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Mayor tagged as ‘narco’ builds stone palace in Iloilo

President Rodrigo Duterte named him as one of the “narco-politicians” on his list on August 7, 2016. Two years later, Calinog municipal mayor Alex Centena built a huge mansion using head-sized boulders from an illegal quarry and narra hardwood from the forests of his town worth about P40 million. It was like the municipal mayor sneering at the President. Here are some pictures of his palatial home.

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Liar, thief

“A LIAR IS A COUSIN OF A THIEF”
This aphorism couldn’t have found a better example than Governor Arthur D. Defensor, Sr.
But more than a cousin, Defensor is both liar and thief.
That’s because Defensor doesn’t just lie; he also steals and breaks the law and flaunts it.
There are countless examples to prove this.
What’s worse, Defensor has fooled a lot of people into believing that he is a knight in shining armor, a clean and honest public official who pursues “reporma kag pagbag-o” as a platform of government.
Such dishonest and deceitful character of Defensor is demonstrated by the anomalous contracts for what is supposed to be his “legacy” projects at the Iloilo Capitol Grounds.

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Governor Defensor toured Architect Paolo G. Alcazaren around the Capitol Grounds on January 25, 2016. (Photo credit: Erly Garcia/PIO)

It started with the procurement of the contract for a landscape architect.

In 2016, Defensor engaged the services of Architect Paolo G. Alcazaren to prepare the conceptual designs for the landscaping and park development of the capitol grounds.
Their first meeting took place in January 2016. Defensor proudly announced that he was hiring Alcazaren to do the designs.
On December 9, 2016, Alcazaren came back to the capitol to present his drawings and perspectives. Defensor and members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan were present at his presentation.arch-alcazaren-presents-capitol-masterplan5556943543562139841.jpg
The conceptual design was met with laudatory approval.
Hence, the logical next step was for the procurement of professional services (consultancy) to carry out the master planning, urban design and landscape architecture.
This involve the actual preparation of the detailed design.
Defensor wanted to give the P1.582 million contract to Alcazaren.
But there was a hitch.
As project consultant who did the conceptual designs, Alcazaren was disqualified under RA 9184 and its revised implementing rules and regulations from taking part in the public bidding.
He had a conflict of interest because of his involvement in the conceptual design phase.
This is where the dishonest and deceitful, and even criminal, character of Defensor came in.
(To be continued)

If government wants to stop smuggling, then it should embrace XLOG technology

The country’s Bureau of Customs is leaking like a sieve, which explains why until now, smuggling of illegal drugs hasn’t abated. Shabu that is being sold on the streets of the archipelago are manufactured in China. There are no shabu laboratories in the country anymore. Several shipments worth billions of pesos have been intercepted, but this represents only a fraction of the shabu coming into the country. This leaves me wondering if President Duterte is raising his hands in surrender in the face of this pipeline of shabu flowing right under the noses of our customs bureau. Or put another way, it raises questions on whether the government even wants to stop smuggling of shabu.

This is rather tragic because putting a stop to smuggling could have been accomplished as early as the first quarter of 2018 with software developed by Filipino IT experts. Called “XLOG”, the software has been tested and retested, and consistently proved that the leaks in the system could be plugged permanently. It basically removes human intervention in the entire process, and with it, the opportunities for corruption.

If put to use by our Bureau of Customs, XLOG can eliminate delays in getting cargoes processed and released, and ensure that the government collects the right tariffs. What more can the government ask for? It will make exporters and importers happy, get rid of corruption, and increase collections. It’s a simple formula and it’s hard to understand why Customs officials refuse to embrace the technology.

On top of the crystal clear benefits it will bring to the government, XLOG is not even to cost the Bureau of Customs a single centavo. It is being offered entirely for free. All it needs to do is accept the technology, install the application at all ports of entry, and government will reap the rewards in one smooth movement. The technology has been proven effective in plugging the leaks in the present set-up. Government cannot possibly find a better solution to the smuggling problem and the corruption issue.

