When there’s smoke, there’s fire

 The smoke detectors at the Iloilo Capitol didn’t sound an alarm, but the smoke that belched out of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan caused a great deal of panic in the Defensor administration two weeks ago.

The “fire” wasn’t the type that hit the old Iloilo Capitol twice toward the end of Defensor’s first stint as governor; it was an expose by no less than an ally, 3rd District Board Member Licurgo Tirador about an attempted bribery to get him to vote “yes” on the proposed operation of Small Town Lottery (STL) in the province.

Tirador broke the story to the local media shortly after Defensor announced he had issued a “certificate of no objection” for the operation of STL in favour of Around D’ World Gaming Corp. He cited the resolution of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan which endorsed the entry of STL into Iloilo province as the basis for his decision.

Of course, we had known long before that Defensor and Eddie Gonzalez, the alleged jueteng lord from Bicol and principal financier of Around D’ World, had reached a deal on bringing STL into the province.

Tirador was one of four board members who stood by their principles and voted “no” to STL. According to sources, Defensor sent an emissary to Tirador to change his vote. An envelope containing a bundle of cash was hand carried by the emissary to “soften” the resistance of Tirador.

The grand old man was insulted by the attempt to bribe him, but kept quiet about it for a while. It isn’t known what provoked him to make this revelation to local media. In talking about the attempted bribery, Tirador went so far as to estimate the amount given as bribes to top officials of the Iloilo Capitol — P25 million.

When the story broke, Defensor’s firefighters quickly dosed the conflagration. Tirador was persuaded to avoid giving any more interviews. For several days, he literally hid from media. One week later, he stood before his colleagues before the Sanggunian to deny he said those things. He was just misquoted, he said.

The issue refused to die, however. Last week, Rep. Niel “Junjun” Tupas Jr. (5th District) wrote a letter to PCSO chairperson Margie Juico asking for an investigation. Why is it that bribery has to be employed to get STL to operate in the province? That kind of transaction taints the integrity of the accreditation process, he pointed out. Under the Aquino administration, that way of doing business should be rejected.

Defensor contends that this obstacle to STL operations for Around D’ World Gaming Corp. is a retaliatory move on the part of the Tupases. But is it? Long before he issued the certificate of no objection, we have already been getting reports that it was a done deal.  As early as August, Gonzales visited Defensor at his Mandurriao residence in the company of Samuel Jonathan Ng, a local businessman. A huge amount of money had been exchanged, sources said.

The character of Around D’ World is suspect. It was registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission only in April 2010. And it was granted a franchise by the old PCSO management a few days after the May 10 elections, when Defensor had been declared winner for the governorship.

It is a midnight franchise grant for all intents and purposes, but of course, Defensor doesn’t mind. Iggy Arroyo, a.k.a. Jose Pidal, had conveyed to the new governor a desire to expand jueteng in Iloilo province through Dr. Raul Banias, the provincial administrator. All that mattered to the governor was the color of the money.

Defensor’s defenders ridicule the Tupas complaint as “chasing ghosts”. What is there to investigate, the defenders say, when Tirador had “recoiled”  to borrow the words of The Daily Guardian’s “Resbak” column) from his original expose. Indeed, Tirador turned about face. But his excuse is much too shallow.

As the saying goes, “when there’s smoke, there’s fire.” It’s good it’s not the Capitol that is burning down, as a third conflagration will really be too much. But the true color of the Defensor administration is now becoming visible to everybody’s view.

Aura Landar’s vindication

It may have come too late to resolve the issue, but Memorandum Circular No. 2010-82 issued by DILG secretary Jesse Robredo dated August 31, 2010 settles the question about whether Passi City councilor Aura Landar-Layese had the right to assume office as ex-oficio member of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan effective at noon of June 30, 2010 when she succeeded to the presidency of the Philippine Councilors League.

This two-page policy statement made it clear that a PCL president who won in the last local elections does not lose his right to represent the league until it could hold an election and his successor shall have assumed office. There can be no gap in the representation of the PCL at any time, and whoever holds the office of President at a particular time is automatically a member of the Provincial Board. This rule doesn’t distinguish whether a President was elected as such, or succeeded to the Position. In the case of Councilor Landar-Layese, she became President effective noon of June 30, 2010, as the last elected president, Cecilia Colada of Janiuay, and the executive vice president, Bing Gonzaga of Pavia, were defeated in the May 10 polls. Landar-Layese was next in the line of succession as secretary general.

This policy statement exposes the ignorance of the current Sangguniang Panlalawigan leadership in the province of Iloilo, which did everything to block Landar-Layese’s efforts to assume the ex-oficio seat. It is a leadership that is afraid of its own shadow, as it cannot contemplate a situation where it might not get the numbers to force the approval of certain legislative measures in the provincial board.