A family feud (Part II)

Joe III picturejerry trenas picture

Is the relationship between City Mayor Joe Espinosa III and Congressman Jerry Trenas now beyond repair?

This question is now being asked by most people in Iloilo City after eight Executive Assistants identified with Trenas reportedly resigned on Monday after reportedly being asked about where their loyalties lay.

The version of Joe III is that the city mayor called for a meeting with his executive assistants on Friday morning, but nobody among the Trenas-identified assistants showed up. In the afternoon, they were summoned by Senior Executive Assistant Jojo Castro and were given a gentle reminder about being loyal to the service, and not to any politician.

The Executive Assistants gave a different version: Castro reportedly told them to choose between Trenas and Joe III. This is what triggered their move to file their resignations, so their version goes.

But whatever really happened, this episode is an indication that the relationship between the brothers-in-law is not improving. It turned from bland to sour.

The apparent falling out is being interpreted by most people as a sure sign the “magbilas” are headed to a showdown for the mayorship in 2019.

Trenas has announced last week that upon the egging of most barangay captains in the city, he decided to run again for city mayor in next year’s elections, a move that didn’t sit well with Joe III. As the incumbent local chief executive, Joe III feels he deserved to have a say on who was running for what position. Joe III felt that Trenas couldn’t just presume to be the kingpin everybody would just obey on political decisions like this.

The unfolding events caused a lot of excitement among local political figures who sensed that a head-on collision between the “magbilas” was going to open opportunities for them.

A combined political machinery of Trenas and Joe III (the latter just having put his own imprint on the political landscape after he succeeded to the mayorship five months ago) would be formidable. If they could agree on running together, almost nobody has a fair chance of surviving the political juggernaut they could deploy. The dismissal of Jed Patrick E. Mabilog as city mayor last October meant that the political game has become, or could be, a family affair.

The classic “divide-and-conquer” principle is clearly on everybody’s mind with what is happening. That’s the reason some are encouraging it, adding fuel to the fire.

I’m not inclined to believe the brewing quarrel will not be resolved.

In the end, the interests of the family will triumph over personal and petty issues. The issue here is about respect, or the perceived lack of it, shown by one toward the other. Trenas and Joe III are tied by a powerful umbilical cord — the Sarabia family. This is the reason why the voices now emerging from both camps are now starting to be more sober, less provocative.

But should the situation not change, and get worse, then it presents a ripe opportunity for other political figures to rise to the occasion. I would expect these politicians to form alliances with either Trenas or Joe III. If the “magbilas” collide for the mayorship, then the congressional seat for the lone district will become open season.

Overpriced City Hall is also a haunted building with ‘ghost employees’

Overpriced City Hall is also a haunted building with 'ghost employees'

The Liberal Party candidate for city mayor of Iloilo City is embroiled in a scandal after a whistle blower exposed the existence of “ghost job hires” in the Mabilog administration.
Millions of pesos are believed to be siphoned by this syndicate linked to Mabilog every month by simply padding payrolls with names who do not really work and do not receive salaries.

Whistle blower confirms ‘ghost job hires’ in Iloilo City Hall

Whistle blower confirms 'ghost job hires' in Iloilo City Hall

A former NPA commander who has returned to the folds of the law 22 years ago confirmed yesterday (May 9) that he and 24 other persons from his barangay in Jaro, Iloilo City are ghost job hire employees of Jed Patrick Mabilog.
Macario Aloquin said a syndicate in the Mabilog administration has been collecting their wages amounting to P6,880 a month since October 2012 even though none of them are really working.
Aloquin said he discovered from payroll records that his name continues to be listed in a job hire contract for the period March 1-June 30, 2013 even though he has cut his ties from Mabilog since December 2012.

The ‘baluktot’ gang strikes again

I received a text message shortly after lunch on Friday, March 15, that BIR commissioner Kim Henares had just concluded a press conference informing the Iloilo media about the elevation of the agency’s case against UNA mayoralty candidate Rommel Ynion to the Court of Tax Appeals. The charge: that Rommel Ynion had a tax deficiency of P46 million (down from the original claim of P84 million) from the operations of his businesses in previous years.

