A family feud

Is the rift between City Mayor Joe III Espinosa and Congressman Jerry Trenas real?
Until now there are still doubts as to how deep this quarrel is, especially after executive assistants identified with Trenas were asked to step down from their posts last week.
Even I wasn’t so sure, knowing how far back the relationship between Joe III and JPT is. Both went into politics together, and nothing has come between them. Well, until recently.
It seems JPT has misjudged Joe III.
All these years, Joe III has played the role of loyal political lieutenant, just contented with whatever role his “bilas” gave him.
In 2010, JPT and Joe III, along with Jed Patrick Mabilog, formed the backbone of the political juggernaut that seemed destined to rule Iloilo City for a considerably long time.
But even as early as 2013, the question was where would Joe III go after JPT and Jed finished their third term in 2019.
A rigodon was expected to take place in 2019 with JPT and Jed switching positions, with Jerry reclaiming the city mayor position and Jed taking over as congressman.
A solution suddenly arose last year when JPT announced he was quitting politics. This removed a potential conflict because Joe III could then run for city mayor and Jed to become congressman.
Everything seemed headed for a smooth transition for the “Uswang, Sulong and Arangka” team.
Then, Jed was dismissed from public office based on two cases I had filed a few years ago.
With JPT no longer in the running as he declared, and Mabilog out for good, the coast was clear for Joe III to take.
He was now City Mayor, and he started planning for his eventual election to the position to which he succeeded. The game plan looked so simple. With JPT backing him up, Joe III seemed to have the position as City Mayor on a silver platter.
What the public didn’t know was that the relationship between the two in-laws was starting to deteriorate. Despite their affinity — their wives are sisters — JPT and Joe III haven’t communicated with each other for quite some time now.
Perhaps JPT regarded Joe III as the political lightweight who depended on him for his continued survival and thought the new mayor would just obey his every command.
Joe III must have felt he deserved some respect. After all, he was now the City Mayor. He was no longer the “sidekick” who just followed what the boss dictated as to his political future.
(To be continued)

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.



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?


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.


An enemy from within

There’s no mistaking the fact that the battle against illegal drugs is as difficult as repulsing a foreign invader, or even harder.
That’s because the enemy is hard to detect. The pusher is not just the street pug that was the stereotype in the past. Now even a public school teacher has been caught selling drugs. Barangay officials, too, have been nabbed in buy-bust operations. They are like the Vietcong whom the Americans had to fight half a century ago in the ricefields of Vietnam: by day ordinary farmers, by night fierce warriors.
We have to accept the reality that this battle can be waged in a rule of law setting. As we have seen time and again, drug lords and pushers can afford the best legal minds to defend them in court. And even in jail, they continue to run the illegal drugs trade with impunity.
For this alone, I am prepared to see President Duterte do it with brute force. Of course, he just has to be cautioned not to waste human lives. Just the same, the authorities should not hesitate to use force when it is deemed necessary.

Political agenda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The voice of hope

I must confess I was surprised at the images posted on Facebook these last few weeks showing Rommel Ynion doing house-to-house campaigning for his bid for a city council seat in Iloilo City as an independent.

I told myself, “This isn’t the same Rommel Ynion I knew in 2012, the guy who disdained having to wake up early to head out for the trenches, so to speak, and touch flesh with the people.”

Back then, the campaign staff literally had to haul Ynion from his bedroom to get him on the road to shake hands with people and convince them he was the better candidate for City Mayor after the 45-day campaign period had started.

Hardly a day had passed these last few weeks without seeing Ynion, trailed by an army of youth volunteers and women leaders in the barangays, doing house-to-house campaigning.

The intensity of his campaign showed Ynion is a different man than the mayoralty candidate I helped campaign for three years ago. Determination is written all over his face as he ignored the searing hot sun to meet constituents.

Nothing can stop us

“Nothing can stop us now.”

But nothing prepared me for the images that were splashed all over Facebook last week: Ynion campaigned even when a downpour kept everybody else indoors. That he was drenched from head to toe didn’t slow him down.

“I am doing this campaign as if my life depended on it,” Ynion told me over the phone a few days ago. He learned from his mistakes in the 2013 elections. He’s not about to commit the same mistakes all over again.

I haven’t had the opportunity to join Ynion in these house-to-house sorties, but with the help of Facebook, I have been able to track almost his every activity.

And the one thing that struck me in looking at the pictures is the delight that brightened the people’s faces when they shook hands with Ynion.