Of course, once in place, XLOG will eliminate corruption, which is perhaps the reason why there is resistance in the Bureau of Customs. No matter how many shake-ups will be carried out, the corruption will continue to plague the agency, for as long as officials are given broad discretion on letting a cargo shipment go through its checkpoints. Money, especially when it involves millions of pesos for a single transaction, can dilute the strongest of principles among officials.

Hence, we can only watch with despair as more and more smuggling take place on a daily basis at our ports of entry, both for sea and air cargo. We are losing the war, and government has only itself to blame. If Customs chief Isidro Lapena wants to change the situation, all he needs to do is get XLOG to come into the picture. It’s been waiting there on the sidelines. The picture can change in an instant: smuggling can be eliminated once the buttons for XLOG are pressed.

 

 

Drilon is a big liar

In all his statements about his share from the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) for his anomalous Iloilo Convention Center project in Iloilo City, Senator Franklin M. Drilon has consistently claimed that he got only P100,000,000 for the project.  On July 8, 2014, Drilon issued a press release entitled, “Drilon releases details of his P100-M DAP funds, invites public to scrutinize his DAP availment,” he said the amount was just P100-million. He said the same thing in a press release much earlier, on October 13, 2013, which is entitled, “DAP creation based on President’s power to realign funds.

But this claim is a big lie. And Drilon knew he was lying. That’s because when he first had to make such claim, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) had already issued three (3) SAROs, or the Special Allocation Release Order, with a total amount of P300 million that went into the Iloilo Convention Center project. This is confirmed by no less than the DPWH Regional Director, Engr. Wenceslao Leano, in a matrix of fund disbursements for the ICC, a digital copy of which is shown below:

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That these funds covered by the SAROs listed in the matrix were part of the DAP in 2012-2013 are confirmed by no less than Secretary Benjamin Diokno in his letter dated July 23, 2018, shown below:

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This proves me assertion four years ago that Drilon had designed an evil scheme to steal public funds by the hundreds of millions of pesos from the ICC. The design of the ICC as specified by the Megaworld’s architect, W. Coscolluela and Associates, had a budgeted cost of only P200 million. During the Blue Ribbon committee investigation on November 13, 2014, Drilon admitted that the design and specifications for the building were part of the donation made by Megaworld. And the terms and conditions of the Deed of Donation spelled out how much the government was required to put up to fund the construction of the convention center. It was P200 million, no more, no less.

Drilon’s insatiable greed became runaway. He tried to get as much money from DAP. He wasn’t contented with P100-million under SARO No. A-12-01294 dated December 12, 2012. He got another chunk of P50-million under SARO No. A-13-00079 dated January 15, 2013. It only whetted his appetite; he got another P150-million on July 5, 2013 under SARO No. A-13-01134. He attempted to get more and spend more. But the heat became unbearable for the DPWH because of my exposes, and the faucet was shut down.

Drilon had announced during the Dinagyang festival in January 2014 that the ICC was going to cost P1-billion. Apparently, he had programmed the DAP releases to ultimately reach P1-billion. This is the reason why when the DAP faucet was shut down, the ICC was not 100% complete, which is the state it is now in. After spending nearly P750-million for the project, Drilon’s ICC lacks a number of components to truly make it world-class.

Now I am asking Drilon to ask the Filipino people for forgiveness. He was caught with his hand in the cookie jar. He tried to grab more than his share of the DAP. He put up deceptive ploys to hide the fact that he got more — much more — than his fellow senators. He should also apologize to his colleagues in the Senate for this deception.

This shouldn’t be unfamiliar territory for Drilon. In June 2005, he goaded and coached then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to face the nation and say, “I am sorry”, in the wake of the “Hello, Garci” scandal. Maybe he can rise on a question of personal and collective privilege on Monday and deliver his own “I am sorry” speech for being a liar and a thief.

Noynoy, Garin and Abad deserve to rot in jail over Dengvaxia mess

At long last, the Blue Ribbon Committee chaired by Senator Richard “Dick” Gordon has found more than enough basis to seek the prosecution of former President Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” C. Aquino III, former DOH Secretary Janette L. Garin and former DBM Secretary Butch Abad for their conspiracy to put the lives of Filipino children at risk with the Dengvaxia mass vaccination program at a cost of P3.5 billion.

