Family feud Part 3

There are as yet no signs that the strained relationship between brothers-in-law (their wives are sisters) Iloilo City Mayor Joe Espinosa III and Congressman Jerry P. Treñas over their political plans for 2019.

While both politicians seem to have turn down the volume on the dispute, each side is trying to consolidate their forces by going down to the barangay level and talk with the leaders.

Two days ago, Espinosa met with barangay captains in the Jaro district over coffee. A few days before, Espinosa had also scheduled a meeting with barangay captains from Mandurriao. However, the meeting had to scrapped at the last minute when the city mayor got wind of their plans to snub his invitation. This morning, it was the turn of barangay captains from Lapaz to sit down with Joe III for coffee.

Based on information I have gathered, these meetings put a lot of pressure on the barangay captains. Many didn’t want to appear disloyal to Trenas by joining the city mayor for coffee. My contacts told me the meetings didn’t dwell on politics. Joe III deliberately steered the discussion away from politics.

Trenas also went on his own sorties down to the barangay level, meeting with officials, senior citizens and other leaders. The congressman is now serving a 90-day preventive suspension handed down by the Sandiganbayan in connection with alleged violation of COA rules and regulations in the disbursement of funds to the Iloilo Press Club more than 10 years ago. He’s got plenty of time to go around.

From the looks of it, Trenas enjoys the upperhand if barangay captains and kagawads are concerned. Those who did attend the coffee chats with Joe III wanted to tell the city mayor that they want to see the brothers-in-law patching up their differences and run together as they have in the past — Jerry as city mayor, and Joe III as congressman. However, not a single one of them was able to do that, according to my sources. Joe III did not allow them to talk about the possible showdown in 2019.

What is intriguing about this deteriorating relationship between Jerry and Joe III is the possible cause of it all: sibling rivalry. Their wives are sisters. I think it was Novie Guazo of RMN 774 who insinuated that this is becoming a battle of first ladies. It’s obvious much will depend on how the sisters — Rosalie (wife of Jerry) and Gina (wife of Joe III) — navigate this turbulent sea of local politics.

Positioning

The political season has definitely started for Iloilo City.

Last week, Long District Cong. Jerry P. Trenas, although still serving a 90-day preventive suspension from the Sandiganbayan, met with barangay officials and other grass-roots leaders in an apparent effort to get his political machinery warmed up. For several days, his office beside the Iloilo Fire Station was crowded with people from all walks of life. He reiterated his announcement about running for City Mayor once more and asked for their pledge of support. These meetings were buttered by P500 for each individual as “allowance”.

On the other hand, City Mayor Joe Espinosa III also convened a meeting of job hires — the backbone of the political juggernaut for as long as we can remember — with a similar agenda.  The job hires, which usually reach a peak of 5,000 people during an election year, were reminded on where their continued stay in City Hall depended on: the appointing authority.

This is rather amusing because all these happened as everybody else just sat still, waiting for developments to unfold. There was hardly a stirring in the “opposition camp”. The general mood was “wait-and-see” as this quarrel between brothers-in-law unfolded. Will this cold war worsen and ignite an all-out war between erstwhile allies? Or will cooler heads succeed in repairing the relationship which used to look like a Batman-and-Robin partnership?

Meanwhile, there are politicians waiting in the winds, waiting for cues as to what they will do next. Vice Mayor Jeffrey Ganzon, former Councilor Lex Tupas and former Councilor Jam-Jam Baronda are among those eyeing either the mayorship or congressional seat. Their decisions will depend on how this quarrel between Trenas and Espinosa will play out.

If a collision is inevitable, then Tupas and Baronda can aspire for the congressional seat. They would just need to ally with one of the two factions. Ganzon, although he is perceived to be the strongest aside from Trenas and Espinosa, lacks the financial capability. I would not be surprised if he is recruited as running mate by either one of the two. Ganzon would be the favorite for vice mayor in 2019 if that happens.

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.

A squabble in the making?

