THE POWER OF STORY TELLING

The victory of Boboy Tupas as Congressman of the 5th District of Iloilo is a demonstration that story telling is the most effective way to convey a candidate’s message to the people.
Not once did Boboy deliver a traditional political speech that was bombastic. Neither did he resort to mud slinging and below the belt attacks.
All throughout the campaign, Boboy remained humble and meek, the man who was always ready to turn the other cheek.Boboy Tupas is loved by the people
Several times, he was humiliated and insulted. His position as Vice Governor (and in some instances as Acting Governor) was disrespected. He was called names.
But Boboy never felt an urge to retaliate. He quietly accepted the blows and continued to preach core values about family, relationships, commitment to public service in stories that he told and retold.
And for the first time, Boboy put humor to good use. He was able to put his audiences at ease. He reminded them about his father, the late Governor Niel Tupas, Sr.
As I watched him go about his campaign, I felt confident as early as the last week of April that his victory was 101% certain.
That’s because Boboy gained the love and respect of the people of the 5th district of Iloilo. And not even the overwhelming resources of the administration was enough to stop his landslide victory.
At the last count with still about 10% of the votes left, he was leading his opponent, Atty. Gel Tupas, by a margin of 35,000.

Unfulfilled promises

When property developers sell subdivision lots, condominiums and other real estate property, they would always give out glossy brochures depicting a dream community where one would put his or her money to live and work.

In a mannner of speaking, property developers sell promises, because most of their sales are done even before the first bucket of concrete is poured into a building. Everything is presented from the architect’s perspective, and larger-than-life images of beautiful homes, parks, club houses, wide roads and street lights, swimming pools and other amenities are crammed into a brochure.

More than 15 years ago, this was exactly how Fil-Estate marketed the Puerto Real de Iloilo. It was billed as the most luxurious residential subdivision in Iloilo City, complete with sports and leisure facilities, well-lighted and spacious roads, mini-parks, and most importantly, adequate security to give homeowners a peace of mind.

The development came with a big bang. Fil-Estate was then riding on a property boom, and its name became synonymous with first-class living. There was an impressive kick-off party at the Amigo Terrace Hotel. All the big wigs were there.

True enough, the marketing ploy of Fil-Estate penetrated the consciousness of the moneyed-class in Iloilo City. Its subdivision lots were quickly gobbled up by rich businessmen and professionals. Living there was a stamp of class that many people desired and got. Or at least, so they thought at first.

It didn’t take long before homeowners realized they were duped.

The homeonwers at Puerto Real de Iloilo believed they paid for expensive lots to get facilities and services that would be commensurate with the price of the subdivision lots. The promised first class facilities and amenities never materialized.

Since then, Puerto Real de Iloilo was sold by Fil-Estate to the Global Estates Resorts Inc. (GERI), an affiliate of the Megaworld Corporation. Megaworld is also the developer of the Iloilo Business Park in the old Iloilo airport property and a partner in the Sta. Barbara Heights Subdivision.

A life of luxury and comfort was what the sellers promised the homeowners. For the homeowners, life in Puerto Real during the last 15 years has been like hell, a long struggle to compel the developer to make good on their promises.

What are some of the problems? For one, the club house and its amenities — basketball gym, swimming pool and tennis court — are in a state of disrepair. The roof over the basketball gym is leaking, and the other facilities neglected and badly need repair.

The road network in the posh (only in name, so the homeowners claim) subdivision are poorly maintained. At night, the roads are shrouded in darkness, and residents hardly feel safe about strolling after dinner.

Worse, there are still informal settlers in parts of the subdivision. The developer failed to provide them with relocation sites at the start of the construction. Now these people continue to live in the “pulo” where their shanty houses still stand. Some own work animals like carabaos and keep them in their compound. Puerto is where one can find carabaos loitering about, posing a grave danger to motorists.

A bigger issue is security: with poor families living in parts of the subdivision, the subdivision is having a hard time controlling the entry of people. It is a security nightmare for the homeowners.

For a long time now, the homeowners association has pressured the new management — a Megaworld affiliate — to plug the gaping holes in the contract and turn over the subdivision to them. The homeowners feel they could do a much better job looking after their own security and keeping the community clean.

The response of the Megaworld company has been to stall and delay. No progress has been made in the negotiations to bring the company to honor its commitments in the contract to sell. It continues to ignore the complaints of the homeowners.

