Salt can corrode P-Noy’s anti-corruption campaign

On May 30 and 31, the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) will be conducting region-based public biddings for the supply of salt intended as fertilizer for millions of coconut trees. The contract is worth hundreds of millions of pesos, and it appears a syndicate that controlled the supply of salt to the PCA is sharpening its knives to make another big killing. This consortium of companies is working closely with PCA board director Oscar Garin Sr. It’s a relationship that began more than three years ago when he was still PCA Administrator.

Not too many people understand the money behind salt as fertilizer for coconut trees. Salt isn’t just for the dinner table; it has been found to be good fertilizer material for the “tree of life”. Indeed, we’ve always associated the images of coconut trees with beaches. They grow better, and produce more nuts, in salty environments. When this idea came to Garin, he saw an avenue to make money, not for the industry as a whole, but for his own.

It was former Agriculture Secretary Leonardo Montemayor who exposed the overpricing and rigged bidding for a P1.89 billion salt fertilization project sometime in April 2008. Of course, Garin denied any anomaly in the transaction. But sources have stepped forward to validate the reported irregularities. They also pointed to the role of Garin in covering up the collusion among bidders that the Bids and Awards Committee had uncovered. Garin made sure there were no hitches.

What was this anomaly that Garin covered up? During the bidding, the two companies that took part were found to have only one and the same person as board secretary. It was a seemingly insignificant detail, but that had earthshaking consequences. It proved that the two groups were conniving to corner the project. It was a crude attempt to rig the bidding. But this didn’t result in the blacklisting of the suppliers. Garin just glossed this anomaly over, and he allowed the transaction to proceed.

According to sources, Garin held meetings with Artemis Salt Corp. and Saltland Corp. at the Sulo Hotel to iron things out. He made it possible for the two corporations to take part in the transaction despite blatant violations of RA 9184, or the Government Procurement Law, on collusion among bidders. Of course, it needs no saying that he got his cut from the deal.

Now Garin, even though he’s been demoted to a board position in the PCA, wants to use the salt fertilization project as a fountain of money. He is reportedly jockeying to have Artemis Salt Corp., and another company, J.Y. Corp., to take part in the bidding for this year’s requirements for the salt fertilization project and corner the transaction. With Garin’s meddling, Artemis was not sanctioned by way of blacklisting.

The big question is: Will the Aquino administration allow this mockery of his anti-corruption campaign to succeed?

To make the next bidding more transparent, the PCA has split up the supply contracts to its regional offices. It is supposed to give local salt producers a better chance to get a share of this project. But it appears Garin isn’t getting the message for him to back off. He is reportedly making use of his remaining clout and influence to corner a big slice of the contract with Artemis as his front.

Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala should immediately look into this. He should demand an explanation from the PCA Bids and Awards Committee why Artemis Salt Corp. wasn’t blacklisted and is, in fact, still being allowed to transact with the PCA. Artemis Salt Corp. is also selling imported salt from Australia. If this company snares the contract, then local producers will end up holding an empty bag. It will also put to naught the President’s campaign against corruption in an agency which has been marred by scandals during the incumbency of Garin as Administrator.

A not-so-subtle hint to get out

Former (let me repeat that: FORMER) PCA administrator Oscar Garin was given a Halloween present when Malacanang announced his appointment as a board member of the Philippine Coconut Authority, an agency he headed for about five years and which he used as platform to launch a new party-list to electoral victory in the House of Representatives.

Garin was technically fired from his position by being given a lower position in the agency, and it should register in his mind that he is now being given a graceful exit from government. President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III is according him courtesy and respect as a former colleague in the House of Representatives by not throwing him out just like that. The President politely gave Garin a cushion to land on. But the message is unmistakable: YOU ARE NOT WELCOME ABOARD THE SHIP.

This happened even after the Garin family maneuvered hard to keep the patriach in his position as PCA administrator. His daughter-in-law, Rep. Janette Garin, was all over the court trying to get “ninongs” and “ninangs” to curry this big favor from the Aquino administration. It came to a point when they already boasted that Garin was going to stay as PCA administrator and ultimately get his entire family into the Liberal Party.

As it happened, the Liberal Party in Iloilo asserted its right of refusal against the Garins. Its leadership drew up a manifesto strongly opposing any move to admit the Garins into the party. Just over a month ago, no less than President Noynoy assured the Ilonggo LPs nothing of the sort will happen without their consent and approval. This demotion is a signal from the President that the voice of the Iloilo LP was heard loud and clear.

What Garin does in the next few days will determine whether he belongs to the category of the “kapit-tuko” lambasted by President Noynoy in his first 100 days speech, or take the strong hint for him to get out.

President Noy calms LP Iloilo leaders’ fears

There is yet no formal request for the Garin family to be inducted into the Liberal Party, and if its local leaders shouldn’t worry when it does happen, for their voice will be heard and given great weight before any action is taken on the matter.

This was the assurance given by no less than President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III after getting hold of the manifesto adopted by Iloilo provincial leaders of the Liberal Party expressing their concern and opposition to the reported attempt of 1st District Rep. Janette L. Garin to sneak her way into the new party in power, and in the process assuring the extended stay of her father-in-law, Oscar Garin Sr., as administrator of the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA).

Here is the full text of the letter of the President dated September 21, 2010:

“The Liberal Party

“Provincial Directorate

“Province of Iloilo

“Thank you for sending me a copy of your manifesto regarding the alleged attempt of the Garin family particularly Philippine Coconut Authority Administrator Oscar G. Garin Sr. and Cong. Janette L. Garin to be included as members of the Liberal Party. I wish to inform you that there are no formal requests for their inclusion in the Liberal Party.

