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.

An ICC on a silver platter?

IloiloCenter1Is the Iloilo Convention Center going to be offered to Megaworld on a silver platter?
This question has occupied my mind since I received a letter from Atty. Joy M. Bulauitan, Assistant Chief Operating Officer of the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA), last week informing me that the agency conducted two biddings for the management of the ICC, and that both resulted in failed bids.
Yesterday, I wrote Atty. Bulauitan another letter asking whether TIEZA intends to conduct a negotiated bidding for the contract, which is the logical move after two failed biddings. There seems no hurry now on the part of TIEZA to find a private sector partner to operate the ICC.
Why is this a cause for worry?
That’s because the Deed of Donation between Megaworld and DOT stipulated that the management of the ICC shall be awarded to a private entity. If the TIEZA fails to find a management contractor, then DOT/TIEZA will be in violation of the contract of donation.
I am not a lawyer but I know enough law to understand that failure of one of the parties to perform any one of the conditions could be ground for rescission of the donation. If the contract is rescinded on this account, the entire ICC will go to Megaworld as donor.
Heaven forbid, but this is the sweetest sweetheart deal that could possibly happen between Senate President Franklin Drilon and Megaworld. Without working up a sweat, Megaworld will have a convention center on its laps, courtesy of the government.

Sweetheart deal

Anytime soon — if it hasn’t happened yet — the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) will award the management contract for the soon-to-be-finished Iloilo Convention Center at the Iloilo Business Park of Megaworld Corp. in Mandurriao, Iloilo City.

The management of the ICC, which is expected to be finished at a “reduced” budget of P679 million by late June this year, is one of the conditions set by Megaworld when it donated the 1.7-hectare lot to the Department of Tourism as site of the facility.

And guess who will be the ultimate contractor to manage the ICC?

No other than Megaworld Corporation.

It will be a classic case of Megaworld having its cake and getting to eat it, too. It donated land which it bought at P2,500 per sqm. between two of its five-star hotels, Richmonde Hotel and Marriot Inn. Its act of “generosity” will reap enormous returns because it will now have a convention center at no cost to the company.

This was made possible, of course, by its benefactor, Senate President Franklin Drilon, who packaged the transaction that would cost the national government a whooping P679 million! It is a scam that is not likely to be investigated in earnest until a new administration comes along. As it is, Drilon enjoys the full protection of the “matuwid na daan” President, Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III.

But no matter how Drilon tries to deodorize the transaction, it is so rotten that its stink could be smelled as far away as Boracay, where I am writing this piece. Quite a number of people I met here groaned in dismay when the conversation turned to the ICC. That’s because the construction boom in Boracay hasn’t abated, and businessmen here know what it costs to build huge hotels and resorts. One businessman told me, “With that amount, I could have built a convention center with a five-star hotel.”

Hence, Megaworld will get the better end of the bargain when the ICC is completed, one that will be the envy of other big developers like SM and Ayala. It gave DOT a design for the ICC and it is getting it at no cost. All it needs to do is making a semblance of giving government a share of the income. With the ICC, it can market its two five-star hotels as venue for large national and international conventions. It is being handed over by the DOT on a silver platter.

The graft cases I filed against Drilon et al are now in the final evaluation stage in the Ombudsman. Am I confident that the Ombudsman will hold the principal characters culpable for the litany of violations of the government procurement law and anti-graft and corrupt practices act? Ultimately, the Ombudsman will be compelled to charge them. But maybe not soon enough. The Ombudsman is pre-occupied with running after the Binays.

The facts, and the law, are on my side. That’s the reason I can confidently say the Ombudsman will ultimately indict the respondents. The violations of law and policy are so glaring, and the defenses put up by the respondents have been weak. Most of them attacked me for supposedly saying I had no evidence when I appeared before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee four months ago. Unfortunately for them, it’s not what I said that matters to the Ombudsman. It’s the evidence on the record.