To add to the problems of the homeowners, it was recently discovered that GERI owes the Iloilo City government more than P20,000,000 in realty taxes. The homeowners have pestered management about the tax indebtedness to the city. The overdue taxes remain unpaid until now.

The homeowners decided enough was enough. A few weeks ago, the association lodged a complaint before the Housing, Land and Urban Regulatory Board (HLURB) to seek remedial action.

Instead of trying to find ways to meet the homeowners halfway and reach a compromise, GERI retaliated by reducing the number of security guards who man the gates. It’s becoming obvious to them GERI is not repentant about its own inadequacies and downright breach of contract.

(In a statement to The Daily Guardian, Fil Estate on Puerto denied that GERI is involved in the project. This is being disputed by homeowners’ representative who talked with me.)

The message to the homeowners was loud and clear. Megaworld enjoys protection from the powers-that-be in Iloilo City, and would not budge even in the face of an administrative case. That the city government hasn’t taken legal action to enforce the P20 million tax liability is an indication that Megaworld is shielded by a culture of impunity.

This culture of impunity cannot be allowed to exist. The HLURB should strictly enforce contracts to which developers have bound themselves to fulfill. In this case, sanctions should be imposed on GERI and warnings given to other Megaworld affiliates. If HLURB rules and regulations are just scoffed at by developers like Megaworld, then property buyers who invest millions of pesos in the properties offered to them through glossy brochures are vulnerable to lose the value for which they paid for.

It is time government strengthens its capability to protect consumers. After all, a breach of contract is an assault on our legal institutions. Violators of the law such as GERI must be required to pay stiff fines and stripped of their licenses to operate. That is the only way to uphold the rule of law.

MRT fixes escalators, only for a few hours

What is it about the management of the MRT that it can’t even get fixed equipment to run for at least a few days?

On TV tonight, I watched a report on the triumphant boast of MRT management that it had repaired the escalators on its Quezon Ave station in Quezon City this morning.

However, the escalator worked only for a few hours. Then it conked out again.

This is indeed the trademark of the Aquino government as manifested through the DOTC and MRT, which Mar Roxas used to oversee: incompetence.

A greater disaster than Yolanda

The entire world has seen the devastation that swept through central Philippines eight days ago. The death toll has been estimated by the United Nations at 4,460 as of Friday, and that figure could go higher as more bodies are being washed ashore. Many towns and cities, especially those situated close to the shore, were flattened by super typhoon Yolanda. Hundreds of thousands of victims were left wandering through the rubble, hungry, cold and frightened. So many cadavers still litter the landscape. For the victims, it was like the end of the world had come.

The victims’ plight was worsened because it took the national government almost a week to get its relief operations going. President Noynoy Aquino, stung by criticism in the world media that the relief efforts were moving too slowly, flung the disaster relief machinery to the badly-hit areas where people had gone without food and water for several days. But while the relief operations had begun (aided in large part by the arrival of the American Navy, Canadian military, the Germans, Israelis and other contingents), the distribution of food packs failed to reach everybody. Still a good number of towns complained they had received nothing.

Obviously, the government just went into action without much planning. The President sent his buddy, Mar Roxas, and Voltaire Gazmin, to Tacloban purportedly to assess the situation and make sure things were running smoothly. Unfortunately, it wasn’t what happened on the ground. Mar Roxas, perhaps thinking it was now the campaign period for the 2016 Presidency, went around shaking hands and telling people not to worry: help was on its way. Then he posed for the cameras with grandiose-looking gestures. When he left, the typhoon victims could only stare at him. Roxas didn’t bring food and water for them. He only left a message of hope for them, a dream of food and water to come.

That display of incompetence and insensitivity was a crime against the typhoon victims. It characterized the bungling and fumbling reactions of the Aquino administration to the gargantuan problems that faced them. Instead of calling everybody into a huddle, Mr. Aquino sent the likes of Mar Roxas to waddle around like a duck, essentially doing nothing and getting in the way of those trying to help. Mr. Aquino himself broke several days of staying hidden in Malacanang on Thursday night to visit relief goods repacking stations, exhorting volunteers about the need for the bayanihan spirit. Obviously, Mr. Aquino didn’t know enough about how to deal with the situation other than PR stunts like that.

While the relief operations of the foreign governments and the private sector whirred smoothly, that of the government remained to be tentative steps. The entire machinery of government wasn’t even ready to go into overdrive. It’s a good thing the entire world had come to our rescue. And it was heart-warming to see thousands of people contribute cash, food and used clothing for the victims. Without them, the hunger would have driven tens of thousands to death by starvation or disease.