Right from the start, I was already convinced about the culpability of these former officials, especially in undermining the Government Procurement Reform Act and related laws, just to roll out this mass vaccination program over the loud protests of experts on dengue.

Everything about the transaction smacks of what we call “lutong makaw”, a Filipino slang for a transaction that was rigged to favor Sanofi Pasteur and ensure that it bags the P3.5 billion contract even before it was given final clearance on the safety and efficacy of Dengvaxia.

Senator Gordon is correct: the bureaucracy moved like an express train, with each move so well coordinated one would think it was a Philharmonic orchestra performing. Even the manner the P3.5 billion was obtained and released through a SARO was unbelievably fast, knowing that the bureaucratic red tape normally would take one year to do that.

When the bureaucracy behaves that way, one can easily conclude the directives go all the way up, and not just at the Cabinet level.

Hopefully, the Ombudsman would pick up from where the Blue Ribbon Committee and redeem itself just as Tanodbayan Conchita Carpio Morales is about to retire. The graft investigators have mountains of evidence to sort out and build an airtight case against these three individuals who have committed the greatest sin against the Filipino people. This is a case that cannot be allowed to fail; the people have been betrayed more than enough.

And justice must be swift. The Ombudsman should elevate the case to the Sandiganbayan within a year. The souls of Filipino children who have died because of Dengvaxia are crying for justice. Noynoy, Janette and Butch should rot in jail for justice to be delivered to the victims.

Is the battle against corruption worth fighting?

Sometimes I get to ask myself whether all the sacrifice, and risk to my personal safety, are worth it when I dig into leads on anomalous transactions in government. And that question once more came to mind yesterday (March 23, 2018) when I read in the news that the graft case I had filed against Augusto “Boboy” Syjuco, Jr. in connection with the P3.25 million fertilizer fund scam in Iloilo’s 2nd District was dismissed by the Sandiganbayan due to the Ombudsman’s inordinate delay in conducting its preliminary investigation.

I filed the case in 2004 while I was still provincial administrator of Iloilo. But it took the Ombudsman more than 11 years to wrap up its preliminary investigation and file an indictment against Syjuco. The Sandiganbayan had no recourse but grant the motion to dismiss filed by Syjuco’s lawyers as the snail-paced preliminary investigation violated Syjuco’s right to speedy justice. I was also a victim, because my right to the speedy prosection of my complaint was violated. It is a right afforded to both parties to a case.

The Sandiganbayan was only being consistent. It had dismissed a long list of cases based on that ground alone. It wasn’t even about the evidence, because in this case, there was abundant documentary evidence to show that the entire transaction happened only on paper. Not a single drop of liquid fertilizer reached the hands of supposed beneficiaries in Alimodian. The list of “farmers” were only made up by Syjuco’s own men. Syjuco, through his Tawo kag Duta Cooperative, pocketed P3.25 million. It could have been P5.0 million which was the allocation for the 2nd district. But my investigation into the case scared off Syjuco’s people, and aborted the effort to collect the balance.

The other cases I had filed are at risk. These had also taken more than six years to resolve at the preliminary investigation stage. Syjuco’s lawyers will most certainly try to get them dismissed on the same ground.

Which brings me to the question: Is the Ombudsman even committed to obtaining the conviction of Syjuco and other public officials charged with graft? Sadly, the track record of the Ombudsman doesn’t give reason for me to answer in the affirmative. It has already lost a number of big cases because of that ground alone. In other cases, sloppy lawyering led to the dismissal of the cases.

It’s not just sloppy lawyering that has hindered the Ombudsman’s ability to run after the crooks in government and punish them for their corruption. I’ve become aware of specific instances when Ombudsman investigators offered to dismiss graft cases in exchange for millions of pesos. The very agency that is mandated under the Constitution to run after crooks in government is engaged in corrupt practices. Justice is also for sale at the Ombudsman.