In this case, I was able to turn the table around and used their own documentary evidence against them. This is the beauty of the law. Innocent-looking documents submitted by your opponents can prove more lethal to them. I take great pride in waging this battle because I was pitted against the best lawyers in the country. For a non-lawyer, it flatters me to be able to cause seasoned lawyers consternation and great labor.

There’s nothing I can do to stop the transaction. Drilon, in his speech during the Dinagyang, arrogantly boasted that no Ilonggo can derail his pet project. Of course, it wasn’t the project that I intended to stop. It was the wanton plunder that took place in the guise of implementing the project.

I am now just awaiting the Regional Trial Court of Pasay City to set my arraignment on the four counts of libel that Drilon filed against me. Facing Drilon’s libel charges against me is the greatest challenge ever to confront me. But I am not afraid. I know I am in the right. In the end, truth will triumph, and justice will be mine.

ICC a monumental fraud using DAP funds – Mejorada

Phase I ICC

PRESS RELEASE

The Supreme Court ruling upholding the unconstitutionality of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) sets the stage for the prosecution of Senate President Franklin Drilon for deliberately pushing for “augmentation” in the hundreds of millions of pesos for a project that wasn’t on the General Appropriations Act (GAA), former Iloilo provincial administrator Manuel Mejorada said.

In a statement following the announcement of the SC ruling, Mejorada said the Iloilo Convention Center was a project of the Department of Tourism (DOT) through the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) using the latter’s corporate funds.

Describing the ICC as “a monumental fraud”, Mejorada said Drilon used his clout and influence to secure the release of P300 million in DAP funds for phase I of the project despite his knowledge that there was no item in the GAA for 2012 and 2013 to augment in the first place.

Mejorada said the SC ruling strengthens his plunder case against Drilon for being the proponent of the release of P300 million in DAP funds for the ICC.

On January 26, Mejorada submitted to the Ombudsman his reply-affidavit to refute the “lame excuses” given by Drilon and his co-respondents in his complaint for plunder, malversation of public funds, perjury, dishonesty and grave misconduct.

“There’s no more dispute that Drilon is the proponent for the release of the DAP funds as he had admitted it during the Blue Ribbon Committee hearing on the issue last Nov. 13,” Mejorada said.

He expressed confidence that the Ombudsman will find probable cause and indict Drilon, DPWH secretary Rogelio Singson, DOT secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr., TIEZA chief Mark Lapid, DPWH Usecs Romeo Momo and Jaime Pacanan, DPWH regional director Edilberto Tayao and BAC chairman Marily Celiz.

Mejorada said the ICC is riddled with violations of RA 9184 and other laws, including RA 8974 that governs the acquisition of private property for right-of-way and sites for infrastructure projects.

“The number one violation is the Deed of Donation (between Megaworld and DOT) over the 1.7-hectare property on which the ICC is being constructed,” he said.

He said the implementing rules and regulations for RA 8974 stipulates that donations of land for ROW and sites for government infrastructure projects should be unconditional.

In the Deed of Donation, Megaworld required DOT to use the property as site for a convention center and allocate P200 million to build the same. It also imposed the condition that DOT use its proposed conceptual design for the project.

Mejorada insisted that the Deed of Donation set the funding parameters for the ICC.

“It is crystal clear that Megaworld had calculated it would cost DOT only P200 million to build the ICC based on the proposed conceptual design it provided,” Mejorada said.

Mejorada also pointed out that the architectural firm of William V. Coscolluela and Associates, did not have a contract to serve as consultant for the DOT. Because of this, it had no legal personality to prepare the building plans for the government and review the technical bid proposal of Hilmarc’s, he added.

One of the most serious breaches of the government procurement reform law was the admission of Coscolluela that he allowed Hilmarc’s to revise its value engineering proposal after it was submitted to DOT for review and approval, he said.

“This violates the pass/fail criteria in RA 9184 because proposals cannot be revised, altered or revised once these are submitted to the procuring entity for evaluation,” he said.

