Bribery at the Iloilo capitol

Licurgo Tirador, board member representing the 3rd district of Iloilo, seldom speaks publicly. But when he does, you can be sure it’s not gossip. A former OIC-governor of Iloilo, three-term congressman of the 3rd district and mayor of Pototan, Iloilo, Tirador can be described as an elder statesman in local politics. He can afford to speak his mind, and he doesn’t have to worry about stepping on toes.

Two weeks ago, Tirador created a minor tremblor at the Iloilo capitol when he exposed an attempt to bribe him and other members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan just to secure passage of the resolution ffavoring the operation of Small Town Lottery (STL) in the province. Tirador, along with board members Gerardo Flores (1st district), Demy Sonza (2nd district) and Nielo Tupas (5th district), had voted against the resolution. The expose came after Iloilo governor Arthur Defensor Sr. revealed he had given a certificate of no objection in favor of Around the World Gaming Corp. owned by known jueteng lord Eddie Gonzales and Iggy Arroyo, a.k.a. Jose Pidal.

The revelation confirms the information I have gathered that the STL operator promised P100,000 to vice governor Oscar Richard Garin Jr. and P25,000 each to board members to get the resolution approved. And once the STL operations commence, a steady monthly allowance will also flow into the board members’ pockets, my sources say.

That the expose came from Tirador mildly surprised me. Tirador is an ally of Defensor. But to the credit of the grand old man, he isn’t one who sacrifices his principles. Once he finds something objectionable, then he’ll not hesitate to express his displeasure. This is apparently what happened in this instance. Tirador found it hard to swallow that STL was granted an entry permit because of bribes. And it is now clear the bribe money didn’t just involve the provincial board. The office of the governor is a logical place for more money to be delivered. In the final analysis, it’s the governor’s signature and assent that mattered the most.

Defensor knew he had a crisis in his hands. How can he now deflect the issue of corruption? He made his comeback to the capitol on the issue of corruption. He had accused his predecessor of rampant corruption, although after six months, he hasn’t proven a single charge. His “Mister Clean” image is now being threatened. And the threat didn’t come from the Tupas camp. The expose came from within his own group.

Well, Defensor employed the usual squid-tactics. At once he held a press conference and disclosed a report of the Commission on Audit (COA) disallowing a P5-million purchase of medicines last year. He was decent enough to admit the COA disallowance isn’t final and executory. The Tupas camp still has six months to appeal and show that there wasn’t anything irregular about it. But it suited his purposes, and the media bit at his bait.

It also helped him that Tirador zippered his mouth almost as quickly as he had opened it. Tirador turned elusive when local radio stations tried to do interviews with him. We can only speculate that Tirador was discreetly requested by his ally to shut his mouth up, because it will blow Defensor’s cover of a clean administration.

But the lid has been blown off. Tirador’s revelation is proof that STL is bringing dirty money into the hands of Capitol officials. I’ve been told Defensor was visited by Eddie Gonzales in August to seal the transaction. Gonzales was accompanied by Samuel Jonathan Ng, who was also involved in the Syjuco anomalies (cellphone, computers, etc.). Ng’s own wife delivered the money to the board members, my sources said.

I was told a partial delivery of P5 millon was made, which is why Defensor pushed hard to obtain a favorable resolution from the Sangguniang Panlalawigan. Another P15 million is supposedly due upon the issuance of the governor’s certificate of no objection. Easy money.

I’m hoping the media will not shelve the issue too soon. The integrity of the Iloilo capitol is now put into serious question. The source of the bribery issue isn’t a lightweight. He detonated a nuke right in Defensor’s office, and the governnor can no longer hide and escape culpability. The more troubling thought is that in this case, Defensor was a party to the bribery. The money given to the vice governor and board members came with his imprimatur.

Everyone is vulnerable to capitol hacker

Nereo Lujan went on a hacking rampage yesterday. First he disabled my two Yahoo email accounts. Not satisfied, he went for a bigger kill. He attacked and gain control of my Facebook account later in the afternoon. As I said, he is good. He went about the crime — hacking is a serious crime — with Swiss-clock precision. Before I could repel the attack, he had already changed the account information and removed my log-in email address as well as alternate address. I was barred from my own Facebook account.

The hijacking of my Facebook account is the second such attack by Mr. Lujan. The Somali pirates would look like kindergarten kids with the way he carried out the hijacking. Cold-blooded. He must even have attained sexual orgasm over his triumphant intrusion. I can guess he gloated about it before his cohorts at the Iloilo capitol. But more than that, it gave him satisfaction to have retaliated at my having exposed his as a plagiarist.

