally estimated to cost only P200 million — is far from finished.

I went to the ICC myself on January 4 to see what’s inside the concrete and glass cavern sitting between two hotels of the Megaworld Corp. I am thankful that the young administrator graciously allowed me to tour the building, accompanied by a private security guard as guide.

And what I found inside the building depressed me even more. After the DPWH and TIEZA spent nearly P750 million, the ICC is not 100% completed. The contractor, Hilmarcs Construction, is still awaiting a new P55 million contract to install the folding walls to allow the main hall to be divided into five smaller meeting venues. Both inside and outside the building, work items remain unfinished, including the parking lot and security guard post.

There’s nothing in the building that would justify the expenditure of P800 million when it is finally completed long after the APEC meetings which was the justification for its construction.

That’s right, the final price tag for the ICC once it is completed is P800 milliion, and that’s without the sound and lights system that was scrapped last September.

In fact, a number of people who have attended conferences at the ICC since it accepted space rental are one in saying that it is definitely not world class. There’s a consensus that it fell far short of expectations from the way it was described by its patron, Senate President Franklin Drilon.

As one recent visitor told me, even the restrooms are substandard for a facility that is branded as “world-class”. She described the quality of the restrooms as just about par with the restrooms of a two-decade old mall in Lapaz. She said she is embarrassed by what she saw. It was damning evidence that much of the money spent for the project was carted away in a long convoy of armored trucks.

I don’t know if Drilon still has an iota of conscience left in him and confess his sins to the Filipino people. This is public money we are talking about here through the Development Acceleration Program (DAP) that the Supreme Court had declared as illegal and unconstitutional.

It’s not just the ICC that has become a monument of Drilon’s corruption.

The still unfinished Benigno Aquino Jr. Avenue, or more commonly known as the Iloilo Diversion Road, has cost about P150 million per kilometer for a 6.25-meter widening with the ridiculous pave-tiled “bike lanes”.

From the foot of the Iloilo Bridge going to Ungka — a distance of about 5 kilometers — is already costing us about a billion pesos. And it’s not just outrageously overpriced. The quality of work on the road pavement is poor. Driving along the Diversion Road is like riding a boat in turbulent seas. That’s because the road surface is uneven.

Those LED street light are another scandal. Based on computations I made from the contracts awarded for their installation, each street light would cost P1 million. Drilon must have learned from his cousin, Jed Patrick E. Mabilog, who overpriced traffic lights by as much as 300%.

And to make sure all the evidence to these anomalies remain buried, Drilon has arranged for DPWH regional director Edilberto Tayao to get another six months extension after his one-year extension expires next month.

Drilon needs to keep Tayao in the DPWH regional office because it’s only the soon-to-turn 67 years old regional director who has the gall to execute the corruption-ridden projects. Tayao has only recently undergone a major heart surgery, and he should already be avoiding stressful work by going into retirement. It’s not as if DPWH lacks competent officials who can replace Tayao if qualification and capability are the sole basis. But it’s not. It’s about the willingness to carry out the corrupt deals of the Senate President.

I know it’s useless to be filing more cases against Drilon over these projects for as long as President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III remains in power. Perhaps under a different dispensation, Drilon and his accomplices can be held to account for their misdeeds.

Having said that, the likelihood that Drilon will follow the footsteps of his fellow senators to jail is increasing everyday as survey after survey shows that the Liberal Party standard bearer, Mar Roxas, is sinking deeper into oblivion.

At the moment, I derive consolation from the knowledge that Drilon is facing a jury composed of Ilonggos who witness the ugliness of corruption that he has brought upon Iloilo City. More and more Ilonggos are expressing their disgust over Drilon’s immense appetite for pork and the corruption it entails.

And in the end, it will be God who will judge Drilon. When that happens, there will be a lot of pork lard to drip when this king of pork is roasted in hell.

Judge habeas corpus

(Coffeebreak, December 11, 2015)

It was a story that I had hoped would be a journalistic scoop: the story about how Melvin “Boyet” Odicta Sr. had won his freedom from prison despite a life sentence meted upon him upon conviction for selling an estimated 50 grams of shabu sometime in March 1989 in Barangay Tanza Esperanza in Iloilo City.