To his own surprise, many people he met on the dirt paths and bamboo-slat footbridges that he had to traverse to get to the innermost parts of the city — where the poorest of the poor lived — profusely thanked him for the help he had extended to them.

“I don’t remember having met you before, nor having done anything to help you,” he said time and again to these constituents. Then the people showed him the nebulizers that he had distributed three years ago, the DVD players and even toilet bowls in their shanties. Unknown to him, the Ynion name became a permanent fixture in their homes. His nebulizers even saved lives, he was told.

Salamat Rommel

Everywhere Ynion goes, there is always a heart warming scene of people thanking him for help he can’t even remember having made.

As a veteran political strategist, I had always counseled Ynion to devote more effort at house-to-house campaigning. I told him the people wanted to see him, touch him, and convey their gratitude to him in person. This is the greatest lesson I got from my former boss, the late Governor Niel Tupas Sr. I was extremely happy to see he heeded my advice.

The positive response to Ynion’s person-to-person campaigning has drawn a great amount of excitement among the people. All of a sudden, surveys conducted by RMN 774 showed Ynion in the top 6 among the prospective 12 winners in the elections. It is clear his name, and his message of hope (“paglaum”), are reaching the deepest recesses of the city.

There is reason for me to believe he might land on the number one slot.

With his down-to-earth style of relating with people, Ynion evoked memories of the late Evelio Javier when he was a young candidate for Governor of Antique back in the 70s running against the established political dynasties in his province.

One image that stuck to my mind about the Evelio Javier political campaign was his ability to draw children to accompany him in his sorties. The kids carried coconut palm branches as if these were rifles, and they were his praetorian guard to protect him. Antique was then known for private armies and the use of violence during elections. The children volunteered to be his bodyguards.

This time, Ynion is accompanied by youth volunteers, young adults who want to do their share in bringing change to a city constantly rocked by scandals of corruption, illegal drugs and murders in broad daylight (and some at night).

“My campaign has taken on a paradigm shift,” Ynion told me. “In the past, campaigns were always run by the older members of the community, and I fell into that tradition in the 2013 elections. Now I have involved the youth.”

Young kids pose with their idol

This campaign is dedicated to the next generation of Ilonggos – Ynion

Youth never fails to punctuate the message of hope. Ynion’s volunteers are aged between 18 to 25. Their sector constitutes the broadest segment of voters. And they are the most driven to campaign hard.

“I am truly amazed at the energy and devotion shown by my volunteers,” Ynion said, his eyes moistening as pride and gratitude swelled inside him.

During the first salvo for his campaign, the Ynion volunteers literally stormed the city’s barangays, leaping from one area to another to put up the orange-colored tarps showing his image with a simple caption: “Tingog sang Paglaum”.

And even when they ran into a wall of harassment by barangay leaders who wanted to lick the behinds of the incumbent officials — with their tarps torn down almost as soon as these were tacked on house walls and lamp posts — the kids refused to surrender. They simply came back with more tarps. For them, no intimidation, and threats of violence, could stop this orange wave from spreading and engulfing Iloilo City.

Tarps on parade cropped

The orange tide is spreading rapidly.

Ynion has taken a break from his campaign activities for the Christmas holidays. “For the next two weeks, I will spend every waking minute with them and shower them with hugs and kisses,” he said. He wants to “deposit” large amounts of love and care to his two children that should last them until election day. “After New Year, I will be back on the campaign trail and finish what I had set out to do,” he added.

Elections are still a good five months away. But this early, it is safe to bet that Ynion will secure a seat for himself in the City Council and become a voice for hope for the people.

More questions on Odicta habeas corpus

After I exposed the circumstances that surrounded the release of Melvin “Boyet” Odicta Sr. on June 7, 1995, particularly on the dubious legality of the writ of habeas corpus issued by Muntinlupa City RTC Branch 276 Judge Norma C. Perello, I was swamped with more leads that raise more questions about the whole affair.

Over coffee, I solicited the view of retired Guimaras RTC Judge Merlin Deloria on whether or not the issuance of a writ of habeas corpus was proper in basically shortening the prison sentence of Odicta, who was convicted for selling marijuana to undercover narcotics agents of the defunct PC/INP way back in March 1993 and sentence to life imprisonment.

At first, Judge Deloria was reluctant to give his opinion. He was totally in the dark about the case, he said. So I outlined to him the facts of the case from the conviction by the Iloilo RTC to the Supreme Court affirmation of the conviction and then the filing of the petition for a writ of habeas corpus.

