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.

Portent of things to come?

A two-van convoy that was on the way to the Iloilo Airport to fetch Iloilo City mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog figured in a multiple-vehicle collision on the national highway in Pavia, Iloilo on Sunday afternoon, resulting in injuries to his bodyguards and damage to the vehicles involved.

Aksyon Radyo Iloilo reported that the accident happened when a jeepney bound for Sta. Barbara, Iloilo stopped to discharge passengers along the Benigno Aquino Jr. Ave. in Barangay Ungka II, Pavia. The lead van in the Mabilog convoy smashed into tail of the jeepney. A split-second later, the second van rammed into the rear of the first. It didn’t end there. A water tanker was unable to stop in time due to defective brakes; it plowed into the back of the second van. The impact of the collision drove both Mabilog’s vehicles forward to hit the jeepney once again. They were sandwiched.

Luckily, Mabilog’s bodyguards suffered only aching bodies as a result of the collision. Both his vans were heavily damaged.

Interestingly, one of his bodyguards hurt in the accident was surnamed “Altas”. This raised speculations that the person might be related to PDEA-identified drug lord Melvin Odicta, also known as “Dragon”. Odicta has a brother-in-law surnamed “Altas”.

The accident quickly triggered a wave of nasty comments from Ilonggos. “It’s karma,” said Joe Marie Agriam, publisher of Cream Magazine and a regional officer of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI). Others remarked that it’s a warning for Mabilog, who is tagged as a drug protector, to repent. I called it a “portent of things to come.”

What most people didn’t see here was the involvement of a water tanker in the accident.

Only recently, Mabilog figured in a controversy over the anomalous contract he awarded to a water refilling station to supply potable water to constituents in Iloilo City hard-hit by the long drought from March to May this year.

That a water tanker plowed into Mabilog’s vehicles could be viewed as a divine message for him. He tried to use the water crisis as a vehicle for corruption. On Sunday, a water tanker seems to have given Mabilog a big spanking with the collision.

Political agenda

Over the weekend, Rommel Ynion published several posts on Facebook outlining his views on what ails Filipino society in general, and Iloilo City in particular. One interesting post dwelt on corruption: Ynion said we should stop complaining about how corrupt our officials are, because there can be no corruption if the people don’t allow it. We deserve the kind of government we have, that’s essentially what Ynion was telling us.

Screenshot 2015-12-28 09.51.26I gave my own observations in reaction to the post. And there followed quite a long thread on our respective viewpoints. There are general agreement that voters are responsible for the kind of government we have. But I argued that voters as we know them now are incapable of making judgments that would lead to choosing leaders who truly look after their interests. Ignorance, brought about by poverty and poor basic services of government, is the culprit.

What struck me as significant is that politics in the Philippine setting has lost its brains. Just take a look at the television and radio commercials being aired — the treatment of vital issues affecting society is skin-deep. Nothing of substance can really be discerned. And the posts made by Ynion could initiate a move in the right direction.

It’s time the electorate demand to read and hear the views of candidates for the May 9, 2015 elections on the burning issues. With the advent of Facebook, Twitter and other social media, it’s possible for candidates to conduct virtual town hall meetings in which ordinary citizens can engage them with spontaneous questions and listen to their viewpoints.

We have reached a point when Facebook and Twitter has become accessible for ordinary Filipinos. Smart and Globe provide free access to their subscribers. Now, any Filipino citizen with a mobile phone can make his voice heard to their political leaders. Genuine leadership  makes it imperative for politicians to rise to the challenge.

So far, in Iloilo City, only Ynion has shown that he possesses the intellectual readiness with his views on issues. If he keeps up with similar posts, he should be able to articulate a well-crafted political agenda that every Ilonggo can ultimately claim as his or her own. That’s because as the discussions get deeper, Ynion will get to understand how people feel and know what their aspirations are.

Ynion might be running for a City Council seat this time, but it doesn’t stop him from assuming a position of leadership in Iloilo City. He can serve as a guiding beacon that would slowly, but surely, illuminate the minds of fellow Ilonggos and make them realize it’s in their power to achieve the changes in their lives.

Change does not happen in a vacuum. It requires a charismatic and determined leadership to make it happen. I strongly believe Facebook and other social media are giving us the singular opportunity to achieve that goal.

Travel nightmare

Yesterday, I had hoped to enjoy the short-trip to Manila and start going around with my family. Our flight, PAL PR 1142, was scheduled to leave at 10:05 a.m. We were in the check-in queue at exactly 8 a.m., around number 10 in the line. We looked forward to a fun trip.