This latest incident is no longer to be taken lightly. Mr. Lujan is social networking sites and email accounts with impunity. He is like a serial killer on the loose. I can’t begin to count the cadavers left in his path — identities stolen and people’s right to privacy invaded. The sad thing is that this appears to be sanctioned by his boss at the capitol, especially when it comes to my case. The attack against me was double-bladed: it was revenge for Mr. Lujan and retaliation for his bosses. For them, the only way to hurt me is steal my online accounts. The truth contained in my blog articles are much too painful for them, and they can’t fend him truth.

But this isn’t just my personal concern. Everyone is vulnerable to his hacking attacks. A number of his former friends intimated to me how they, too, became victims. Today, it’s Boy Mejorada who fell victim. Tomorrow, it could be a radio station anchorman or reporter or government official or even the current provincial administrator or even the capitol’s IT system.

He will not stop. He has tasted blood, and he will thirst for more.

The big difference

Although it’s  just a little over three months into the Defensor administration at the Iloilo capitol, there is already an abundance of stories coming from various sectors of the community on their unpleasant experiences with the brand of leadership being displayed by Governor Arthur Defensor Sr.

A common theme has emerged, and it can be lumped into the broad category of “the big difference” in the conduct of public service between the previous governor, Niel Tupas Sr., and the incumbent. The words “arrogance”, “indifference”, “hot temper”, and “betrayal” are becoming the most commonly used words to describe the present dispensation. This is a sharp contrast to the pleasant manner the Tupas administration has been described during the previous nine years.

The irony is that the most vitriolic of these complaints come from individuals who had openly supported the candidacy of Arthur Defensor Sr. Not surprisingly, a tide of regret is now sweeping their ranks as frustration and disappointment are being experienced in rapid fashion.

One of those who groused about his sad experience is a barangay captain in Passi City who swung his support for Defensor shortly before the May 10, 2010 elections when he obtained a handsome financial package from Rep. Ferj Biron. This barangay captain hails from one of the biggest barangays of Passi City, and he thought Defensor would enthusiastically look after his request when he went to the capitol a few weeks ago.

To his bitter disappointment, the barangay captain wasn’t even granted an audience by the governor. Worse, his request was just filed inside a thick folder which didn’t look as if previous requests were favorably acted upon.

Harsh words about the new governor were also uttered by a barangay captain from Dumangas, Iloilo who sought the assistance of the capitol for a dog bite victim in his barangay. This official obtained a note from a Sangguniang Bayan member who is a relative of the governor, thinking this would open doors for him. When he knocked on the doors of the governor’s office, he was surprised the handwritten note didn’t even warrant a cursory reading. His request was rejected.

It seems Ilonggos will have to expect more of this kind of treatment from the governor for the next 32 months of his term of office. Well, it’s not as if they weren’t warned about the character of this man. Many voters allowed themselves to be swayed by the P50-bills with the name “Art” stapled to it. They will have to suffer the consequences for this error in judgment.

The first 100 days of Manong Art

There was no pompous ceremony at the Iloilo capitol to mark the first 100 days of the Defensor administration last week. That’s because there wasn’t really much to boast about. Gov. Arthur Defensor Sr. gave a brief media interview in which he outlined the few things he considered accomplishments, like the tree-planting activity at the Maasin watershed (which his predecessor had religiously done for nine years, so nothing spectacular about it). But even Defensor didn’t seem too enthusiastic making a report, for he knew he had done nothing much.

But there were happenings during his first 100 days that Manong Art had consciously avoided because these were too embarrassing for him.

The first was his complete turn-around on his promise to the health workers of the province on the issue of the hazard pay. During the campaign, Defensor told health workers he sided with them in the legal battle with the Tupas administration over the benefits they claimed were rightfully due them under the Magna Carta for Public Health. It wasn’t a complicated promise: Defensor made them believe he would give them their allowances for the last several years.

The picture completely changed when Defensor assumed office on June 30 and the health workers, who obtained a favorable judgment from the Iloilo regional trial court, went to see him to ask for their expected bonanza. The health workers were not met with a smile; rather, a deep frown and an unfriendly tone told them the new governor wasn’t going to award them back benefits. Worse, the governor issued an ultimatum: accept my offer of the benefits commencing January 2010 onwards, or get nothing.

It was a painful emotional blow to the health workers who could have started getting these benefits, on a gradual, phase-by-phase, scheme, as early as July 2006. Governor Tupas had already constituted a committee which I headed to discuss the gradual implementation of the hazard pay scheme, only to be met by a civil suit before the court. This forced Gov. Tupas to suspend the plan and jsut wait for the court ruling. The court decision came in May this year, or about six weeks before Gov. Tupas was to step down from the capitol. He decided to leave the implementation to his successor.

