Ombudsman drops bribery case vs. ex-Gov Tupas

The Ombudsman has dismissed a complaint for bribery and grave misconduct against former Iloilo govenror Niel D. Tupas Sr. last week in connection with the signing of a power supply agreement between Iloilo Electric Cooperative III (Ileco III) and the independent power producer Artech two years ago.

“This complaint was doomed to fail,” the 13-page joint resolution handed down by Acting Ombudsman Orlando Casimiro said.

The Ombudsman said an investigation report made by a team from the National Electrification Administration (NEA) was “pure speculation, surmise and/or conjecture” as then Ileco III president Mateo Baldoza who alleged having received bribe money in the total amount of P150,000 even voted against the PSA.

“The person who could have given light as to what transpired during the said meeting (with Tupas) was reluctant to execute an affidavit, leaving the allegations of the complainant bare and general,” the Ombudsman said.

On the other hand, the Ombudsman threw out an affidavit by another Ileco III director, Rene Arandilla, as “at best, hearsay, with no probative value.”

The Ombudsman noted that Arandilla was not in the meeting where the alleged bribery took place.

It added that “not any one can attest to the reason behind the meeting that was held in respondent Tupas’ house.”

In essence, the Ombudsman said the complaint failed to show what personal benefits Tupas stood to gain in giving the alleged advantage or preference to Artech. “It is unnatural and unimaginable that respondent Tupas would stake his reputation by bribing a person for nothing,” the resolution said.

The Ombudsman also pointed out that Tupas did not have a hand in the affairs of Ileco III.

“That the power supply agreement was disadvantageous to Ileco III’s members should not be attributed to respondent Tupas as the management of (the cooperative) is clearly lodged with its Board of Directors,” the ruling said.

For his part, Tupas expressed jubilation that yet another fabricated case was unmasked as a lie.

He reiterated his denial at having given any money to Baldoza, saying the alleged bribery was a scripted tale hatched by then Presidential Assistant Raul Banias.

Banias, who is now the Provincial Administrator, wanted to scuttle the PSA with Artech because he wanted the cooperative not to be tied up to a different IPP. Banias wanted the Ileco III to remain free to ultimately buy its electricity from a coal-fired power plant that he was pushing to be built in Concepcion, Iloilo.

The Iloilo Capitol stinks

The much-vaunted “reporma kag pagbag-o (reform and change)” campaign battle-cry of then gubernatorial candidate Arthur Defensor Sr. is quickly sinking into a garbage pit as details about anomalous transactions, particularly in the procurement of contracts, are coming out into the open.

Just this morning (April 13), Bombo Radyo reported the glaring irregularity in the Iloilo Capitol’s award of a P2.9 million contract for the waterproofing of its roofdeck and plug the cracks that have developed in this eight-year old magnificent building. The Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) headed by Provincial Administrator Raul Banias, M.D.,, tried to push a little known contractor, F and T Enterprises, to bag this contract despite its lack of experience and specialty license. As Bombo Radyo anchorman Don Dolido put it, “there is no option left for the BAC but cancel the award.” For the Capitol to go ahead would only draw suspicion that money has changed hands, grease money that is.

But the waterproofing contract is only one of the many anomalies that have been uncovered. It is clear the roadmap for reform and change foisted by Defensor when he was still a candidate had been discarded; an agenda for quick money-making deals have taken its place.

Former Board Member Domingo Oso has complained that the contract for janitorial services was also rigged. He claims the BAC didn’t adhere to the procurement rules mandated by RA 9184, or the Government Procurement Act. The contract was awarded to the third lowest bidder on the pretext that it had submitted the “highest-rated” offer. Oso points out that this term doesn’t exist in the manual for government procurement. It was also discovered that the winning bidder is an “ihada” of Banias during her wedding. Under the circumstances, it’s hard to ignore Oso’s complaint that the bidding was rigged.

There are many other cases which are just now being documented by Bombo Radyo, according to insiders. “The smoke is coming out,” an employee of the Iloilo provincial government familiar with the goings-on in the BAC. The media investigations are likely to lead into the discovery of more collusion in the bidding for drugs and medicines, as well as the security services for the Capitol.  “There’s a lot of rotting carcass that Banias is trying to hide, but can’t hide forever,” said another employee who told about several members of the Technical Working Group (TWG) quitting their posts because they don’t want to be associated with these anomalies.