But it wasn’t a fun day for us. At 9:30 a.m., the p.a. system informed PAL passengers our plane was delayed. No word about what time it was expected to arrive. In another 30 minutes, the same announcement came over the p.a. system. That happened three or four times more. It was around 12:04 p.m. that the Airbus A321-200 landed.

A321 cabin

The cabin of the Airbus A321-200, PAL’s new aircraft.

With the delay, we expected the plane to leave as soon as the ground servicing was done. We were boarded at around 12:40 p.m. Our only consolation was that the aircraft was bigger, with wider seats and more legroom. It was one of PAL’s newer planes.

But it wasn’t until around 1:24 p.m. that the plane took off from Iloilo. We sat there for about half an hour after the cabin door had been shut. We could only sigh in relief when it finally went airborne. At least, I thought, we could still catch an hour or two of sunlight in the national capital.

As it turned out, a nightmare experience was unfolding for about 13 passengers, most of whom were seated in the rear portion of the aircraft. These passengers had a connecting flight to Vancouver, Canada that was to depart at 3 p.m. Anxious about not being left behind, they asked to be reseated in the front section of the plane in mid-flight. Their request was granted — 20 minutes before landing we were surprised by passengers lugging their hand carried bags toward the forward section.

That favor didn’t make things easier for these Vancouver-bound passengers. They did disembark the plane ahead of us. But then their checked-in luggage needed to be claimed at the carousel; the airline’s online system was down that day, and the luggage couldn’t be tagged to be transferred directly to the connecting flight.

The luggage carousel was again slow in bringing out the bags. We had to wait for about 40 minutes — for ours, that is — to claim our bags. As the Vancouver-bound passengers agonized with the slow burn of waiting, the p.a. system kept blaring that their flight was in the final phase of boarding. I could see the anxiety written on their faces. My family finally exited the arrivals hall at around 3:15.

The personal travel nightmare didn’t end there. The airport road traffic was light. But the pace turned turtle-speed once our car reached EDSA. And it took us another hour and a half to reach Mandaluyong City where we would be staying until the New Year.

It was my former Rotary Club buddy, Michael Bohlen, an expat from Great Britain, who reminded me about doing this piece about our shared experience yesterday. Indeed, we wasted a whole day for this trip. When we reached our destination, we had no more energy to go around. We hardly had time to brush our teeth and change into house clothes before exhaustion overcame us. We slept before 6 p.m.

This is how the holiday travel in the national capital can turn fun into a nightmare.


Making architecture relevant to the times

(Coffeebreak, December 17, 2015)

Over the centuries, architecture has pushed the concept of building design to the hilt, bringing about innovation and creativeness in integrating aesthetics with efficiency in building space utilization. It has also introduced the use of materials made lighter and cheaper by technology that enabled architects to challenge traditional concepts in design, some of which defy the forces of physics.

But these advances in architecture, however, have largely neglected fundamental needs of people, especially the poor. Most, if not all, of the highly-acclaimed breakthroughs in architectural design appeal to the wealthy. Office skyscrapers, hotels, stadiums, homes big and small and monuments dominate the conversation about architecture. Few, if at all, involve design innovations that benefit the poor.

An Ilonggo architect is about to change that perspective in the field of architecture.

Just recently, Architect Guillermo “Gimo” Hisancha has embarked on a novel project to thrust the profession to the forefront of disaster response and promotion of maternal health care.

As Head for Public Health Work Programme of the Union of International Architects (UIA) for Region VI, Hisancha has launched a national design competition for multi-use emergency and maternal/birthing facilities among Filipino architects to help governments deal with large-scale problems confronting their constituency.

“The idea has been met with enthusiasm and support from national architects organizations in the whole of Asia and Australia when I presented this before a regional conference two months ago in Thailand,” Hisancha said.

In his position as Head for Public Health Work Programme of the UIA, Hisancha, who had served a total of 18 years in public service, first as municipal councilor, and then as municipal vice mayor, of the Pavia LGU, is one of only two Filipinos who are incumbent officers of the worldwide organization of architects.

It is a recognition of his outstanding contributions to his profession, particularly with his involvement in legacy projects in the city and province of Iloilo, that have made his name a symbol of excellence.