The health workers had anticipated a moment of glee and thanksgiving when Defensor assumed office. They had started to count the eggs, so to speak, because they thought Defensor was with them on the issue. Instead, frustration quickly engulfed the ranks of the health workers. Now it’s a black mark for the first 100 days of Art Defensor as governor. Word of honor is gone from the lexicon of public governance.

The second is the waste of millions of pesos which Manong Art took from the province’s calamity fund. When the dengue fever threat reached unprecedented heights last August, Manong Art got a declaration of a state of calamity from the Sangguniang Panlalawigan and immediately set aside nearly half of the province’s 5% calamity fund for the purchase of medicines, IV fluids and other supplies. All in all, about P35 million was reportedly spent for this purpose, with a large chunk going to the purchase of generic drugs (read medicines from Pharmawealth of Ferj Biron).

Everybody knows that the dengue fever epidemic, if it can be called an epidemic, didn’t reach a magnitude requiring nearly half of the province’s 5% calamity funds. As a result, the epidemic has died down, and hundred of boxes of the purchases have been left unused in the capitol. Manong Art knew from the start he didn’t really need so much money to respond to the threat. But he had a debt of gratitude to pay, and he had the perfect cover to dispose of public funds.

Under Gov. Tupas, the province didn’t utilize the calamity fund unless absolutely necessary, as when the province was hit by Typhoon Frank in 2008. The fund was merely plowed back into the general fund, year after year after year. In February this year, as thousands of families suffered in hunger because of the El Nino phenomenon, Gov. Tupas asked the Sanggunian to let him use P5 million to buy emergency food supplies. That was a real calamity situation, and yet Gov. Tupas only asked for a small portion. Sadly, the Sanggunian controlled by allies of Manong Art rejected that request.

Third is Manong Art’s early announcement that henceforth, officials and employees of the Iloilo provincial government can no longer expect the big year-end bonuses that Gov. Tupas had generously extended, even to the point of engaging agencies like COA in legal combat. Gov. Tupas recognized that provincial employees are grossly underpair, and even the partial implementation of the Salary Standardization Law II this year isn’t enough to raise their standards of living. The year-end bonus became a mechanism for Gov. Tupas to “level the playing field” for employees.

But Manong Art made it clear that provincial employees will no longer enjoy that perk. He’d rather spend it on buying additiional heavy equipment for the province and generic medicines for dengue for the most obvious of reasons. For Manong Art, provincial employees are the least of his worries. Just as he had done with the health workers, he’s always ready to kick their butts if they don’t bow to his wishes. It’s a sharp contrast to the management style of Gov. Tupas who always put the welfare of ordinary rank-and-file employees on top. This early, the employees are feeling demoralized, unwanted, poorly motivated.

Manong Art will be known for his campaign of dismantling the legacy of Gov. Tupas at the capitol. And his determined effort to bring jueteng into the province in the form of the STL operations of the Eddie Gonzales-Iggy Arroyo combine will capture first place in his list of the dismantled legacies. Gov. Tupas waged war against illegal gambling in Iloilo for nine years, turning down handsome and tempting bribes along the way. He even banned STL in the province because he felt that gambling for the poor will not develop unhealthy values toward work among them. It ranks as one of his best legacies as governor. Defensor is about to undo that.

Towards the end of the first 100 days, Manong Art formally endorsed the application of Around the World company, the STL firm operated by Eddie Gonzales and Iggy Arroyo, to commence operations in the province. Why Manong Art chose an outsider over a local STL operator is rather strange. In fairness to the local STL operator, it had never been known to engage in jueteng or daily double. It’s no secret that Eddie Gonzales and Iggy Arroyo want jueteng to start business in Iloilo, and they apparently have made Manong Art and his provincial administrator industrial partners in the enterprise.

What strikes me as even more puzzling is the lack of opposition from the Church. Has the Church given up on the issue? How about the other civic groups and NGOs?

Well, the first 100 days of Manong Art’s administration have come and gone, and as I said, it was marked more by the unsavory things he has done than anything good for the province. Let’s see if the local media will now take off the gloves and treat his administration with objective scrutiny. I’d like to be proven wrong about my perceptions, but this early, we have already seen how the next two and a half years will unfold at the Iloilo capitol.