At first, it didn’t register in my mind that Henares conducted her press conference in Iloilo City. When I did, I suddenly realized that Rommel Ynion is now battling with the national government itself —- the Aquino administration. What wrongs have Rommel Ynion committed to warrant such a full-scale attack from the national government? There are so many tax cheats around, and they hardly merit time and space from the BIR (ina-areglo lang ang kaso).

The answer is politics. Henares quipped that she isn’t aware that Rommel Ynion is a candidate for city mayor. Who would believe her on that? Why was sent over to Iloilo City to hold the press conference? And why the haste in bringing the case to the Court of Tax Appeals? Somebody must really be so eager to put Rommel Ynion in bad light.

This is apparently another handiwork of the “baluktot” gang in Iloilo City, the gang of politicians who are raking hundreds of millions of pesos from infrastructure projects that they banner as “development projects”. They see Rommel Ynion as a threat to their rackets, and they want him out of the way. President Aquino is being misled about the true state of things in Iloilo City. The crooks are on his side, not on the other side.

Is President Aquino being blinded about the rampant corruption of Jed Patrick Mabilog and Jerry Trenas? Is he aware of the corruption in the Hall of Justice? Instead of a “matuwid na daan”, we are seeing a crooked road in Iloilo City, and the guys on the deck are this gang of three — Drilon, Trenas and Mabilog. Well, if their purpose is to harass and persecute, Rommel Ynion has vowed to fight to the last breath exposing the truth about the corruption. He will not surrender to this arrogant abuse of power.

An empty threat

Few people showed interest when Senator Franklin Drilon led public officials in the ground breaking of a P300 million road widening project for the Benigno Aquino Ave. (better known as Diversion Road) in Iloilo City. Ilonggos were more interested in what he had to say about the controversial retrofitting of the Hall of Justice.

Reporters who covered the event remarked that Drilon’s face darkened in irritation, and even anger, when a question about the Hall of Justice anomaly was thrown at him. In arrogant fashion, Drilon threatened to send anybody found responsible for any anomaly. But he made it clear that whoever is complaining should show proof about the anomaly.

That remark (or threat) raised eye brows among Ilonggos. How could anybody be charged for the anomaly when Drilon himself isn’t too keen about conducting an investigation? Why didn’t he lead a Senate investigation into this project? After all, it’s his name that’s being dragged into this mess. It would be to his interest to clear the air on the issue.

Perhaps Drilon thinks he can glaze over the ugly scandal with promises of more projects. Ilonggos are sick and tired of the corruption here. The Pavia Housing Scam. The San Isidro relocation scam. The City Hall scam. So much money have been stolen from the people. The time to end all of this is now. And the elections on May 13, 2013 will provide that opportunity.


Iloilo City Hall ‘corrupt’ – business sector

Mabilog declares war vs Panay News

City Mayor Jed Patrick E. Mabilog has zero tolerance for a critical media. He prevented Panay News from being peddled in the Iloilo Esplanada on Saturday, Aug. 18. This is an assault on press freedom. He doesn’t own the Esplande. Read the link below:


Mabilog declares war vs Panay News.

Questions for COA (Part 2)

More than two years have now gone by since the anomalous bidding was conducted by the Iloilo City government for the City Hall building project with an approved budget for the contract (ABC) of P455 million. Apparently, the contractor, F. F. Cruz and Co./Freyssinet Filipinas joint venture, had already been paid its price tag of P368 million. The Commission on Audit (COA) did not find anything wrong with the bidding process and the project implementation.

With that irregularity having been allowed to go unmolested, COA, supposedly the official watchdog against corruption and fraud in government transactions, allowed the theft of more than a hundred million pesos. It validates the perception that COA has lost its sting, a toothless tiger that can hardly murmur its protest when powerful politicians snarl at its officials. It shows that its auditors play the role of the three monkeys — hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil — to the detriment of the public interest.