Casa Real

CASA REAL: A legacy architectural work by Architect Guillermo Hisancha

Perhaps his best-known project is the restoration of the Casa Real, the official name of the old Iloilo Provincial Capitol, to its original design more than a century ago. No less than President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III led national and local officials in the inauguration of this heritage structure as part of the Independence Day celebrations on June 12, 2015.

That single project will permanently etch Hisancha’s name as part of the official history of the province.

Hisancha on Casa Real staircase

Architect Guillermo Hisancha on the staircase of the restored old Iloilo Provincial Capitol, now known as the Casa Real.

Apparently impressed with his restoration project, the Iloilo provincial government, along with the National Historical Commission, then commissioned him to prepare the architectural design for the conversion of the old Iloilo Provincial Jail in the Capitol complex into a regional museum.

The construction work for the regional museum is now ongoing.

Not so well known, but no less significant, are his designs for a multi-purpose disaster shelter for a barangay in Pavia in cooperation with a U.S. based NGO and an orphanage for girls in Iloilo City.

With his new position of international influence, Hisancha wants to leave a lasting imprint on the lives of millions of people, not only in the Philippines, but also in other parts of Asia.

As he searched deep into his experience and knowledge, he realized there are problems that remain unaddressed even as nations are confronted by worsening natural calamities such as typhoons.

In addition, a research project undertaken by his daughter, Raiza, while she was studying at the University of the Philippines-Visayas, opened his eyes to an area where architecture can make an impact on maternal health care.

This is how he came to conceive the project for the design, and ultimately for the fabrication, of multi-use emergency disaster and maternal/birthing facilities for far-flung barangays.

His colleagues in the Asian/Australian region expressed full support for the project and urged him to build the prototypes in the Philippines. “Other UIA country member organizations want to adopt our designs once we pick the winners,” Hisancha said.

Basically, the facilities he intends to build will be mobile and could be deployed at short notice to areas hit by natural calamities and require emergency facilities to provide relief to affected individuals.

For the maternal health and birthing facilities, Hisancha said he wants to address the Millenium Development Goal (MDG) of the United Nations for zero maternal and child-birth deaths on account of inadequate health facilities.

He was aghast upon knowing that tens of thousands of mothers die, often along with their babies, because they live too far away in the mountains from the nearest hospital or birthing facility.

“Most of the mothers don’t get to reach the medical facility alive,” he noted with sadness.

This is the reason Hisancha is excited with this project that the United Architects of the Philippines, which adopted his proposal, will take a lead role in using the expertise and creativeness of its members to soften the impact of disasters on their lives and help mothers survive with their babies.

Hisancha has shown a rare passion on how to use his profession to help people. His reputation is more than enough for him to just focus on big-ticket projects and reap material rewards that are due him as a talented and creative architect.

But more than the accolades, Hisancha is more interested in exploring new and innovative ways on how to make architecture relevant to the needs of the times. He possesses superb leadership that can enhance the respect and admiration of the general public for architects.

Without fear of contradiction, I am sure Hisancha will soar to greater heights. From a “probinsiyano”, he will be catapulted to national and international prominence. This early, I can carve that into the face of a granite stone.


(Coffeebreak, December 15, 2015)

Mar Roxas has a simple game plan in his bid to become the next President of the Republic of the Philippines: varnish his image with artificial gloss and eliminate his rivals through a host of legal maneuvers.

We’ve already seen Roxas lift a sack of rice. Also garlic. He tried his hand at being a firefighter and a traffic aide under the rain. He played the role of an ice carver, and even posed on a block of ice lying on his side for photographers. He pedaled a pedicab. And the list is growing longer and longer.

But these are cheap gimmicks that only boomeranged on Roxas the moment pictures came out on social media. Much as he tried to mimic the acts of ordinary Filipinos who have to endure backbreaking work to survive, there is simply no way Roxas could pass for one. That he was born rich, and never had to wonder where his next meal would come from, was glaring from the onset of such efforts.

These last few days, Roxas was again under fire in social media.

This time, he came under heavy criticism for labeling himself as a “Wharton graduate” in his curriculum vitae. It was another deceitful claim to add luster to his name, which had struggled to rise past the 15% mark in survey after survey.

While it was not entirely false, it was a misrepresentation. That’s because “Wharton graduates” in the layman’s understanding refer to those who have obtained their MBAs from this prestigious school in the University of Pennsylvannia.

Roxas earned his undergraduate degree from Wharton-UPenn without distinction. It was an education that his wealthy status made possible for him. Of course, he had to study hard to complete the baccalaureate degree. However, it didn’t give him a distinction that MBAs from this college are accorded with respect and admiration.