After I had covered the breadth and length of the case in a span of 10 minutes, Judge Deloria asked me the question: “Where was he detained at the time he filed the petition for a writ of habeas corpus before the Muntinlupa RTC?”

Judge Deloria was once my professor in Taxation in law school, and I always admired his sharp analytical mind that made him one of the favorite professors in all the years he was teaching at the University of San Agustin in Iloilo City.

At once, I saw his brilliant mind at work with that question.  The National Bilibid Prison was in Muntinlupa City, making the RTC Branch 276 a proper venue for the filing of such action. But I knew that Odicta wasn’t confined at the Bilibid prison. He was serving his sentence at the Sablayan Penal Colony in Mindoro Occidental.

Judge Deloria’s question tackled the issue of jurisdiction. If Odicta was confined in Mindoro Occidental, then the Muntinlupa RTC had no jurisdiction over him.

The doubtful legality of the writ of habeas corpus as legal basis for Odicta’s release from prison didn’t end there. Judge Deloria said he didn’t think the habeas corpus proceedings was sufficient to overturn the final conviction and sentence to life imprisonment based on R.A. 7659 that revised the schedule of penalties.

There should have been a separate petition for Odicta to avail of the shorter prison term under R.A. 7659, according to Judge Deloria.

With this development, the Aksyon Radyo Iloilo management is planning to file a petition before the Supreme Court seeking the nullification of the writ of habeas corpus. Odicta had filed a libel complaint against anchorman Jun Capulot, station manager and anchorman John Paul Tia and the chief executive officer of Manila Broadcasting Co.

This mulled petition to nullify the writ of habeas corpus may result in Odicta being sent back to prison and wait for a proper judicial order applying the shorter jail term in his favor.


The core issues in the Iloilo Convention Center controversy

The issue on the Iloilo Convention Center boils down to just a few major points:
1. Were there violations of the Government Procurement Reform Act, or RA 9184?
2. Is the contract reasonably priced?
3. Did the public officials involved conduct themselves in a transparent manner and demonstrated accountability?
On the first point:
Right from the start, RA 9184 was transgressed. The services of the architect were procured without undergoing through a competitive bidding process. This is now admitted by no less than DPWH Secretary Rogelio Singson who told Sandra Aguinaldo of GMA News that Megaworld “donated” the services of W. V. Coscolluela and Associates for the design of the building. Why and how that came to be was not explained. But the fact is that the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) did advertise an Invitation to Bid for an architect for this project. This was later cancelled; Senate President Drilon had already picked Coscolluela as the architect.
The competitive public bidding for Phase I was rigged. The invitation to bid for the contract, for instance, did not conform to the requirement of the IRR for RA 9184 that it should provide a brief and concise description of the project. The protocols in the bidding were also ignored and violated. There was no “competition”. The rules of the game were tampered to favor Hilmarcs Construction Corp.
On the second point (reasonableness of the contract price):
When Senate President Drilon first announced he will push for the construction of a convention center, he said its cost will amount to P300 million. He pegged it at the “industry standard” of P30,000 per square meter for first class buildings like five-star hotels. Six months later, Drilon said the cost had gone up to P450 million without telling the people how it came to be. Then it rose to P700 million. During the Dinagyang 2014, he described it as a P1-billion project. Never did he explain why the cost kept going up and up and up. The building design never changed.
The building has a total floor area of 6,400 square meters. At P30,000 per square meter, that should run to only P192 million. Even at the original cost estimate of P300 million, the project was already overpriced. But Drilon kept inflating the cost figures as more DAP funds became available for him. I challenge him to explain how he reached the figure of P1 billion for the project.
Sec. Singson, in the same interview with Sandra Aguinaldo, admitted that indeed, the industry standard is P30,000 per square meter. He also acknowledged that the SMX in the Mall of Asia cost only P26,000 per square meter. But he argued that the pricing for government projects is different. We could not compare public contracts with private contracts, he said. He did not care to elaborate. Does he mean government contracts have to factor in the kickbacks?
On the third point:
There is a total lack of transparency and accountability. Not once did we hear Drilon or Singson explain why the cost went up from P300 million to P450 million to P700 million and, (luckily we exposed it before it could take off), P1 billion. It took me nearly 10 months before I could get my hands on official records of the project from DPWH (not to mention that I had to pay P5 per page for these documents). When there is no transparency, then you can bet there is hanky-panky business going on. And true enough, I discovered that my hunch was correct.