The fumbling hasn’t abated. Mr. Aquino had scheduled a trip to Tacloban today (Saturday). As I tweeted on Friday afternoon, that kind of activity wouldn’t accomplish anything. Mr. Aquino should stay put in Malacanang, calling his Cabinet and other government leaders to a huddle. He needs ideas, suggestions. He should even reach out to the opposition, particularly to political leaders in the badly-hit areas and solicit proposals on how to better carry out the relief operations.

But Mr. Aquino is too proud. It’s a good thing he didn’t blame this one on Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. But he did blame the local officials for failure to respond quickly, obviously blind to the fact that most officials were still in shock from their own experiences. He also got entangled with a dispute over the casualty figures. Mr. Aquino was displeased when a police general told him that based on the magnitude of the disaster, the death toll could reach 10,000. He insisted it was only 2,000, with 2,500 at the most. It was a useless exercise. It only diverted time and attention from the urgent task at hand: the relief operations.

There’s now a growing public perception Mr. Aquino is being too defensive about the government’s response to the crisis. He is being accused of trying to look for excuses for the lapses than coming up with solutions. That is not totally baseless. One only needs to look at the slow pace of the relief operations. Even the U.N. has expressed frustration and consternation.

Unless Mr. Aquino wakes up from his slumber, it just might happen that he will be labeled as a greater disaster than Yolanda itself. It doesn’t help him that he is surrounded by a bunch of amateurs trying to look like experts. If that happens, his own Presidency would be put at risk, as more and more Filipinos are expressing an anger that could force him to step down.

Drilon’s ‘golden’ watering system

It was, in the language of a government official who is an expert in the law on government procurement, “a bullet train ride” for the P13.5 million pork barrel project with a“manual irrigation system” for the Iloilo Esplanade as its centerpiece.

“Right from step one to step 10, almost every rule in Republic Act No. 9184 and its revised implementing rules and regulations were violated,” the procurement law resource person, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.

Whoever was behind it must have been in a hurry to award the contract to a favored contractor, he said. He added that the entire procurement process took 38 days, which he likened to “a bullet train ride” because of its swiftness.02sep_1 front

The expert outlined the violations of RA 9184, which governs all procurement for supplies and services in the public sector, based on what he found out in an examination of the documents released by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Regional Office No. 6:

  • The contract was advertised through an invitation to bid on Sept. 21, 2012 even before the funds reached DPWH Region VI.

The documents show that the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) issued the Special Allotment Release Order (SARO) on Sept. 17, 2012. It was received by DPWH central office on Sept. 27, 2012, which endorsed it to DPWH Region VI on Sept. 28, 2012. Under the law, the funds must already be available when a project is advertised for public bidding, the expert said.

He said the prior issuance of the SARO is not required before the procurement can start when a project is listed in the agency’s annual procurement plan or APP. This project isn’t listed in the APP of DPWH, he said. When the invitation to bid was posted, the SARO was still in transit. Hence, no funds available yet at the time it was advertised, he said. “That’s putting the cart ahead of the horse,” he said.

While this is not a “fatal” flaw, he said “speaks loudly that somebody powerful is moving the project forward.”

  • The invitation to bid was not published in a newspaper of national circulation at least once because it involved a contract exceeding P5 million.

RA 9184 and its revised implementing rules and regulations imposes a requirement for publication in a newspaper of national circulation for infrastructure contracts above P5 million. The DPWH Region VI did not present any proof this was complied with. TNT Libre also verified with the digital archive of The Manila Standard Today, which was designated as official newspaper for DPWH invitations to bid, for the dates Sept. 21 to 28, and this invitation to bid did not appear on any of these dates.

  • The Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) illegally raised the approved budget for the contract (ABC) after the pre-bid conference was conducted.

The invitation to bid issued on Sept. 21, 2012 placed the ABC for the project at P10,110,640.14. But subsequently, the ABC was changed twice and raised to P13,092,238.67 through what is known as a “bid bulletin”. This is illegal, the expert said. The bid bulletin is only for purposes of clarifying the bid documents to help bidders submit a responsive offer for the contract. The ABC is determined by the agency before it is advertised for bidding. “The BAC has no power to increase or decrease the ABC,” he said.

To support his contention, he cited Resolution No. 07-2005 of the Government Procurement Policy Board (GPPB) which oversees all government procurement activities and manages the PhilGEPS website. The resolution authorizes an “upward” adjustment of the ABC only after two failed biddings in which all submitted bids exceeded the amount, or no bids were submitted, or that a negotiated procurement after two failed biddings also resulted in failure.