Around the world of jueteng

My sources were proven right yesterday when ABS-CBN TV Patrol Iloilo ran a story about the “letter-request” of Around the World Corp. to Iloilo Governor Arthur Defensor Sr. for an endorsement to operate the small town lottery (STL) business in the province of Iloilo. The letter was dated October 5, 2010. This is a corporation owned by the combine of Jose Pidal (a.k.a. Iggy Arroyo) and jueteng lord Eddie Gonzales, with a top official at the Iloilo capitol as secret partner. It wants to introduce the province into big-time jueteng with STL as cover.

As already mentioned in an earlier post, Gonzales is a bigtime jueteng operator in the Bicol region who was among those exposed by retired Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz as one of the country’s jueteng lords.

According to Defensor, he wants “extensive consultations” with the people before he decides on the application. Of course, he is lying. The public hearings that the Sangguniang Panlalawigan intends to hold are only a formality. The issue has been decided several months ago. Defensor and his provincial administrator, Dr. Raul Banias, owe a debt of gratitude to their bosses, Mike and Iggy Arroyo, and quickly agreed to let Gonzales, an outsider from Bicol, to run the business here even if there is a local STL operator.

Mark my word: Defensor will not countenance any opposition to the STL business of Eddie Gonzales as cover for jueteng. This is the same Arthur Defensor who double-crossed the Iloilo health workers on the issue of the hazard pay, making his predecessor Niel Tupas Sr. look bad during the campaign and promising them a bonanza, only to renege on his word after he assumed office at the Iloilo capitol. This is the same Arthur Defensor Sr. who served as knight in rusty armor to defend Gloria Macapagal Arroyo when he was majority floor leader in the House of Representatives.

As the rest of the nation condemns jueteng, Arthur Defensor and Raul Banias are rolling out the red carpet for the jueteng business of Eddie Gonzales to Iloilo province.

Under attack

The hacker/plagiarist at the capitol tried to break into my WordPress account again at around 9:29 a.m. His masters at the Iloilo Capitol must really be pressuring him to silence this blog. After all, his value to them is in his talents as hacker and demolition man. He is a known plagiarist, and the media are reluctant to touch stuff coming from him.

This attack and defend scheme makes for good exercise in security management. I’ve read enough John le Carre novels to develop my own codes and security precautions to prevent another break-in. This hacker/plagiarist has made a career in stealing — stealing other people’s identities and intellectual property. So I have to stay ahead of him in this game. If one day, you find this new blog gone, then that means he succeeded. But then again, I can always start a new blog.

Pototan: Iloilo’s ‘jueteng’ capital

Shortly after the present administration at the Iloilo capitol assumed power on June 30, there were stirrings in the town of Pototan, Iloilo as at least three “jueteng”, which is known locally as “daily double”, operators began to set up shop and bring the illegal numbers game back in business in the province. “Daily double” was absent, except for occasional guerilla-type operations, during the nine years of the Tupas administration, and the changing of the guard at the Iloilo capitol was a signal that the red carpet was now being laid out. Where Tupas strictly barred the illegal numbers game, there was now explicit consent from the capitol.

“Jueteng” has once again captured the headlines after retired Lingayen archbishop Oscar Cruz accused unnamed officials in the Aquino administration as receiving “payola” from operators. The amounts are not peanuts — two officials get no less than P2 million a month, Cruz said.

It’s not a secret that “jueteng” is an almost inexhaustible treasure vault of illicit cash. The “jueteng lords,” as the operators of the illegal numbers game are known, raked in hundreds of millions of pesos in earnings every year. That’s the reason in the province of Pampanga, “jueteng” has achieved complete domination of local politics. Fr. Ed Panlilio’s reform-oriented governorship was no match for the oodles of money given out by his rival, Lilia Pineda, who snatched the position from him after just one term. Lilia is the wife of “jueteng” lord Bong Pineda. Hence, politicians found it hard to resist “jueteng”, and it was only in Iloilo province where its promise of easy money wasn’t as welcome during the time of Tupas.

From our personal experience, I can attest that “jueteng” can’t flourish unless there is explicit approval from the capitol. The fact that it has now found its way back into the province, and even sits arrogantly in Pototan, is prima facie evidence that “jueteng” money is greasing hands in the governor’s office. Add to this the designation of P/Senior Supt. Gil Lebin as Iloilo provincial director upon express request of Defensor. Lebin was assigned in Pampanga for quite a while when Mikey Arroyo was congressman in that province. Add one plus one, and you can understand how Lebin would fit into the formula for making Iloilo the new frontier for “jueteng”. Lebin, by the way, is a native son of Pototan, Iloilo.

Strike One?