Banias shoots own foot on nylon shell issue

The more Provincial Administrator Raul Banias talks about how he is trying to enforce the law by directing the arrest of nylon shell gatherers in his hometown of Concepcion, Iloilo, the deeper the grave he is digging becomes. It doesn’t help that he has a plagiarist as back-up singer on stage. Their sound is becoming more and more like a voice from the grave.

In as many times that Banias spoke on the issue over Bombo Radyo Iloilo, so too has the number of times his reasons for stopping the nylon shell harvesting have changed. One is tempted to ask him point-blank: “Ano guid bala ang tuod, Doctor Banias?” That’s because each time he is interviewed, even the ordinary subsistence fisherman in Concepcion could glean his blatant lies. He can’t even stick to just one ground to justify his position.

This morning, Banias tried once again to repair his damaged image and, as expected, he stumbled with his distorted logic. It didn’t help that he was confronted with information that two other LGUs — Carles and Ajuy — already have existing ordinances regulating the use of compressors for shell fishing.

And the Provincial Legal Office last week came out with a new opinion, saying there can be no stopping the use of compressors in Concepcion and anywhere else. Maybe aware of this, Banias tried to justify the latest apprehensions by saying these fishermen transgressed the defined marine sanctuaries of the municipality.

Banias apparently anchors his position on the old ordinance designating the municipal waters of Concepcion as marine sanctuary where any form of fishing is prohibited. He refuses to accept the fact that the new Sangguniang Bayan had enacted a new ordinance redefining the metes and bounds of the marine sanctuaries and the areas where nylon shell harvesting is allowed. Of course, he avoids explaining why, despite the existence of that ordinance, nylon shell gathering took place during the last four years.

It’s not only in Carles and Ajuy where the use of compressors is allowed. Other coastal LGUs in Negros Occidental across the strait have also adopted similar regulations to enable their people to harvest this high-valued shell which appears to be endemic to the Visayas Sea marine environment. God has endowed these LGUs with a good resource, and it is a duty of the local government to make it accessible to hardworking fishermen.

By this time, of course, the real motive of Banias is crystal clear. He made millions from the seas of Concepcion, first as vice mayor, and then as municipal mayor, and Presidential Assistant. When Iloilo Governor Arthur Defensor made him head of the Bantay Dagat, it was like, to use a phrase from Atty. Pet Melliza, giving the key to the blood bank to Dracula. He had the power to monopolize the fish and shell business, and this ordinance was a stumbling block to his greedy agenda.

All these years, Banias wasn’t really a true public servant. He made a killing out of public service. Concepcion remains a poor municipality where poverty incidence is high. Mayor Milliard Villanueva wants to turn things around by giving poor fishermen a share of the municipality’s wealth. It might not be enough to make them as rich as Banias, but at least it will give them a better quallity of life.

Anti-illegal fishing czar

Iloilo 1st district board member Gerardo “Gerry” Flores hit provincial administrator Raul Banias, M.D., in the jugular last Wednesday when he exposed the conflict of interest he had in the illegal fishing issue, especially in the 5th district of Iloilo. Flores told the Sangguniang Panlalawigan that Banias ought to stay away from enforcement of illegal fishing laws, because it won’t look good that he’s one of the biggest fish traders in the province. In fact, Banias is so rich now that he owns three Mang Inasal franchises. That wealth was drawn from the municipal waters of Concepcion, and political power was instrumental in making that happen.

Banias’s own track record shows a poor enforcement of the fisheries laws in his municipality while he was municipal mayor. The operators of prohibited fishing methods like “hulbot-hulbot”, “super-hulbot” and “palupad” were his biggest suppliers of fish products until Governor Niel Tupas Sr. came along to put a stop to their destructive activities. I remember Gov. Tupas conducted a community dialogue in Concepcion sometime in 2002; Tupas had grown frustrated that the LGU, which was supposed to be the chief enforcer of the fisheries code, looked the other way when these vessels operated. Banias put up a stance of passive resistance. He didn’t say he didn’t support Gov. Tupas; but neither did he manifest enthusiasm for the tough stance adopted by the former governor.