I had coffee with regular habitues of the Glory Kapehan in the infamous Iloilo City Central Market this morning, and the topic was the political landscape in 2016.
While the political bonds between city mayor Jed Patrick E. Mabilog and congressman Jerry Trenas are intact, there seems to be fissures building up underneath due to the anticipated showdown for the Presidency.
A barangay captain whispered to me that there could be a confrontation between Mabilog and Trenas because of their candidates for President. Trenas is openly for Mar Roxas of the Liberal Party while Mabilog is traipsing with front runner Vice President Jojo Binay.
The root of this likely squabble is the fact that Mabilog’s ever-loyal Voltes V in the city council are now displaying their support for Binay. This is not going to sit well with Trenas, who doesn’t Roxas to doubt his own loyalty.
The unfolding of this drama will be greatly interesting.

Reckless endangerment?

I have long been cautioned by family and friends about dwelling into “dangerous issues” like corruption, illegal drugs and crime in Iloilo City. The concern is valid. There is a history of violence against media people who bravely report stories, and make commentaries, about them. In fact, law enforcement authorities have issued advisories that “clear and present threats” have existed against me specifically. Why push the issue? I am always asked.

My answer has always been the same. If I don’t expose these stories, then nobody will. These criminals (to include public officials engaged in graft) will feel free to do as they please, and the situation can only turn from bad to worse. To my mind, my personal efforts might seem puny, and futile, against the rising power of corruption and organized crime in Iloilo City. But at the moment, it’s the only serious effort to stem the tide.

I feel bad that many agencies mandated with stopping corruption and crime are failing at their jobs. The Commission on Audit and the Ombudsman have moved at a snail’s pace in investigating complaints against corruption. It is frustrating. As I wrote a top COA official recently, lives have been put at risk for the sake of exposing corruption, and yet the agency isn’t giving the issues the urgency that these deserve. The Ombudsman is moving quicker and faster than during the time of Tanodbayan Merceditas Gutierrez, but it still takes too long for cases to be resolved. One needs to be persistent in doing follow up work on these complaints to prod them to action.

The Philippine National Police is losing the war against crime. In Iloilo City, several policemen have been killed, or wounded, in drug-related violence. Unfortunately, no suspects have been identified. No prosecution of cases has been carried out. It definitely does not create public confidence to see the PNP unable to pin down even those who kill or wound uniformed men and women. If cop killers can get away with murder, then it follows that killers of ordinary people will find an easier time eluding the wheels of justice.

My commentaries won’t be able to stop corruption, illegal drugs and murder. But I can’t give up on trying to awaken those officials who might just be able to restore decency and a sense of justice to our society. I can’t stop writing to inform our people about the ugly things that are taking place in the hope that they, too, will convey a message of collective anger over the situation.

 

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.

Barangay tanods in Barangay Monica armed to the teeth

Barangay Tanods (village watchmen) in Barangay Monica, City Proper, Iloilo City wield high-powered rifles in this photo posted by Jing Jing Espinosa. This is the barangay where his wife is the Punong Barangay (barangay captain). Under existing laws, these barangay tanods are not authorized to carry firearms. But the law doesn’t exist in this barangay where Jing Jing Espinosa is the high lord, with Jed Patrick E. Mabilog and Jerry Trenas as his patrons.

Drug lord’s FB cover photo

This is the latest cover photo on the Facebook account of Jesus “Jing Jing” Espinosa Jr. who goes by the name “Jacob NO Fear Espinosa”:

Screen capture of the Facebook profile of Jesus “Jing Jing” Espinosa Jr. under his account name “Jacob NO Fear Espinosa” showing him together with Congressman Jerry P. Trenas as a proud testament of their deep friendship. This illustrates how deep narco politics has penetrated the upper reachers of political power in Iloilo City.

Jing Jing uploads new slide.ly album

Iloilo City’s emerging drug lord Jing Jing Espinosa posted another slide show of photographs together with City Mayor Jed Patrick E. Mabilog, Congressman Jerry Trenas and other city officials. It shows that the parties with these politicians are frequent, and their friendship is above acquaintance level.

