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Will Napoles spill the beans?

I have never believed that Janet Lim Napoles masterminded the siphoning of billions of pesos of public funds into the hands of lawmakers through fake NGOs and other avenues. It was above and beyond her competency, to put it directly. She was just a high school graduate who learned to corner huge government contracts using connections in the military back in the 90s.

Janet_Lim-Napoles_mugshotWhen the Aquino administration came to power in 2010, she had developed enough political contacts to be able to penetrate the inner sanctums of government. She was in the right place at the right time. Top officials of the Aquino administration, especially those in Congress and the DBM, found in Napoles a perfect specimen, a businesswoman who followed orders to the letter for a piece of the pie. The pie happened to be the PDAF and DAP (Disbursement Acceleration Program). A former Cabinet secretary, a lawyer from Iloilo, was assigned to be the cow tender for the Napoles machinery.

The complexity of the entire operation is enough to show that Napoles couldn’t have conceived how the money will be stolen. It took the evil genius of these top LP leaders to map out the whole scam, right from the faucet of DBM to the bank accounts of lawmakers who partook of the largess. Of course, what is not highlighted is the fact that the real masterminds reaped a bigger harvest. Napoles got small change, although that was in the vicinity of hundreds of millions of pesos. It was easy money for Napoles, but easier still for the brains of the scam.

As expected, the news about Napoles being admitted to the Witness Protection Program (WPP) of the Department of Justice was devastating for lawmakers who were in one way or the other complicit in the scam. But the biggest fright is now being felt by the real masterminds. For one thing, Napoles could provide information about her shopping trips with the wife of an LP senator abroad. That would belie the claim of that LP senator that he and Napoles were mere acquaintances.

Those who have no dark secrets with Napoles don’t have to be worried. After all, her testimony would be subjected to cross-examination at trial. If she is lying, then the innocent can win back their freedoms.

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Questions raised on ‘delay’ in prison sentence execution vs Jing Jing Espinosa

A prominent lawyer in Iloilo City has expressed surprise, and disbelief, that a prison sentence imposed on Jesus “Jing Jing” Espinosa Jr. was not immediately carried out after the Regional Trial Court Branch 31 received a Resolution from the Supreme Court upholding his conviction for frustrated murder four years ago.

Atty. Eldrid Antiquera, a former Iloilo City Councilor and legal assistant of the late Raul M. Gonzalez when he served as Justice Secretary, told Aksyon Radyo Iloilo that the circumstances that caused the delayed execution of the jail sentence should be investigated to make sure there was no hanky-panky.

“The Supreme Court takes these things seriously, because such negligence can thwart the course of justice,” Antiquera said. In many cases, court officials found to have been remiss in their duties have been suspended for similar omissions, he added.

Rosenia Jover, OIC Clerk of Court of Branch 31, issued a notice of hearing to both the prosecution and the defense lawyer, as well as the bail bond companies, on Tuesday, October 4, 2016, to tackle the revocation of the P200,000 bail bond for Espinosa.

Another court official told me that the revocation of the bail bond is the first step toward the issuance of a warrant of arrest to put Espinosa behind bars and begin serving his prison sentence.

notice-of-hearing

NOTICE OF HEARING ON THE REVOCATION OF BAIL BOND SET FOR OCT. 4, 2016. (Photo credit: RMN 774)

Espinosa, also known as “Bondying” in the order of battle of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), was found guilty as an accomplice for frustrated murder when he and two others shot and wounded Mark Serra in Barangay Monica on November 24, 2002.

Espinosa was able to submit a paraffin test report showing that he was negative for nitrate powder burns during his trial and was meted out a lighter sentence of six months and one day of prision correccional as minimum to eight years and one day as prision mayor as maximum.

He was convicted way back in 2006 by then RTC Branch 31 judge Rene Hortillo.

Espinosa appealed his conviction to the Court of Appeals. In a decision handed down on July 14, 2008, the Court of Appeals Eighteenth Division upheld the trial court’s ruling.

The case was elevated to the Supreme Court on a petition for review on certiorari. But the Supreme Court, in a Resolution dated May 30, 2011, denied the appeal for failure of petitioner Espinosa to substantially show any reversible error in the C.A. decision. The decision was declared “final and executory” by the Supreme Court on October 24, 2011.

Following judicial procedure, the case records were remanded to the Court of Appeals which in turn sent back the files to the lower court, Branch 31.