Mejorada reiterated his motion filed with the Ombudsman to place Singson, Jimenez and the other public respondents under preventive suspension while the preliminary investigation of the case is on-going. (30)

Ombudsman directs Mejorada, 2 Cabinet men and others to file position papers in ICC case

OPEN LETTER TO SENATOR T.G. GUINGONA III

Sir:

“Reject all forms of corruption that diverts resources from the poor.”

Those words were heard all across the nation from Pope Francis during his visit to the Malacanang Palace last Friday and reported extensively in mainstream and social media in the days afterwards.

I believe these words become more relevant to the work of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee which you chair.

On November 13, 2014, the Blue Ribbon Committee opened its investigation in aid of legislation into the alleged overpricing and other anomalies in the construction of the Iloilo Convention Center.

I believe it is the supreme duty of the Blue Ribbon Committee to pursue this investigation with a deeper sense of purpose and objectivity. The hearing on November 13, 2o14 barely scratched the surface of the anomalous transaction. Partly, it’s because the evidence I possessed at the time were circumstantial in nature. Second, there was palpable maneuvering by certain Senators, including Senate President Franklin M. Drilon, to prevent its Honorable Members from being able to fathom its depth and magnitude through the questioning of resource persons.

I appeal to you, Mr. Chairman, to give justice to the Filipino people, especially the poor, by ignoring party loyalty and bring to light the full scale of what is perhaps the biggest single instance of corruption in Philippine government. The Iloilo Convention Center is a giant monument of greed and lies, an ugly icon of the worst corruption that mars the platform of “matuwid na daan” upon which this Administration stands on.

I will come before this Honorable Blue Ribbon Committee with concrete evidence of how the fraudulent scheme was carried out, much of which came from the major players in the project. The evidence will establish beyond doubt how the ICC was used as a tool to divert and embezzle public funds from the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). It will demonstrate how DAP was indeed prone to abuse and misuse, which was the primary reason it was struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional and illegal.

With more certainty, I will show how the Government Procurement Reform Act was violated not just once, nor twice, but even thrice or more just to bring this evil plot to fruition. I will expose the lies and deceptions peddled by high-ranking public officials to cover up their flagrant acts of breaking the law. And with the power of subpoena wielded by this Honorable Blue Ribbon Committee, more documents to complete the true picture can be unearthed.

The Filipino people deserve to know the truth, Mr. Chairman. Please do not allow the Honorable Blue Ribbon Committee to be used as shield for the corruption it is mandated to expose, denounce and prevent by strengthening our laws. It has a sacred duty to expose corruption in all fronts, and not just confine itself to those committed by enemies of this Administration. Corruption wears all sorts of color and labels, and Liberal Party is not spared from this handiwork of the devil.

The nation puts much faith in your shoulders, Mr. Chairman. Please do not shirk from this responsibility. The very survival of this nation is at stake. The liberation of the poor from the bondage of poverty rests upon you.

Very respectfully yours,

MANUEL P. MEJORADA

Preventive suspension in ICC case sought

PRESS RELEASE

Former Iloilo provincial administrator Manuel Mejorada has asked the Ombudsman to issue preventive suspensions against two Cabinet members and five other officials charged in the alleged anomalies in the Iloilo Convention Center project, saying the evidence against them is strong and their continued stay in office might prejudice the investigation.

In a two-page motion filed December 17, Mejorada said the respondents in the administrative case are facing charges of dishonesty and grave misconduct which warrant their preventive suspension as they occupy powerful positions in the Department of Tourism, Department of Public Works and Highways as well as the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA).

Mejorada made public the document only yesterday to give time for its delivery by the Philippine Postal Corp. after the Christmas holidays.

Mejorada cited Section 9, Rule III, of the Ombudsman Rules of Procedure which empowers the Ombudsman to issue preventive suspension orders against respondents in an administrative case for a period not exceeding six months while a preliminary investigation is being conducted.

Charged in the administrative case are DPWH Secretary Rogelio Singson, DOT Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr., TIEZA chief operating officer Mark Lapid, DPWH undersecretaries Jaime Pacanan and Romeo Momo, DPWH Region VI regional director Edilberto Tayao and BAC chairman Marilyn Celiz.