Indeed, it was shameless for Banias to tag himself as “anti-illegal fishing czar”. The conflict of interest is very clear. It was like giving the key to heaven to the devil himself. He could do whatever he wanted to enhance his business. He could give illegal fishers wider latitude in carrying out their activities; reports from the island barangays in Concepcion attest to this. In fact, during the period July 1 to December 31, 2010, the apprehension of illegal fishing operators went down dramatically.

So much has been said about the expose supposedly made by Banias on the “kotong” or extortion activities of four policemen in the 5th district. What is not known is that three of these policemen assigned to the Provincial Bantay Dagat were personal picks of Banias. These policemen were subject of complaints from municipal mayors about their extortion activities in the rich seas of the 5th district. The fourth policeman was assigned in Concepcion who was about to be removed by Mayor Milliard Villanueva from the municipal bantay dagat because he, too, was engaging in extortion.

When Banias got wind of the complaints against the three “kotong” cops, he made it appear that they were operating with the fourth cop and pre-empted the Iloilo Provincial Pollice Office (IPPO) in reporting their nefarious activities to the media. Banias wanted to appear “clean” and washed his hands off on the activities of his own men. He projected himself as an “anti-illegal fishing czar” who countenanced no hanky-panky among his men. Too bad for him, his story-line is burned-out. Nobody will believe him.

BM Flores twits PA Banias on nylon shell ordinance row

The Sangguniang Panlalawigan should not be misled into believing that it has the power to nullify a municipal ordinance on the basis of a complaint filed by a barangay-based group in Concepcion, Iloilo as its power is limited to determining whether or not its enactment was within the powers of the legislative body, Iloilo board member Gerardo Flores said Wednesday, March 16.

In a privilege speech before the regular session of the provincial board, Flores also chided Iloilo Provincial Administrator Raul Banias for dipping his fingers into the affairs of Concepcion, Iloilo as his actions smack of a “conflict of interest” because he has a fish trading business based in that LGU.

“Let us not coat our hidden intentions with intricate but wrong interpretation and application of the law and think that people below and above us will just always be ignorant enough to abide without question,” Flores said.

Citing annotations made by Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago in the book, “Local Government Annotated”, Flores pointed out that the only ground by which a municipal ordinance may be stricken down by the provincial board as invalid is that the Sangguniang Bayan (municipal council) acted beyond the powers granted to it by law.

“Absolutely no other ground is recognized by the law,” Flores said, citing Senator Santiago. “If the provincial board passes these limits, it usurps the legislative function of the municipal council,” he added, quoting the Senator.

Flores made these declarations in the wake of the directives made by Banias, who was a three-term municipal mayor of Concepcion, Iloilo, for the Provincial Bantay Dagat to apprehend nylon shell divers who were issued permits for the harvesting of the marine product.

Banias insisted that a new ordinance enacted by the Concepcion SB on January 31, 2011 is not yet effective pending its review by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan. He threatened to order the arrest of nylon shell divers who, in his words, will defy an old ordinance which he claimed banned all fishing activities in the municipal waters.

Concepcion municipal mayor Milliard Villanueva questioned the actions of Banias, saying there is nothing illegal about the harvesting of nylon shells as it was being done pursuant to Municipal Ordinance No. 2011-03. The ordinance imposes strict regulations on the manner and volume of the nylon shells to be harvested after paying the corresponding permit fees, he said.

“The municipal ordinance is well within our prerogatives to determine how to manage our coastal resources, and it is now in full force and effect after the 10-day publication period,” Villanueva said. He added that a municipal ordinance is deemed valid and effective even while it undergoes review by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan.

In his privilege speech, Flores also accused Banias of unethical and improper behaviour in disclosing a report linking four members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) to illegal fishing activities. “It puzzled me that Dr. Banias did not observe proper protocol by releasing information derogatory to a subordinate organization,” Flores said.

Flores revealed that even Police Senior Supt. Gil Lebin, Iloilo Provincial Police Office (IPPO) director, was surprised when he heard about the Banias allegation about the involvement of the four policemen in illegal fishing.

“The fact that Dr. Banias pre-empted the PNP was an indication that he wanted to do things singlehandedly even though enforcement is more the concern of the municipal government and the police,” he said. “It is never good to put yourself up by putting other people down,” he added.