The markings on the documents show that RTC Branch 31 received the by registered mail on September 7, 2012. At the time, RTC Branch 31, along with all other courts of the RTC and Iloilo City MTC, were housed at the De Paul College campus in Jaro district as the Hall of Justice was undergoing refurbishing and repair.

The records affirming the conviction virtually vanished then, and it was only last July this year, during the conduct of an inventory of cases, that the same was noticed. Or so OIC Clerk of Court Rosenia Jover said.

For Antiquera, that explanation should not be accepted “hook, line and sinker.”

This discovery was made public only last Monday in The Daily Guardian and this blog, along with interviews with Aksyon Radyo Iloilo anchorman John Paul Tia and RMN 774 anchors Novie Guazo and Regan Arlos.

Indeed, the excuse is too shallow to be accepted. Almost every year, trial courts are mandated by the Supreme Court to conduct inventories of cases. This means RTC Branch 31 should have discovered this oversight in 2013 or 2014.

But why did it take four years?

drilon-with-kap-dabing

Monica barangay captain Keith “Dabing” Espinosa, wife of Jing Jing Espinosa, poses with the most powerful man in Iloilo City — Senator Franklin Drilon.

There are speculations that somebody powerful may have intervened to “bury” the case records, and it was only after President Rodrigo Duterte came to power that it was resurrected.

 

None of the above

In his latest radio and TV advertisement, Mar Roxas portrays himself as “hindi abusado”, “hindi ma-drama”, and most importantly “hindi magnanakaw”. This is a clear swipe at his front-running rivals in the presidential race. “Abusado” is Digong Duterte. “Ma-drama” is Grace Poe. And “Magnanakaw” is VP Jojo Binay.

He also tries to appeal to the Ilonggo vote by talking in Hiligaynon.

Mar Roxas claims that all he has to offer is his willingness to work. “Trabaho lang”.

Again, Roxas wants to highlight the perceived issues affecting his rivals. He is not like them, he says. He promises to bring sincere and honest attributes to the presidency and continue the “matuwid na daan” of his sponsor, President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III.

Okay, let’s grant it to Mar Roxas: he’s none of the above.

He’s “none of the above” because he has never shown an ability to be a leader, to demonstrate a principle-based leadership, a man with a strong backbone.

He had five years to build that performance he wants to be known for. But he squandered it. In all those five years, first as secretary of DOTC and then as secretary of DILG, Roxas has nothing to show. He had everything at his disposal and yet he has no performance to boast about.

The incompetence of the man has reached legendary levels. He fumbled on every play and kept falling on his face. He simply isn’t cut to be a leader. Even his words cause him more trouble and embarrassment than anything else. He can’t be faulted for not trying hard enough. In fact, he is overdoing the things that he intended to show him as being close with the poor, to the point that he looks an idiot. How else do you describe a man who puts rice on a mug and drinks water from a plate? Even the poorest among the poor knows what a mug and a plate are for.

Roxas doesn’t also know that he is mouthing a disdained mantra — “matuwid na daan”.

The Aquino administration has presided over the biggest corruption machinery since martial law. If in the past the plunder was only by a few, this time it is robbery in band. Loyalty to the party is obtained by bribing the senators and congressmen and governors and mayors. Each is allowed a free rein to plunder in their own jurisdictions. It is not hard to understand why Franklin Drilon has become a fierce attack dog for the administration. With the billions and billions of pesos poured into Iloilo (all overpriced projects), he has every motivation to protect his masters.

By mouthing “matuwid na daan”, Mar Roxas has also embraced the label of the “ridiculous”. He is so overpowered by his belief in “matuwad” (that’s a deliberate one) that people could only laugh in private. There are now reports that Liberal Party candidates in the Visayas are beginning to abandon him. Before long, he will find himself alone.

Right, Mar Roxas is none of the above. That’s because he has never started to be anybody worth noticing.

NO “ZONA LIBRE” FOR VICE GOVERNOR?