For more than two weeks since that attempt by Odicta and his group to break into the premises of Aksyon Radyo Iloilo at 12:50 a.m. on November 19, 2015, the entire legal and media community were at a loss to know how Odicta could have gotten out of jail after serving only six years at the Sablayan Penal Colony in Mindoro Occidental.

There was, as far as everybody interested in the case could establish, no pardon or parole granted to Odicta by the Office of the President. He just seemed to have walked out of prison with the gates thrown wide open for him, with no obstacles thrown his way.

But Odicta was no Houdini. He couldn’t have just unchained himself from incarceration. I knew there had to be a document somewhere that would unlock the mystery.

True enough, a source handed over to me a sheaf of old documents that included an Order from the Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court Branch 276 granting the petition of Odicta, along with 49 other prisoners, for writs of habeas corpus filed sometime in March 1995.

The petitioners were mostly convicted for violation of R.A. 6425.

What made the petitions highly questionable was the fact that these were filed by batches of 20 or 30 prisoners, and not individual cases as procedure would dictate. These were lumped in two special proceedings, and disposed by Judge Norma C. Perello, then the Executive Judge, in one sweeping order granting the petitions.

Odicta’s petition was anchored on the revised schedule of penalties for R.A. 6425. Under the old law, the penalty of selling prohibited drugs, including marijuana, was life imprisonment. Odicta was meted the life sentence for selling 50 grams of marijuana to undercover narcotics agents of the defunct PC/INP.

R.A. 7659 which was enacted in 1994 lowered the penalty for selling marijuana below 750 grams . The penalty for Odicta’s case was to be lowered to prision correccional, with a maximum imprisonment of six years.

As he had serving time for more than six years at the time, Odicta argued that there was no more reason for him to spend more time in prison. He asked the Muntinlupa City RTC Branch 276 to order his release from prison.

Judge Perello issued a blanket order on May 4, 1995 issuing a writ of habeas corpus and directing the Director of the National Bilibid Prisons to release Odicta and his co-petitioners without delay.

Until Odicta’s lawyer, Atty. Raymund Fortun, showed copies of these documents before the media on Wednesday afternoon after filing a complaint for libel against Aksyon Radyo Iloilo anchormen and management, nobody had known about their existence.

Only I had a set of these documents. I received them one week ago. It was only because I needed to verify their authenticity, and do more research about the circumstances behind the grant of the writ of habeas corpus, that my story that came out in The Daily Guardian yesterday was delayed.

But the story didn’t end there.

There is a deeper mystery, and possibly ground for a revocation of the release order, that our investigation uncovered.

Judge Perello, as it turned out, was not exactly the kind of magistrate who dispensed justice without fear or favor.

Based on decisions of the Supreme Court, Judge Perello had in fact been found guilty of “gross ignorance of the law” in two administrative proceedings filed against her. In the first case, she was suspended for six months without pay as penalty. In the second case, she was fined P40,000.

The investigation conducted by the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) showed that Judge Perello carried a heavy load of habeas corpus case while she was Executive Judge of the Muntinlupa City RTC.

And the Supreme Court auditors discovered evidence of highly irregular disposition of these habeas corpus case covering the period 1998-2004. Among the anomalous practices was that Judge Perello didn’t even have copies of the convictions of prisoners who filed the petitions before her. In a few cases, entire folders were missing.

This can only lead to one conclusion: that Judge Perello had ran a racket selling writs of habeas corpus to prisoners in a hurry to get out of prison. As the Supreme Court established, she released prisoners who had not even served the full term of their sentences. No judge in his or her right mind would do that.

Now that there is an inordinate interest in his case, Odicta can expect that authorities will seek a reversal of that habeas corpus writ issued under highly anomalous circumstances.

The judge who issued the release order already has a track record of irregular official acts that were made ground to find her guilty of gross ignorance of the law.

Odicta should now brace himself for a legal storm that might sweep him back to jail. Judge Habeas Corpus, which is perhaps the proper title for Judge Perello, won’t be there to hand him his freedom on a silver platter, not anymore.

The Smoking Gun: Deed of Donation for the Iloilo Convention Center