Flores warned his colleagues in the provincial board not to “show even an iota of willingness to be influenced by him (Banias), lest we flush ourselves down a deep pitfall.”

He pointed out that the law “does not empower us to make value judgment on legislations and executive issuances — on whether these are good or bad local laws or policies — except the power to determine whether or not they are beyond the powers of the LGU.”

Flores asked Banias to show delicadeza by inhibiting himself from law enforcement on an industry where has clear vested interest and by minimizing doubts on the political nature of his motives and actuations. (30)

Preposterous and stupid

I can forgive Provincial Administrator Raul Banias over his inadequate understanding of the law. He is a medical doctor and the ramifications of the Local Government Code might easily slip his grasp. But as the “little governor” of Iloilo, he should get sound legal advice before dwelling into the minefield of legal discussion. His statements regarding the municipal ordinance enacted by the Sangguniang Bayan of Concepcion, Iloilo regulating the extraction, collection and harvest of nylon shells from its municipal waters have been downright preposterous and stupid.

Banias, in an interview over Bombo Radyo with anchorman Don Dolido, said that the use of air compressors as breathing aid for the divers who harvest nylon shells is hazardous to marine life. According to the feeble mind of Banias, the bubbles generated by the breathing apparatus of divers “scare” the fishes away. Where did he get this kind of reasoning? Only a moron can make this argument. Bubbles of air floating to the surface constitutes the least danger to fishes. If that were so, then the use of aerators should be discouraged in aquariums. Neither should it be used in fishponds then.

But Banias is scratching rock bottom when he tries to ascribe danger to fishes to bubbles of air. The illegal forms and methods of fishing are defined under Republic Act No. 8550, or the Philippine Fisheries Code. The use of air compressors to supply air for the breathing apparatus of divers is not included in its scope. It is much unlike the destructive methods of fishing such as the “palupad” or the “super hulbot” that Banias had allowed to operate in the municipal waters of Concepcion when he was municipal mayor. Well, that position might be understandable, because illegal fishing operators were his biggest suppliers of fish and marine products to shipment to Manila.

The plagiarist and hacker, Nereo Lujan, came to Banias’s defense in a column published on Monday, March 14. Reiterating the moronic arguments of his boss, Lujan harped on the supposed opposition filed by a chairman of a barangay fisheries council in Concepcion. In citing provisions of the Local Government Code, Lujan, who was kicked out from the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) 10 years ago on plagiarism issues, deliberately omitted that portion which states that an ordinance is presumed valid and effective if the Sangguniang Panlalawigan fails to act on it with 30 days.

Lujan also declared that the ordinance must be infirm for violating Memorandum Circular No. 129, series of 2002, of the Department of Interior and Local Governments (DILG). Perhaps Lujan, with his penchant of just copying anything that suits him without proper attribution, didn’t bother to read the document in its entirety. The circular “enjoins” LGUs to enact ordinances banning the use of compressors as breathing apparatus in fishing. Well, maybe he doesn’t even understand the word “enjoin”.

What is being overlooked here is the exhaustive technical studies and consultation undertaken by the LGU in crafting this ordinance to regulate nylon shell harvesting. Director Drussila Bayate of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) confirmed that Mayor Milliard Villanueva requested for her agency’s assistance in doing a study on nylon shells. The BFAR fielded five divers who are experts in fisheries to survey the coastal waters of Concepcion. A report was formally submitted to the LGU which, among others, outlined suggestions on the regulated harvesting of nylon shells.

This only shows that Mayor Villanueva and the Sangguniang Bayan didn’t enact the ordinance without first looking into every aspect of the nylon shell extraction activity. The municipal council mapped the Concepcion Bay, designated the areas where harvesting is permitted, and set strict regulations on the volume and size of the nylon shells to be marketed. Below the sanctioned size, the municipal fish wardens are empowered to confiscate the same and throw them back into the shallow waters.

Question: did the previous administration even consider crafting such an ordinance? Banias admitted commercial scale harvesting has been going on for more than three years. Why didn’t he mutter a protest? Just because the business was controlled by SB member Sandy Boy Salcedo, Banias felt it was okay to do so?