“This will put the entire BAC in serious trouble,” he said.

  • The Notice of Award and Notice to Proceed to the winning contractor was not posted in the PhilGEPS website, which is again a violation of the revised implementing rules and regulations of RA 9184.

A key feature of the transparency mechanism for government procurement under RA 9184 is the posting of “milestone” events for a contract in the PhilGEPS website. The documents that must be posted on this website are the invitation to bid, bid bulletins, notice of award, contract agreement and notice to proceed. A “Certificate of Compliance” on these postings signed by Tayao and the new BAC chairman, Marilyn H. Celiz, dated June 7, 2013 show that these notices and contract agreement were not posted on the PhilGEPS website.  On the remarks column, there appeared a note that these “Cannot be posted due to changes in ABC as posted in the bid bulletins”.

These violations are “tell-tale signs” of a rigged bidding, the expert said. “One can readily see that there was an effort to conceal the bidding,” he said.

Pork for votes: How the Aquino administration used pork barrel for political victory

(A special report for TNT Libre)

TNT Libre Page 1 Aug 26 2013

Liberal Parties allies of President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III in Iloilo province were recipients of a pork barrel largesse of not less than P100 million shortly before the 45-day campaign period leading to the May 13, 2013 elections, documents obtained by TNT Libre show.

The biggest single beneficiary of this pork barrel bonanza was Iloilo Gov. Arthur Defensor who received P40.5 million sometime in March 2013 as “financial assistance to the Province of Iloilo for the implementation of priority programs and projects.”

Included in this package were P14.5 million for “food subsidy, burial and medical assistance, transportation allowance and livelihood programs”, P16 million for “small and medium enterprises/livelihood”, P4.3 million as “educational assistance/scholarship program for 1,720 college students”, and P5.7 million for “educational assistance/scholarship for 11,400 students in high school”.

The Province of Iloilo has its own funds in the regular budget for assistance to persons in distress, and this pork barrel package was clearly intended to augment the Capitol’s ability to extend help to more people during the campaign, an official of the provincial government, speaking on condition of anonymity, said.

The documents were made available to this paper just as thousands of Ilonggos prepare to stage a local version of the #MillionPeopleMarch this morning at the Iloilo capitol grounds. TNT Libre asked an Executive Assistant of Gov. Defensor to react to this story, but received no reply as of press time.

And even as President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III tried to defuse the public outrage over the pork barrel scandal, the documents provide evidence that his own administration has its big share of the issue on the misuse of public funds.

During the campaign, then vice gubernatorial candidate of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) Rolex Suplico had assailed what he described as the Liberal Party’s misuse of government resources to  buy votes. But his protestations fell on deaf ears.

Based on the initial batch of documents, the misuse of the pork barrel to advance the political agenda of the Aquino administration reached gargantuan proportions.

The documents made available reveal that at least P77 million of the pork barrel was disbursed just last March 2013 just before the campaign period started. “It is more in the level of P100 to 120 million,” said a source from the DBM.

Senate President Franklin Drilon, who was then general campaign manager of the LP, was pinpointed as the architect for the allocation and disbursement of pork barrel funds for political campaigning.

Twitter messages asking for his comment to his @frankahan account on the issue over the weekend were unanswered.

Six municipalities in the second congressional district of Iloilo partook of a P24.15 million package for various projects, another Special Allotment Release Order (SARO) issued by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) showed.

The LGU of New Lucena, Iloilo got a share of P5 million, P2 million for Sta. Miguel, 5 million for Sta. Barbara, P5 million for Leganes, P2.5 million for Alimodian and P4.45 million for Zarraga, Iloilo from this package.

The special allocation for the second congressional district was intended to bolster the candidacy of Pavia municipal mayor Arcadio Gorriceta for the congressional seat then held by Augusto Boboy Syjuco, a source revealed.

Drilon and Gorriceta are considered “best friends”, which goes a long way back to their high school years.

Because Alimodian’s incumbent municipal mayor was supporting the candidacy of Dr. Ferjenel Biron of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), its allocation was channelled through the Iloilo provincial government and given directly to the barangays that expressed support for the Liberal Party, it was disclosed.

Only the municipality of Leon was excluded in the second congressional district along with the LGU of Pavia from this package.