The controversy over the “zona libre” issue for the position of Vice Governor of Iloilo will put Mar Roxas in a no-win situation. It will cause the “unity ticket” that he and Franklin Drilon put together in Iloilo province to crumble before the campaign period for the presidency could even start.
Here’s what happened:
Four years ago, Mar Roxas recruited into the Liberal Party the political clans that wielded power in each of the province’s 1st and 3rd districts. He welcomed into the LP fold Governor Arthur Defensor Sr. and former 1st district Congressman Oscar Garin Sr. In the process, Roxas dislodged the original LPs like the late Niel Tupas Sr., now vice governor Boboy Tupas, Gen. Gerry Flores and many more.
Rojas wanted the Iloilo vote to be solid for him in the 2016 presidential elections. It was a given that incumbent 2nd district Congressman Arcadio Gorriceta and 5th district Congressman Junjun Tupas would throw their support for him.
But that solid political front is about to disintegrate. Mar Roxas broke his word to the Garins that the race for vice governor would be “zona libre”, meaning the LP will consider the two candidates for the position, Junjun Tupas and Christine “Tintin” Garin, to be equals. The Garins didn’t expect Junjun to run, and thought Tintin had the position on a silver platter. To everybody’s surprise, Junjun filed his COC at the last minute.
The Garins brought the matter to Roxas as the LP standard bearer. According to the father and son Garins — Oca and Congressman Richard — Roxas assured them it was going to be “zona libre”. And that’s what the Garins told the people of Iloilo.
This claim was quickly disputed by Junjun. The Garins were lying, he said.
The controversy reached its peak when Roxas arrived in Iloilo City for the “Dinagyang” festival last Jan. 24. Pressed by media to comment on the issue, Roxas said there is no free zone: Junjun Tupas is the lone candidate recognized by the LP.
It is unlikely the Garins will accept this turn-around of Roxas just like that. It is a stab in the back for them. Oca Garin was heard over radio as saying that Roxas did not deserve to be President if he could break his word. That is short of saying Mar Roxas can kiss his ambition good-bye. The Garins will withdraw support from him at the last moment.
This situation will give Roxas a migraine. The last poll survey showed he could count on only 47% of the Iloilo vote. That’s bad by itself, because it means he could not build enough cushion to cover areas where he is expected to lose heavily. With the Garins junking him, Roxas can expect his voter base in Iloilo to precipitously drop as election day draws nearer.
Poor Mar. He is getting a dose of his own medicine.

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.

Gone is the rule of law

I just received word that the Ombudsman, in less than one month, dismissed my motion for reconsideration in the graft complaint I filed against Senate President Franklin Drilon and several other respondents in connection with the Iloilo Convention Center project anomalies.

The Ombudsman has shown once again its unrivaled speed and efficiency in resolving cases (lopsidedly when it comes to close allies of the President). I filed the motion for reconsideration on June 4, 2015 (by registered mail). The resolution denying it was signed by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales on July 9, 2015.
This was not unexpected. When the Ombudsman dismissed my complaint in record time of five months last May, I knew that forces outside the law were at work here. This is an agency that takes five years, on the average, in resolving simple graft cases. Several complaints I have filed against Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog have languished in the central office on review for more than two years (and that’s just REVIEW).
The Ombudsman swept aside the truth, especially on the point that the fund disbursements for the ICC from the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) were illegal and constituted malversation of public funds. The DAP funds for the ICC were disbursed through DPWH even if there was no line item budget for the project in the 2011, 2012 and 2013 General Appropriations Act (GAA). The Ombudsman mocked at the decision of the Supreme Court on the DAP cases when it ruled that those funds allocated to projects NOT INCLUDED IN THE GAA AS LINE ITEMS ARE UNCONSTITUTIONAL AND ILLEGAL. It is so brazen that one wonders where the rule of law has been buried.
This is a concrete illustration of selective justice. The evidence was ignored to favor the respondents, especially Senate President Drilon. I must accept defeat in the face of this herculean conspiracy to bury the truth. I am powerless against them. I have no resources to carry the battle to the higher courts.
I guess this will have to be resolved at a later time when the rule of law is fully restored in our country, and the principle of accountability is strengthened. The Ombudsman is making a huge travesty of the anti-corruption efforts. It is undermining its own mandate.
With my head unbowed, I say, I have fought the good fight.

Paradigm shift

After spending two months in San Pedro City, Laguna as guest of Kap Jun Ynion, I saw concrete proof that “zero corruption” does translate into better public services and greater efficiency in governance.

Like so many others, I threw my full support into the “matuwid na daan” slogan of President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III when he assumed office on June 30, 2010. It didn’t take long before the enthusiasm wilted and was replaced by disillusionment. Corruption remained rampant despite the filing of graft cases against three senators. Worse, the Aquino administration cloaked its allies, who were as voracious in plundering the national treasury, under a mantle of protection.