But the negligence, incompetence and plain ignorance of COA auditors did not end there. In the middle of last year, City Mayor Jed Patrick E. Mabilog announced the supplementary works for the completion of the monumental anomaly would be awarded to the same contractor through negotiated procurement. In other words, the second contract wouldn’t undergo the competitive bidding process that is enshrined in Republic Act No. 9184, or the Government Procurement Reform Act.

Ostensibly, Mabilog wanted no delays in the project. At that time, he had wanted the building ready for inauguration when the city government celebrated its 74th charter day anniversary. It was apparent, however, he wanted to push the contract on a silver platter so that his bloated P260 million price tag won’t be reduced in a public bidding. That supplementary contract, as confessed by the city’s own project consultant, Conrado Goco, could be finished with just P45 million. Naturally, other bidders can offer to do it for P50 million and still reap big profits.

Efficiency and cost-cutting were apparently not in Mabilog’s agenda when he pushed for the award of the supplementary contract to the same contractor. He wasn’t inclined to make sure Ilonggo taxpayers are not burdened by extravagant, unnecessary expenses by its government. The obvious motivation is maximizing the “cut”, or the “kickback”. That purpose could not be achieved if the contract is undertaken through public bidding.

It was the media that raised the issue about a negotiated contract being inapplicable, hence, illegal, for the supplementary works. This forced Mabilog to seek the counsel of the COA if indeed he could not avail of a provision in RA 9184, particularly its Implementing Rules and Regulations, that defines the circumstances under which negotiated procurement is allowable. The phrase “adjacent and contiguous” is the general standard here, but it covers only similar scopes of work.

As Atty. Quintin Magsico, an expert on the government procurement law, put it, “you have to be able to compare apple with apple in computing the unit costs” for the new contract. In this case, that was not possible, because the scopes of work were entirely different from the original contract. The first contract involved civil works, or the structure itself, and involved concrete and steel bars. The second contract involved the electrical, plumbing, firefighting, data cabling, partitions and other components for the operation of an office building. There is no basis for price comparison.

I spoke with Ms. Ofelia T. Demegillo, the audit team leader of COA, and she disclosed the agency had advised Mabilog that the supplementary works would have to undergo public bidding. Basically, she validated our observation that the supplementary works didn’t meet the standards set by RA 9184 for negotiated procurement. After that meeting with COA, Mabilog also conceded defeat. He announced a “transparent and competitive public bidding” for Phase Two of the project.

The promised public bidding, however, never happened. Mabilog deceived his own constituents. He lulled the public into believing he would follow the law. The weeks went by, and nothing was heard from him. All of a sudden, sometime in October, workers of the project contractor were back at the site and resume their construction activities. The media noticed it, and asked Mabilog. Sheepishly, he admitted the contract had been awarded to the F. F. Cruz and Co./Freyssinet Filipinas joint venture.

What happened to the COA statement that the supplementary works did not fall under the “adjacent and contiguous” category? When probed by reporters, Mabilog and his chief legal officer Atty. Jose Junio Jacela said “COA advised us it was okay to do so.” Was there a change of heart on the part of COA?

COA owes the public an explanation. It can’t keep quiet on this issue. The first contract was a huge anomaly. The second contract is not yet fully paid, hence, there’s still an opportunity for COA to stop the hemorrhage of public funds. All in all, the city has earmarked P710 million for the project. About half of that amount represents the overprice. Will the COA give its stamp of approval?

If that happens, then we might as well seek the amendment of the constitution and disband COA. The City Hall project will be a monument to its ineptness in stopping corruption.

Questions for COA (Part 1)

It’s hard to get information from the Commission on Audit. Almost everything that it handles is shrouded in a veil of secrecy. But it doesn’t mean we will just resign to this sense of helplessness. We have to bring the case to the general public. If it doesn’t fulfill its constitutional mandate, then we could demand accountability through media. We need to keep the people informed.

With this in mind, I will list several questions for COA pertaining to the scandalous Iloilo City Hall project. The contractor has cleared the temporary fence in front of the project to get it ready for the formal turn-over to the city government. Now the facade of the building is fully visible to passers-by, and constituents can get a close-up look at what could be the most expensive City Hall in the country.