Wharton alumni always accompany its name with the extension, “UPenn.” But in the case of Roxas, he merely put Wharton as his alma mater, giving the impression that he finished his MBA there.

The Wharton MBA program is considered one of the premier training grounds for corporate executives, almost at par with the Harvard Business School, Stanford Graduate School of Business. Yale and Northwestern University have similar programs that are regarded as topnotch.

That’s why a Wharton MBA is given a premium when it appears on a young corporate upstart’s curriculum vitae. It is regarded as a badge of distinction. It is a symbol of an individual’s capability to analyze complex problems and provide leadership in any organization.

It is not to denigrate the undergraduate program at Wharton. But in the scheme of things, a holder of a bachelor’s degree from Wharton can never be placed in the same platform. In experience, training and leadership capability, the Wharton MBA will be two or three notches above a B.S. degree holder.

I can’t blame Roxas though for trying to sneak this through.

He needs to shellac his image as he enters the home stretch of the presidential race. The official campaign period for national candidates won’t kick off until February 9, 2016, but the contenders for the presidency have been barnstorming around the country for months now. And yet, Roxas remains a poor third or fourth in the surveys. His ratings have hit the ceiling at 15%.

Nothing seems to work for Roxas.

His endorser, President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III, had hoped Roxas’s numbers would rise after he raised the Liberal Party’s standard bearer last September 30. Since then, Roxas has tapped celebrity endorsements, including a music video featuring the talents of ABS-CBN. Roxas has also the backing of congressmen, governors and mayors.

Despite all these efforts to catapult Roxas to the front of the race, he struggles to rise above his current survey rating of only 15%. In a manner of speaking, he has hit the ceiling. He continues to eat the dust of Davao City mayor Digong Duterte, Senator Grace Poe and even the battle-scarred Vice President Jojo Binay.

Clearly, Roxas has a serious problem. How can he expect to become President when he can’t even come close enough to winning against his opponents? With less than one-fourth of the projected votes, he can’t even be regarded as a serious contender.

Of course there’s the elimination game ala “trip to Jerusalem” that the Liberal Party is playing. There’s a good chance Senator Grace Poe might be disqualified. Duterte, too, will face the same troubles. And knowing the LP’s determination to ram through its effort to win the Presidency for Roxas by hook or by crook, Duterte’s being swept aside from the race is not remote.

The scenario that’s being set should leave Roxas standing alone in the ring.

But wait, there’s still Binay. After a whole year of bashing and harassing the brown-skinned man from Makati City hasn’t been knocked down. In fact, Binay remains ahead of Roxas in the surveys — way ahead.

This presents a tough problem for Roxas: if the LP succeeds in eliminating Poe and Duterte, it can’t just get rid of Binay. That’s because the scenario calls for Binay being thrown in jail. And Binay enjoys immunity from suit. He can’t be charged criminally until after June 30, 2016.

In short, Binay’s name will remain a contender for the Presidency on May 16, 2016. He has 31% of the projected vote if elections are held today. If Poe and Duterte and DQ’d, I can bet most of their votes will go for Binay. It’s not because people don’t believe Binay is corrupt; but Filipinos believe Roxas will make a worse President than Mr. Aquino.

From a rock-bottom of 31%, Binay has the potential to rise above the 51% mark on election day to win majority of the votes cast. Roxas will be left eating more dust than he did when Binay beat him for the Vice Presidency in 2010.

It becomes clear that no matter how coats of shellac or varnish Roxas puts on his name, he still won’t be able to remove the people’s dislike for him. He can spray himself with all the best known deodorizers, but the rotten smell of a bad President simply won’t disappear.

‘Tough’ Mar Roxas?

After two days of deliberating his next move, Liberal Party standard bearer Mar Roxas has publicly announced he is ready to face Davao City mayor and rival candidate Rodrigo “Digong” Duterte to a slapping match.

Apparently, Roxas wants to appear, and sound, tough to level up to the stature of Duterte, who has drawn millions of admirers across the country for his street puncher image.

But it’s too late for Roxas to change his image as a soft-palmed scion of a wealthy family. If he was tough, he could have demonstrated that trait when he was DILG secretary and crushed criminal syndicates, including the known drug lords in Iloilo City.

Sorry, Mr. Roxas. Being tough isn’t just a matter of cheap talk. That image is drawn from a person’s character. You have always looked like a weakling. Even your politics is a life in the shadow of your mother, Mrs. Judy Araneta Roxas.