It must also be emphasized that the nylon shell phenomenon was discovered only four years ago, when Banias was still municipal mayor. He claims credit for it, saying it was his campaign to protect the marine resources of the town that helped bring back nylon shells into its waters. The truth is that Banias wasn’t really against illegal fishing. It was then Governor Niel Tupas Sr. who persisted in stopping all forms of destructive methods of fishing in the 5th district.

At one point, Banias detested the presence of the provincial bantay dagat in Concepcion. He even got the Sangguniang Bayan to pass a resolution declaring as “persona non grata” members of the PNP Mobile Group that escorted the provincial bantay dagat. Governor Tupas, on several occasions, warned him about the operations of his friends who used the “palupad” and “hulbot-hulbot” methods of fishing.

It is ironic that Banias is now using the same provincial bantay dagat to harass the municipal fisherfolk of Concepcion, and in the process trampling upon the prerogatives of the LGU to manage its own marine resources. But he should really get good advice on how to proceed on this issue. Slowly, the truth is coming to the surface, and he is being proved wrong. His preposterous and stupid remarks are only dragging him down like a heavy anchor, with his factutom Lujan serving as additional weight.

Usurpation of authority

The actions and statements of Provincial Administrator Raul Banias, M.D., regarding the apprehension of several nylon shell divers for alleged illegal fishing in the town of Concepcion, Iloilo betrays an arrogance aggravated by gross ignorance of the law and usurpation of authority.

Banias, who was municipal mayor of Concepcion for nine years, claims that the permits granted by the municipal government to these nylon shell divers are invalid on the ground that the ordinance upon which the authority was based is pending review in the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Iloilo.

Banias insists that the ordinance is not yet in full force and effect until such time the provincial board ratifies it or renders it invalid in whole or in part.

This statement has made Banias, who also served as Presidential Assistant (in other words, GMA’s factutom in Western Visayas) the object of ridicule among SB members who had just come from a three-day convention of the Philippine Councilors League (PCL) in Manila yesterday at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport II.

Banias is wrong, wrong and wrong. It makes him look like a stupid fool in the eyes of municipal legislators who know their work better than he does.

First, a municipal ordinance takes effect, as mandated by RA 7160, after a 10-day period of its posting in five conspicuous places in the LGU. The same law directs the SB secretary to transmit the ordinance to the Sangguniang Panlalawigan three (3) days after its approval for review. If, after 30 days, no action is taken by the provincial board, the same is presumed effective, therefore valid.

The ordinance was enacted on Jan. 31, 2011. The posting and submission to the provincial board for review were done as well. The 30-day period had elapsed. So how can Banias say that the ordinance is not yet valid and effective? Actually, the municipal government can already implement an ordinance after the 10-day posting period. If and when the provincial board invalidates it, then such implementation will have to stop.

Second, the municipal sanggunian has the power to amend or even repeal completely any ordinance it had enacted before. Banias claims that this new ordinance violates a previous ordinance designating the Concepcion Bay as fish sanctuaries. He makes it appear that the old ordinance is carved in stone, and could not be changed in whole or in part.

What the new ordinance did was define in terms of latitude and longtitude parts of the Concepcion Bay where nylon shell harvesting was permitted. Unlike in the previous administration, the new ordinance seeks to regulate the manner and volume by which the marine product is harvested. It provides safeguards that there is no indiscriminate harvesting. It also mandates that the municipality exacts fees for the privilege to engage in nylon shell harvesting.

By Banias’s own admission, commercial-scale harvesting of nylon shells has been going on for three years. In other words, when his friend and ally Betsie Salcedo was municipal mayor, nylon shell harvesting was already a lucrative business in the municipality. He could have added that SB member Sandy Boy Salcedo, son of then Mayor Betsie Salcedo, controlled the business, with not a single centavo going into the coffers of the municipality.

At the time, the old ordinance Banias was talking about was already in full force and effect. Why didn’t he make as much as a whispered protest? He didn’t consider it wrong that the son of the mayor was extracting nylon shells. Of course, one can’t expect Banias to confess that it was he who discovered the money in nylon shells and pionered in the business just before the 2007 elections. When Betsie Salcedo took over the LGU, the business went to her son.

The idea to regulate the extraction and harvesting of nylon shells came to the mind of the new municipal mayor, Milliard Villanueva, shortly after he assumed office. He looked at the financial reports of the LGU and saw that a potential revenue earner for the town was being ignored and neglected. Villanueva imposed fees for the extraction and harvesting of the shell. To his surprise, the town generated P330,000 in just six months! For a cash-strapped municipality, that was a lot of money.