Jacob NO Fear’s Slidely from Jacob NO Fear Espinosa on Slide.ly.

Clear and present danger: city mayor and drug lords are bosom friends in Iloilo City

The first time the name of Jesus “Jing Jing” Espinosa came out in the news happened sometime in 1993 when he was accused of murdering a deaf-mute who had done nothing to provoke him.

Jing Jing, as he is popularly known, happened to pass by when the victim, Augusto Elon, was urinating in front of their house. He shot him three times at close range. The victim died instantly.

Jed is a frequent visitor to Jing Jing Espinosa’s residence in Barangay Monica. He is a godfather to one of Jing Jing’s children.

The Regional Trial Court of Iloilo found Jing Jing guilty of murder and sentenced him to 10-17 years in prison. After serving his prison term, Jing Jing returned to the “waterfront” area in Barangay Monica.

Sources in the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) said Jing Jing became friends with a known drug lord while he was in jail. They became business associates upon getting out of jail, the sources said.

“Jing Jing is now a big-time drug lord in Iloilo City,” said a relative in Barangay Monica. His house there is almost like a tower overlooking the waterfront area. It is five stories tall.

In June 2010, Jing Jing’s name again hit the news when a relative, Pascual “Toto E” Espinosa and his brother, Leo, were ambushed on Zamora St., City Proper. “Toto”, a former executive assistant at City Hall during the Malabor administration, suffered wounds but survived. Jing Jing was accused as the perpetrator.

When the case was filed before the City Prosecutor’s Office, Jing Jing asked that the entire prosecutor’s office be inhibited from handling the investigation. The case is still pending before the Department of Justice.

That was the second time “Toto E” was ambushed, allegedly by Jing Jing. In an earlier incident, “Toto E” suffered scratches after his relative allegedly fired at him near a church in the waterfront area.

According to sources, Jing Jing was also convicted of the crime of frustrated murder. The conviction is pending appeal before the Court of Appeals.

Jing Jing is described as a very violent individual. His rise as a drug lord has enabled him to control the entire waterfront area and keeps the police force assigned to the area under his beck and call, according to another relative interviewed for this article.

Because of this, the police is virtually helpless in stopping crimes taking place in the area. One resident said there is hardly a night when there are no gunfire bursts to shatter the quiet evening; the police could do nothing about it, she said.

Jing Jing Espinosa has his own private army in Barangay Monica, armed with heavy firepower. When Mabilog and Trenas visit him, even barangay tanods are issued machine pistols to beef up security.

“Jing Jing is untouchable in the waterfront, and this is largely because of his close friendship with Iloilo City Mayor Jed Patrick E. Mabilog,” an informant in the area said.

Mabilog, the informant said, is a frequent visitor to Jing Jing’s house. This information is validated by the numerous photographs that surfaced over social media networks these last few days showing Mabilog and Jing Jing together.

“Mabilog is the godfather of one of Jing Jing’s children,” said another source. “Mag-kumpare sila,” he added.

When Mabilog was asked about his association with Jing Jing, he told local media there was nothing wrong with it. He even dismissed the issue as “non-sense”.

But the spread of the photographs showing Mabilog and Jing Jing on intimate terms shows many Ilonggos are bothered by this friendship.

Former Iloilo City congressman Raul Gonzalez Jr. sent a text message that in Davao City, drug pushers flee upon seeing the approach of former City Mayor, and now Vice Mayor, Rodrigo Duterte.

“In Iloilo City, our city mayor and congressman (Jerry P. Trenas) even wine and dine with drug lords,” Gonzalez said.

One of the photographs that circulated on the Internet also shows Trenas, along with Vice Mayor Joe Espinosa III and Liga ng mga Barangay federation president Bobby Divinagracia, enjoying a meal with Jing Jing.

There are worries that the intimacy between Mabilog and Jing Jing is the reason the illegal drugs problem has flourished in Iloilo City.

“Mabilog has kept a tight rein on law enforcement authorities and prevented them from pursuing drug pushers in the city,” one police officer, who asked not to be identified, said.