The project proponent, Senate President Franklin Drilon, is charged with them in the criminal case along with architect William V. Coscolluela and contractor Hilmarc’s Construction Corp.

Mejorada said he has received the counter affidavits of the respondents.

“After going through their voluminous counter affidavits and supporting documents, it becomes clear from their own testimonies that a giant fraud was committed in the ICC project,” Mejorada said.

In a statement, Mejorada said “the respondents themselves dug their own grave with their counter affidavits.”

He cited the admission of Coscolluela that the “value engineering” bid proposal submitted by Hilmarc’s did not meet his criteria and had to be revised with help from a structural design consultant he endorsed.

“That’s all I need to drive home the point that the award of the contract was illegal,” he said.

But he added that he found “an abundance of other evidence” from the counter affidavits of the other respondents who were forced to disclose records that were previously kept under wraps. (30)

A giant comeback

The appointment of Janet Garin as DOH secretary completes the comeback of the 1st district political dynasty in the national stage.Janet Garin
It shows the political adroitness of the patriarch, former Congressman Oscar Garin, in jumping from one administration to another.
The Garins have never stayed out of the political loop of every administration for too long.
In 2000, Oca Garin was appointed by Pres. Erap as presidential assistant for Western Visayas. He hesitated. He accepted the appointment sometime in November 2000 or thereabouts. By January 2001, Erap was kicked out from office, leaving Garin drifting in the political ocean.
But true to form, Garin quickly got into the good graces of the Gloria Arroyo administration. Before long, he was appointed as chief of the Philippine Coconut Authority.
Garin was a marked man as far as Liberal Party leader Franklin Drilon was concerned. Drilon regarded him as a mortal enemy. Corruption issues flew thick in Garin’s wake. In 2010, Garin campaigned for Villar. When he saw that the victory of Noynoy was unstoppable, changed colors three days before the elections.
It was not enough to gain him entry into the good graces of the Aquino administration. He was ultimately removed as PCA chairman and once again stayed as a benchwarmer.
That changed, however, in 2012. Drilon embraced Garin to pave the way for a “unification ticket” for the Liberal Party. Garin’s wife and children all ran under the LP banner in 2013 and won. Janet Garin was appointed DOH undersecretary.
And now Janet is DOH secretary. Oca Garin must be wearing a big smile these days. He has once again outmaneuvered everybody, including the grand old man of the Liberal Party in Iloilo, Niel Tupas Sr.
Tupas, who sacrificed greatly for party platform and principles, does not even hold an appointive position.
I am not saying that Dr. Janet Garin is not competent. She is intelligent and capable. She might even make a good DOH secretary.
But the message is that this appointment conveys is that the Aquino administration has embraced traditional politics as a means to survival and strengthen its chances of getting a partymate to succeed H.E. Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III on June 30, 2016.

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

Stealing APEC 2015

Jed Patrick E. Mabilog, Ph.D. (from a garage sale), spent one hour this morning attacking me for supposedly stealing from Iloilo City the glory of hosting the 2015 APEC Ministers Meeting.
He accused me (without mentioning my name, stupid coward that he is) of depriving taxi drivers, souvenir shop owners, restaurants, hotels and other businesses of the income he claims would shower upon them should the meetings push through as planned.
Well, okay Mr. Mayor, I plead guilty as charged.

IloiloCenter1
I stole another opportunity for your money-making schemes.
So what do you want to do? Send me to jail for it?
Mabilog thinks Ilonggos are as stupid as he is.
How can one man stop this entire activity with a national government, and a Big Man, behind it?
If everything is above-board, and there are no anomalies, there is no individual or group that could prevent its staging.
But everything about the Iloilo Convention Center is irregular, illegal.
That’s the reason Senate President Drilon is trying to muster all the support he can get to discredit me and camouflage his misdeeds.
This is indeed a funny situation.
I am a mere “batil” or wood-hulled boat, and he has deployed the entire Navy fleet against me.
Their own actions betray their corruption.