But Villanueva didn’t just collect fees from nylon shell harvesting operators. He asked for help from the University of the Philippines in the Visayas (UPV) fisheries college and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) in conducting surveys on where the nylon shells grew in abundance. These technical experts also advised the municipal government on the proper harvesting of the shell to prevent over-extraction. The input from UPV and BFAR became the basis for the new municipal ordinance which likewise defines the metes and bounds of the harvestable areas.

Banias knows that this ordinance will make it hard for Sandy Boy Salcedo to control the business. Unlike in the last term, any fisherman can now apply for a license to engage in nylon shell harvesting. For Banias, this is bad for their business interests. The new scheme of regulated harvesting of nylon shells had to be dismantled, he must have decided.

Third, Banias betrays more of his ignorance when he told Bombo Radyo Iloilo anchorman Don Dolido that the 30-day period prescribed in the Local Government Code stopped running when a Sangguniang Panlalawigan committee chaired by Board Member Suzette Alquizada conduced a hearing on an opposition to the ordinance filed by a barangay fisheries management council in Concepcion.

How ridiculous can Banias be? The review power of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan is confined only to the face of the document. It will only determine whether or not the Sangguniang Bayan acted within its powers in enacting the ordinance. That’s why as a matter of procedure, municipal ordinances are referred to the Provincial Legal Office for review and comment. “Action” in the context of the Local Government Code doesn’t refer to conducting hearings; it refers to ratifying or invalidating it.

Morepver. a “protest” is not proper in the review process. If somebody wants to challenge the validity of the ordinance, he or she will have to go to court. The only grounds that an ordinance can be invalidated in whole or in part is when the municipal council had acted beyond its powers to legislate, or termed “ultra vires”, or that the ordinance is contrary to law, public order and morals. The so-called “protest” is a most stupid, stupid idea.

Fourth, Banias said he ordered the arrests of the so-called violators because their activities violated the old ordinance. He is citing a municipal ordinance as basis for the action of the Sangguniang Bayan. For heavens sake, has anybody told Banias that the enforcement of municipal ordinances is a primary responsibility of the municipal mayor?

 If, for the sake of argument, Mayor Villanueva was negligent in the performance of his duty, then the proper remedy is haul him before the proper administrative body for the appropriate sanction. The provincial government, and particularly the provincial administrator, has no business meddling in the affairs of a municipality. Perhaps Banias hasn’t heard of the term “local autonomy” yet.

It is clear that Banias acted with stupid arrogance and usurpation of authority. And he can’t even hide his conflict of interest. Why, of all municipalities, he is showing inordinate interest in the affairs of Concepcion? He is supposed to be running a province, not play in the school yard called Concepcion.

Well, it might be told that Banias made a fortune in the fish business when he was vice mayor and then mayor of Concepcion. Maybe he’s just throwing his weight around to make sure his business interests aren’t constricted. He has shown that he’s willing to abuse his position to do that.

More trouble brewing at the Iloilo Capitol (2nd of a series)

On the first working day of 2011, Iloilo Gov. Arthur Defensor Sr. was fuming mad. “He was literally spewing fire,” a Capitol employee who witnessed the eruption of guvernatorial temper said. Defensor’s voice, weak as it is, roared with expletives. He got angry because no janitorial personnel was operating the elevator. The ROMAC Manpower Services Inc. which had faithfully and diligently provided janitorial services for the Capitol for six years decided to pull out its people.

It wasn’t an act of sabotage. It was the result of the Capitol’s new procurement system in which officials close to Defensor tried to outdo each other in pushing for their own business interests in awarding contracts for services and supplies. The corrupt system exploded right on their faces, and Defensor didn’t know he had stepped on his own landmine. Sources said ROMAC had participated in the bidding for janitorial services for 2011 last December. However, a member of the Bids and Awards Committee known to be an ass-kisser of Defensor told the management ROMAC “was certain to lose” because it was identified with the previous administration.