“Leon was omitted because its municipal mayor and all barangay captains refused to shift their support to the congressional candidate of the Liberal Party in the district, Arcadio Gorriceta,” a source who was privy to the “cutting up of the cake” said.

Leon was committed to support 1-CARE party list Salvador “Kiting” Cabaluna III.

It was largely because of this pork barrel kitty that Gorriceta achieved victory at the elections in the three-way battle. Syjuco came in third.

AAMBIS/OWA party list congresswoman Sharon Garin received a portion of her 2013 PDAF (official name of the pork barrel is “Priority Development Assistance Fund”) also in March in the amount of P5.070 million, all of which was funnelled into the LGU of Guimbal.

From this amount, the sum of P4.7 million was labelled as “financial assistance to the Municipality of Guimbal, Iloilo for marginalized farmers for livelihood alleviation in Region VI thru distribution of seeds, seedlings, farm and garden tools and other suitable inputs in provinces of Iloilo, Aklan, Capiz, Guimaras and Antique.”

A source familiar with the pork barrel said the use of the Guimbal LGU as conduit “is almost the same as using a fake NGO.”

“The LGU has no business managing the funds from the pork barrel when its beneficiaries are from outside its territorial jurisdiction,” she said.

But she said this has been a practice institutionalized by the Garin family “to better administer the funds and make it disappear without a trace.”

In a text message, Rep. Garin defended the action. “Guimbal is one of the beneficiaries of this project. Channeling the project to one of the beneficiary LGUs is allowed. Check DBM guidelines for this,” she said in a text message.

The Garin family jumped into the Liberal Party bandwagon along with Defensor just last year.

In another SARO, the DBM authorized the disbursement of P8.150 million to a total of 163 barangays in the fourth and fifth congressional districts, with each barangay getting a share of P50,000 as “financial assistance for the implementation of social services (such as but not limited to burial, medical, transportation, educational, food, etc) in the Province of Iloilo.”

The funds were distributed to the following LGUs: Dumangas (23 barangays), Passi City (26 barangays), Banate (16 barangays), Anilao (3 barangays), Barotac Nuevo (7 barangays), Duenas (2 barangays), San Enrique (8 barangays), San Rafael (8 barangays), Barotac Viejo (26 barangays), Concepcion (5 barangays), Ajuy (13 barangays), Lemery (5 barangays), Balasan (10 barangays), Batad (10 barangays).

In addition to these pork barrel releases by the Aquino administration, Drilon also allocated P30 million to the municipality of Sta. Barbara, Iloilo in September last year for the construction of a 3-kilometer road and P6 million to the municipality of Oton, Iloilo for a drainage project in barangay Cagbang.

Both PDAF disbursements were deemed part of Drilon’s strategy to solidy the Liberal Party’s machinery in preparation for the elections.

Presidential hat trick: The pork is intact

President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III seems to have mastered the art of the sleight of words.

scrap porkIn a nationally televised address on Friday, Aug. 23, Pres. Aquino told the Filipino people in so many words that “it’s the time to abolish the PDAF” and that he wants to set into a motion a mechanism for stricter guidelines in the dispensation of public funds for development. The well-crafted turn of phrases, however, couldn’t hide the true nature of the President’s intentions. The pork barrel will be there to stay, to be managed under new rules. The President’s trick failed to fool the people.

Listening to Pres. Aquino deliver his address was torture. It was hard to capture his drift, so to speak. I even missed that particular one line that became the headline, or misleading headline, about his plans on pork. “It’s time to abolish the PDAF,” he said. It was carefully tucked midway into his speech. It ended a paragraph, and in writing parlance, didn’t get the prominence it deserved.

As the President droned on, I was feeling short of breath. I tweeted: “Did he or didn’t he abolish pork?” or something like that. I saw tweets from the networks saying he had said it, but he said more things that left me confused. It was only later when the full text of the address was posted online that I saw for myself, the cheering was premature.

Let’s not kid ourselves. Pres. Aquino didn’t abolish the pork barrel. It’s still there in his 2014 budget proposal. What he said was that he wanted to institute safeguards to make sure the funds are properly spent. His vague point about each and every district getting a fair share for projects was the give away. When you talk of legislative districts getting equal share of the pie, that’s pork barrel. It still gives the congressman and senator a say on where the money goes.

This is the problem with Pres. Aquino. He thinks he can just explain away things and people will swallow every morsel of it. He is misjudging the mood of the people. He may have succeeded with Houdini tricks in extricating himself from tight situations before. He should heed the lessons of history: you can’t fool the people all the time.