“Rest assured that there will be proper consultation with you if ever we will receive such request in the future.

“Warm regards.

“Sincerely,

“BENIGNO S. AQUINO III”

The letter was warmly received by local LP leaders who had begun to worry about the “insidious” maneuvers of Cong. Janette Garin to obtain the acceptance of the national leadership of the party. After the elections, she and her father-in-law invited the victorious come-backing Senator, Franklin M. Drilon, to grace the oath-taking of the Garin family members who were voted into office. Drilon politely declined their invitation but attended the oath-taking of City Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog and Cong. Jerry Trenas on June 28.

When the closure of this avenue became obvious to them, Cong. Garin focused her efforts on befriending Cong. Niel Tupas Jr. through several intermediaries. Her machinations were also doused with cold water.

The elder Garin has managed to cling to his position and obtained an extension until Dec. 31 this year, which was the reason why Cong. Garin worked hard to gain support for their defection to the Liberal Party. She had wanted to get a new appointment for her father in law despite his notoriety at the PCA as an absentee administrator.

In their manifesto, the local LP informed the President about Garin’s background in politics.

Garin, the manifesto said, has always been quick to change parties depending on who was likely to win as President. This way, he always managed to stay in the good graces of whoever was the President of the Republic. In the last elections, Garin openly campaigned for Gibo Teodoro while maintaining a shadow organization to campaign for Manny Villar. Three days before the elections, Garin switched his support for the Liberal Party standard bearer when it became clear that he was going to win with a landslide margin.

Garin has also perfected the “art of money politics”, which is an avowed enemy of the Liberal Party. “It would be a betrayal of core party values if Garin is accepted into the party,” the local LP leaders said.

The local LP chapter also informed the President that during the 1986 snap Presidential elections, candidate Corazon C. Aquino got “zero” votes in the municipality of Guimbal where Garin’s wife, Ninfa, was the mayor. This is clear proof of Garin’s penchant for dirty politics and outright cheating just to serve his political masters, the local LP leaders said.

Garins unwelcome, say LP Iloilo leaders

From the day President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III assumed office, a political clan in Iloilo province has kept busy trying to build bridges to get themselves admitted into the new ruling party, the Liberal Party.

This “never-say-die” effort by the family of Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) administrator Oscar C. Garin Sr. was witnessed on national TV last July 26 when President Aquino delivered his first State-of-the-Nation Address (SONA) before the joint session of Congress. The entire nation saw 1st district Rep. Janette L. Garin, who was part of the reception party that accompanied President Aquino from his holding area, literally stuck to him like a leech as he made his way to the podium.  She monopolized the President’s ears as the party walked across the hall, and it’s easy to surmise what it was Rep. Garin was trying to tell him.

Acceptance to the party in power has always been a goal relentlessly pursued by the Garins. Shifting party affiliations is so easy for them as changing clothes every day.

But local LP leaders have asserted their right to first-refusal and appealed to the national leadership to reject any proposal to admit the Garins, particularly PCA head Oscar Sr. and Rep. Janette, as members. In a manifesto signed by the LP provincial directorate headed by former Gov. Niel Tupas Sr., the local LP leaders made it clear they consider the Garins unwelcome to the party because it would go against the grain of its own core values and ideals.

The Garins, local LP leaders said, are not trustworthy allies who jump from one party to another, depending on who is in power. They rejected the “politics of money” to which PCA head Oscar Garin Sr. has become known for and his involvement in alleged cheating as demonstrated by the “flat zero” result obtained by the President’s own mother, the late President Corazon C. Aquino, in Guimbal town during the February 1986 snap presidential elections. At the time, San Joaquin mayor Ninfa S. Garin, wife of the PCA administrator, was mayor of Guimbal.

Presently, the elder Garin is clinging to his position as PCA administrator despite his having been named to the position by former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Party sources say his daughter-in-law is pursuing every avenue to ingratiate themselves to the new administration that won on the battlecry, “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap.” This core value would be violated once the party allows the Garins to join, the Iloilo LP leaders complained.

During the last elections, the Garin clan openly supported the candidacy of Lakas-Kampi standard bearer Gilberto Teodoro while running a shadow organization to support Manny Villar of the Nacionalista Party. Three days before the elections, when it became clear that then Liberal Party presidential bet Noynoy Aquino was headed for a landslide victory, the Garins put up his name as their candidate of choice.

The treachery of patriach Oscar Garin Sr. is also a major reason the local LP is against his family’s admission into the party. Garin had persuaded the Tupases not to put up a congressional candidate in the 1st district with the promise that he will not support Lakas candidate Arthur Defensor Sr., who got Oscar Richard Garin Jr. as vice gubernatorial candidate. “You have to believe me,” Oscar Garin Sr. told a family gathering of the Tupases. “I will not break my word.” Several times during the campaign, Garin phoned LP gubernatorial candidate Raul “Boboy” Tupas to reassure the latter about his “word of honor”. The younger Tupas was certain to win in his district, Garin said. Jjust 10 days before the elections, Garin even told Boboy Tupas that “it’s just a matter of days, and you’ll be Governor of Iloilo.”

However, on election day, Garin gave marching orders to his machinery to defeat Boboy Tupas in the first district. Tupas lost by more than 20,000 in the 1st district, a job made easier for Garin because his daughter-in-law was unopposed. It was a political double-cross of the highest order. Because of this, the admission of the Garins to the LP will only reopen the wounds he inflicted on Boboy Tupas and family. It  will  be a personal insult to a family that fought hard for President Aquino’s victory in Iloilo province.