The BAC deliberately disqualified ROMAC on account of a minor technicality to enable a favored supplier to win the contract. ROMAC isn’t a patsy janitorial company. It has a number of satisified customers in Iloilo City that includes big malls and government agencies. It took pride in excellence in its services, and wasn’t about to beg for the contract from a corrupt administration. So on Jan. 3, 2011, it pulled out its people from the Capitol. This is what made Defensor very, very, very angry.

Sources said the provincial administrator has his own supplier. A town mayor from the 4th district also wants to push her own pet supplier. An executive assistant with “exclusive jurisdiction” over suppliers was not about to be outdone. The governor’s own people were jockeying to corner this juicy contract, and they ignored the fact that ROMAC’s services were due to expire on Dec. 31, 2010.

Defensor ordered ROMAC to bring its people back. “Our contract provides that we need to extend our services for one month should the provincial government fail to pick a new provider,” an executive of the company told me. The company relented, and the Capitol was swankingly clean and orderly again when its personnel went back to work. But the company is determined to stand on its principles. By Feb. 1, it will leave the Capitol for good. “We can’t stomach the corruption of the new dispensation,” said another executive. “We don’t want to appear as if we are being replaced because we are not doing a good job,” she added.

Defensor will have to rush the selection of a new janitorial services firm. He has only until Monday to do that. On Tuesday, Feb. 1, ROMAC will get out for good. It has fulfilled its obligation to extend for one month. It’s not going to stay a minute longer, said the first company official I spoke with.

A matter of courtesy

A loud, collective gasp filled the session hall of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan last Friday when an official of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) told the legislative body sitting as a committee of the whole that the issue of small town lottery (STL) operations for Around D’World Gaming Corp was just being presented before it “as a matter of courtesy.”
It stunned senior members of the Sanggunian like board members Licurgo “Curging” Tirador and Demetrio “Demy” Sonza who rightfully took the statement as an insult to the legislative body.
The statement incensed Tirador, who immediately accosted PCSO Visayas operations manager Willian Medici if he had heard the latter right. Apparently, the statement sounded very much like the whole process was a mere formality in the eyes of PCSO.
Realizing that he had committed a grave blunder, Medici mumbled an apologetic explanation that it wasn’t intended as such.
But the phrase “a matter of courtesy” was a presumptuous act of arrogance on the part of PCSO, and glaring evidence that these officials, along with Governor Arthur Defensor Sr. and provincial administrator Dr. Raul Banias, considered the matter of Around D’World Gaming Corp.’s application a “done deal”.
It doesn’t matter much that nine out of 10 resource persons who spoke before the SP committee of the whole expressed strong opposition to allowing small town lottery, and not just Around D’World Gaming Corp., to operate the numbers game in the province.
Defensor and Banias will make sure the arguments against allowing STL into the province will be swept aside just to accommodate Around D’World Gaming Corp., for this is a business deal they had with jueteng lord Jose Francisco Gonzalez and Jose Pidal, a.k.a. Iggy Arroyo.
Indeed, the question must be asked: how and why did Around D’World Gaming Corp. manage to obtain a “midnight franchise” to operate STL in Iloilo province on May 19, 2010 before it could get a favorable endorsement from the local government unit?
For five years, nobody had gotten a PCSO franchise simply because the Iloilo provincial government under Governor Niel Tupas Sr. refused to approve it. In a split-second maneuver, these guys circumvented the rules and rushed approval of the franchise while Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was still President of the Republic.
After all, as early as May 12, Defensor was already governor-elect, and he assured the Gonzalez-Arroyo combine it was okay to proceed. There was a deadline to beat: June 30, 2010. That was when a new board would assume office, and they could no longer curry favors from PCSO. For them to wait for Defensor to formally assume the top seat at the Capitol would have been too late.
Defensor is telling everybody the province has no choice because Around D’World Gaming Corp. already has a franchise. He’s wrong. The new PCSO board cancelled the award of the franchise and required Around D’World to secure the requirements of an endorsement from the Sanggunian and the governor before its franchise can be acted upon. Technically, it has no franchise to speak of.
But then again, of course, it’s a done deal as far as Defensor and Banias are concerned. They will cajole Tirador and Sonza to forgot they heard those words, “a matter of courtesy”, from the PCSO officials. They will sweep all opposition under the rug and proceed with the business they want to bring to the province to make their old master happy, and reap the rewards of their favorable endorsement for the project.

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.