God knows how hard I fought to expose massive corruption in Iloilo City, filing cases against the Senate President and the City Mayor. I also inundated the Commission on Audit with requests for vital documents. In the four years I mounted that battle, I was met only with frustration. Tthe Office of the Ombudsman under its new head, Tanodbayan Conchita Carpio-Morales, does not seem eager to indict the respondents, not for lack of evidence, but simply because they were pro-Aquino.

It reached a point when I was ready to throw in the white towel. There is no way we can lick corruption. Our nation will drown in it, I told myself.

But watching how Jun Ynion translated the “zero corruption” advocacy into a working model in Barangay San Antonio opened my eyes to a new possibility for my own mission.

Instead of fighting corruption and be beaten by the system, here’s an opportunity to push “zero corruption” and persuade the people to embrace it.

This requires less energy because the emphasis is on the positive. Because of his position as the local chief executive of the barangay, Kap Jun didn’t take long in dismantling the remnants of corruption from the previous administration. It wasn’t an easy ride; he encountered heavy turbulence in the first six to 12 months. Kap Jun wields strong political will, and he was able to remove the infrastructure, including people, that bred the corruption.

Now Kap Jun is focused on proving his point: that with zero corruption, every peso in the public treasury can be used to maximum effect. All goods and infrastructure are procured at the lowest cost. Overpricing is taboo, and not a few employees of the barangay had to learn this the hard way — the lost their jobs.

Barangay San Antonio was the second biggest barangay in San Pedro City, next only to Barangay San Vicente, when Kap Jun came to office in November 2013. It has an annual budget of P35 million to serve 70,000 constituents. The amount may seem big for a barangay, but then Barangay San Antonio has a population equivalent to a mid-sized municipality.

I’ll skip the details of what Kap Jun has done for Barangay San Antonio. But it dawned upon me that the battle against corruption can be pursued — I believe with greater potency — by demonstrating that it promotes the welfare of the people and enable government to do more for less.

Indeed, history teaches that the greatest causes were won not with hostile activities, but more on the foundation of love and understanding. It’s about winning the hearts and minds of the people. This was how Christ taught his disiciples, who in turn spread His word. So, too, did Mohammad. Mahatmi Gandhi didn’t bring the British to its knees by leading a violent revolution; he advocated non-violent resistance.

Hence, as a journalist, I made up my mind to change my approach to the problem of corruption. I’ve seen that hurting our officials with exposes on their corruption didn’t change the way they went about their business. It is effective in attracting readership. However, the readers are not moved to action by the scandals they read. It’s as if nothing happened after they put down their newspapers or shut down their computers.

From now on, I will channel my energies to writing about success stories on corruption-free governance. Not all politicians are bad. We need to reinforce the core values of the good politicians by making them feel their brand of leadership is appreciated. Hopefully, the idea will spread, and more politicians will seek more of the public approval than gain the scorn of the people.

This doesn’t mean I will abandon my cause against corruption. I will continue to carry on as a watchdog. But it will be more on a positive tone. In Toastmasters, I learned that criticism can be made more palatable by couching it in pleasant language. Once you tell a person, more so a public official, that he did a something wrong, it’s likely he will put up a defensive posture and thwart the message. I’ll “suggest” to them how the law might apply to specific anomalous transactions and gently nudge them to rectify their actions.

In essence, I’ll shed off the image of a fault-finder, always ready to pounce with a dagger. This will be replaced with the image of a coach, understanding that mistakes can be made and giving our officials the benefit of the doubt as to their motive. After all, nobody is perfect. There is always room for improvement.

I feel encouraged with this paradigm shift. There is already one instance when Mayor Jed Patrick E. Mabilog canceled a contract which I pointed out was legally infirm. Next time, I’ll remove the hostility in my commentary to lessen the resistance to the message. Perhaps we will be able to see less transgressions of the law, particularly the procurement law.

On the Iloilo Convention Center, I’ve done enough. I have delivered the message about the anomalies that transpired. The case, upon a motion for reconsideration, is pending with the Office of the Ombudsman. It was a Quixotic crusade. Now that the ICC is being rushed toward completion, I will keep quiet about it. I don’t want to put more pressure on our DPWH. The career officials are always the ones caught in the middle. I’ll give them room to finish the project.

I’ve made my point, and I will let the judicial processes take its course.

Meanwhile, there’s plenty of work as I embrace this paradigm shift with Kap Jun Ynion. He has embarked on a courageous journey to change politics in San Pedro City. As a loyal friend, I will help him in every way I can to succeed in his mission. After all, we share a passion for good governance and scorn for corruption.