Let me mention that City Mayor Jed Patrick E. Mabilog must really be pissed off that the project wasn’t ready for inauguration last weekend. I know he had wanted to show off the building and deodorize the stink by inviting President Benigno Simeon Aquino III and U.S. Ambassador Harry Thomas. It’s a good thing they avoided legitimizing the anomalies by gracing the inauguration.

First, I would like to ask COA what it has done about the anomalous major revision of the project’s building plans and specifications about two weeks before the dropping of bids. When a project is advertised for bidding, its specifications are as complete as possible, with the approved budget for the contract (ABC) indicated. In this case, the original solicitation of bids called for a complete building, ready for occupancy, with all the amenities included. The estimated cost was P455 million.

Republic Act No. 9184 allows the agency undertaking the project to issue bid bulletins for “modifications” to clarify ambiguities or supply more detail to the plans to help the contractors make a responsive bid offer. There is no room for misunderstanding here. “Modification” means minor changes in the specifications, or tightening up the specs to avoid any miscalculation. It doesn’t change the essence of the project. It was supposed to be a complete building, RFO (acronym for ready for occupancy).

But the administration of then City Mayor Jerry P. Trenas introduced a gigantic anomaly when it revised the plans and specifications. It removed major components of the projects and left only the structural shell. In an instant, the project was changed from a complete City Hall to just its skeletal structure with outer walls. No elevators. No electrical and data wiring. No firefighting system. No elevated parking. No partitions and furniture. No airconditioning. And more.

By simply issuing a bid bulletin under the guise of a “modification”, the Trenas administration carved out nearly one-half of the original project. There was no justification. And it was done in treachery. Nobody outside the mayor’s office knew that the city government was putting up a half-finished City Hall.

Normally, such drastic changes in the project specifications, in which major parts or components are removed from the scopes of work, would require a reduction of the estimated costs. That’s only logical, because the removal of major scopes of work meant less costs for materials, labor and overhead.

Here lies the first big anomaly — the Trenas administration kept the ABC at P455 million. In effect, it was going to pay an amount equal to the whole for just half of the project. It is a giant swindle pulled off by the local chief executive.

It wasn’t surprising that the winning bidder submitted an offer for P368 million. Trenas was jubilant in announcing the award of the contract to F. F. Cruz and Co./Freyssinet Filipinas joint venture. It represented a savings of P87 million, he boasted. Indeed, such a drop in the winning bid should be cause for rejoicing for an agency that wants to implement a project with economy.

It was a false boast, however. With the revision of the project specs, the real cost estimate for the project should have been 50% lower, or P270 million. At P368 million, the contractor was still going to reap an overprice of P98 million, a huge bonanza that is clearly bound to be divided among top officials of the city.

The Bids and Awards Committee, apparently acting upon orders of Trenas, distorted the meaning of the word “modification” and dismembered the building to pave the way for a huge windfall. It smacks of dishonesty, fraud and simple corruption! I feel like puking at the calm demeanor of Trenas in claiming to have saved P87 million!

Will the COA pretend not to have seen anything or heard anything about this? Will it cover-up the glaring irregularity which makes a mockery of the law? Sadly, its actions don’t seem to point to safeguarding the public interest. It doesn’t seem inclined to stop the irregularity based on this unlawful “modification”. That transaction took place two years ago yet.

This is a clear case of graft and corruption that will haul Trenas and other officials of the city government before the Sandiganbayan. It’s not really too late for COA to prove it’s made of tougher stuff. It can expose this anomaly and file charges before the Ombudsman.

The rise and fall of Jepoy Celiz (Part I)

It ended almost as abruptly as it began. Jeffrey Celiz, former “post boy of the left” as a female journalist described him, swiftly rose to prominence when City Mayor Jed Patrick E. Mabilog designated him as official spokesman about half a year ago. Last Friday, Celiz plummeted to the ground, facing a future in obscurity, after Mabilog replaced him with Lucy Montealto-Sinay.