So far, the Ombudsman’s track record has been limited to sending rank-and-file employees to prison. It’s been prosecution the pork barrel scam for many years now, and it hasn’t obtained a single conviction. Its success is counted with lowly clerks being dismissed from the service or sent to jail. It tried to redeem its image by dismissing Jed Patrick Mabilog as city mayor of Iloilo City last year. That action didn’t impress President Duterte.

My only consolation is that my exposes on Syjuco’s anomalies awakened the constituency of the 2nd district of Iloilo to his corruption. In 2013, the voters of the 2nd district of Iloilo rejected Syjuco’s bid for a fourth term as congressman, losing to Arcadio Gorriceta, the three-term municipal mayor of Pavia. In a way, I can claim credit for the lonely battle to educate the people about Syjuco’s corruption. That, for me, was punishment enough for Syjuco.

Syjuco is also facing criminal charges for the corruption at the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) in 2004 to 2010. Billions of pesos were plundered in overpriced purchases of tools and equipment, money that could have been spent for the educaton of young Filipinos in vocational skills. I am hopeful that Syjuco would be convicted, even if he doesn’t get to be jailed on account of his age.

Where is Boboy Syjuco?

Two weeks ago, I sat down for coffee with former colleagues in the congressional office of then Iloilo 2nd District Rep. Augusto “Boboy” Syjuco, Jr. It was a reunion of sorts but with one agenda: the corruption cases now pending before the Sandiganbayan against Syjuco. I filed four of these cases (now estimated at 12). The problem is that many other people, including two or three of my former colleagues, were implicated in the cases. They definitely had nothing to do with the crimes. But the paper trail put them in the scene of the crime, so to speak. They were just at the wrong place at the wrong time.

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Photo credit: Getty Images

The problem was that Syjuco, who served as congressman for nine years (1998-2001, 2001-2004, and then 2010-2013) and Director General of TESDA in 2005-2010, left his former employees to fend for their own. He did not provide them with a lawyer. Syjuco’s corruption also left a trail of misery and legal woes for incumbent 2nd District Rep. Arcadio Gorriceta and Alimodian municipal mayor Geefrey “Kalay” Alonsabe, among others.

Gorriceta was charged before the Sandiganbayan a few months ago along with Syjuco over the P5 million education-for-all project that was implemented through the Pavia LGU in 2004. Gorriceta is being held to account because he approved the disbursement to Syjuco’s NGO, the Tagipusuon Foundation, despite the improper liquidation. Two other former LGU officials were charged in the case.

For his part, Alonsabe was indicted by the Ombudsman’s Field Investigation Office for his participation as municipal councilor in 2004 in ratifying an agreement with Syjuco’s other NGO, Tawo kag Duta Cooperative, for a P5.0 million fertilizer program. The Ombudsman validated my complaint that it was a ghost project. My complaint was only against Syjuco, but the Ombudsman implicated several others, including former employees of “Tito Boboy” and LGU officials.

Syjuco is also facing criminal charges before the Sandiganbayan for the many anomalies at TESDA in which more than a billion pesos are believed to have been plundered. I am just surprised why plunder wasn’t one of the charges filed against him. He should be held in jail without bail.

But where is Syjuco now?

According to newspaper reports, Syjuco was granted a permit to travel abroad last month ostensibly to undergo medical treatment in Singapore. What is his medical condition? Is it really necessary for him to seek treatment abroad? Knowing Syjuco, he will use all kinds of excuses just to avoid trial. His foreign trip caused an arraignment scheduled two weeks ago at the Sandiganbayan to be postponed. His co-accused spent a lot of money only to be told the arraignment would not push through.

Anyway, Syjuco could have left a legacy in the 2nd district of Iloilo. He was super rich when he became congressman, and there was no reason for him to want to steal. But there are things we can’t understand in some people. This guy’s greed was beyond comprehension. I was his chief of staff in 1998. When I saw corruption setting in, I left in 2001.

This is one guy who deserves to rot in jail for his sins against the Filipino people.