The move represents a dramatic turn in Mabilog’s communications strategy. Celiz was combative; Ms. Sinay is calm and unassuming. Insults and foul language constituted the armory of Celiz; Ms. Sinay will stick to facts and figures. Celiz behaved like he was the assistant city mayor, overshadowing a host of senior officials in City Hall. Ms. Sinay knows her place in the organization. Celiz was used to intimidation, and liked to give people the dagger look, often using his past association with the NPA to frighten enemies. Ms. Sinay will use charm and persuasion.

Celiz fell with a loud thud. Within minutes of Celiz’s being stripped of the job, word spread like wildfire through text messages in the local media community that the loud-mouth had been plastered. Celiz was no longer spokesman. Mabilog has had enough of his foul language. The city mayor realized that instead of helping clarify issues, his erstwhile spokesman only served to deepen the controversies. Rather than fend off charges and serve as lightning rod, Celiz succeeded in antagonizing more people and turned believers into non-believers.

Now that we can talk of the imbecile in the past tense, let’s examine what happened in clinical fashion and understand why Celiz fell as quickly as he rose. His case is instructive to those who might join this business of communications.

No leader can shrug off communications as an important component of his or her leadership strategy. It is the leaders link to his or her followers. A leader must keep in mind that success depends largely on the support from the masses.

CREDIBILITY. The first flaw we found in Celiz was the lack of credibility. From day one, he was a monster — a Frankenstein — who spewed tons and tons of words without delivering an iota of truth. Who could possibly believe him? Only a few years ago, Celiz screamed in condemnation against corruption. All of a sudden, he was trying to defend corruption. His role as spokesman and defender of the throne was a big anomaly. He was ill-suited for the job. And his style underwent no change; it was tailor-fit for the “protest and condemn” mode.

Even the language used by Celiz was not appropriate for the role as spokesman. He forgot that he was an alter ego of his principal, Mabilog. By firing off expletives, curses, insults and the like, he was painting an ugly picture of Mabilog. His language became the language of Mabilog.

As a result, businessmen and citizens who had supported Mabilog were shocked and terrified. How could they support a leader who was cloaked in scandal and used profane language? Celiz didn’t realize he was no longer in the streets. When he joined City Hall, he should have undergone a personality change. His manners and language should have turned from coarse to refined.

ARROGANCE. It was Lord Acton who said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. The phrase aptly describes what happened to Celiz when he was given that brief opportunity to walk in the corridors of power. If there is one word that best applies to Celiz, “arrogance” would be it.

In the one-half year that he performed the role as official spokesman of the city mayor, Celiz oozed with arrogance. His actions smacked of abuse of power. He harassed people. He assaulted the mayor’s enemies verbally and through the “adobo ilonggo” blogs that he maintained with the “lin-ay sang sinadya sa suba”. He usurped authority and stepped on the toes of his own co-workers in the Iloilo City Hall. He loved power and he wasn’t shy about it.

In a way, Celiz became a victim of his own making. Celiz spent a great deal of time concocting schemes to undermine his rivals for Mabilog’s attention. One antic he liked to do was to create issues about his co-workers in City Hall and feed these to media. When radio commentators bring up such issues on their programs and start hitting Mabilog, Celiz would quickly call them up and deflect the issues against his boss. This way, his co-workers looked bad to Mabilog and he would be the “hero”.

Among those he stabbed in the back were City Administrator Norlito Bautista, Senior Special Assistant Victor Facultad and erstwhile media liaison officer Richard “Boboy” Sombero. He also liked to spread falsehood about radio and newspaper personalities who dared make negative comments about Mabilog. He often posted unsavory blog comments about certain media personalities being on the payroll of Rommel S. Ynion. He was a master of black propaganda.

What he didn’t figure was the ability of his rivals in City Hall to hit back at him. Stupidity is a trademark of Celiz, and his enemies in the Mabilog inner circle were quick to point them out to the city mayor. They found allies in the business sector, especially the Filipino-Chinese, who found Celiz’s tactics to be self-defeating. It reached a point that Mabilog could no longer stomach the blunders and misdeeds of Celiz. On Friday, he was told he was no longer official spokesman.