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By Francis Allan L. Angelo

THE Commission on Audit (CoA) will order the Provincial Treasurer and Accounting Offices to start collecting the disallowed 14th month pay handed out to Iloilo capitol employees in 2002.

The audit agency will send a letter to the accounting office today (December 21, 2009) directing the office to take up in the Capitol’s books of accounts as “receivables from employees” the 14th month pay.

Accountants of all district hospitals will also be included in the CoA directive.

The CoA letter will require accountants to start recording in their books all refunds of the 14th month pay in 2002 which the CoA disallowed.

The audit agency said in its 2002 annual audit report that there was an anomaly in the release of the 14th month pay, amounting to P21,001,364 to Capitol employees and officials last December 2002.

According to COA, the province exceeded the 45% Personnel Services (PS) limitation provided by the Local Government Code (LGC). PS refers to the component of the annual budget for the salaries and benefits of employees of a local government unit.

The provincial government then filed before the Supreme Court a petition for review against CoA’s findings.

But the SC backed CoA’s findings and ordered the provincial government to refund the 14th month pay it released to the capitol employees.

CoA will also ask the Iloilo provincial treasurer to comply with the Notice of Final Disallowance and Final Order of Adjudication issued earlier by the audit body after the SC’s en banc decision became final and executory.

The Final Order of Adjudication instructed the treasurer to withhold payment of salaries or any money due to capitol employees if they fail to refund the 14th month pay.

The CoA said any payment of salaries or any money due them (capitol employees) in violation of the final order of adjudication “will be disallowed in audit and you (provincial treasurer) will be held liable therefore.”

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Another anomaly rocks Iloilo Capitol

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

ANOTHER transaction in the Iloilo provincial government was stalled due to anomalies in the bidding process.

The Commission on Audit (CoA) in a letter dated October 20, 2009 returned the disbursement papers for payment of various equipment supplied to the Iloilo Provincial Hospital (IPH) in Pototan, Iloilo as the bidding was purportedly manipulated.

The letter was sent to the office of Governor Niel D. Tupas Sr. and Provincial Accountant Lyd P. Tupas.

Disbursement Voucher No. 300-09-10-950 dated October 6, 2009 covers the payment for computer equipment to the IPH amounting to more or less P250,000.

According to the audit agency, the equipment were already delivered on November 3, 2008 even before the public bidding was conducted on November 26, 2008. The participating bidders were Cyber Link Compu Sales and Strides PEF Enterprises.

The delivery before the bidding was supported by Delivery Receipt (DR) No. 5459 dated November 3, 2008. The CoA’s audit team also confirmed that the items were already delivered during a visit at the IPH on January 19, 2009.

The purchase was covered by the Purchase Order No. IPH-178 dated December 15, 2008 and was received by the supplier on January 19, 2009. The delivery term is 15 calendar days after received of the approved PO.

But upon verification of the disbursement voucher and other supporting papers, the audit agency found out that another DR No. 5481 dated February 4, 2009 was prepared to replace DR No. 5459 dated November 3, 2008.

“Fourteen (14) of the items stated in the two DRs are exactly the same as to specifications and serial numbers. It can be presumed that the issuance of a new DR was resorted to by the persons liable to show that proper bidding procedures were followed. Since there is already a winner prior to the actual conduct of bidding, then credence could not be given to the public bidding conducted,” the CoA said.

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

THE Commission on Audit (CoA) Iloilo office has issued a Notice of Finality of Decision (NFD) relative to the disallowed purchase of a laptop computer by the Iloilo provincial government in 2007.

The NFD, which was issued early this week, is a follow up to the Notice of Disallowance No. 2008-003-300 (08) dated December 2, 2008 which nixed the acquisition of an Acer laptop computer for the Provincial Health Office (PHO).

State Auditor 4 Haydee Pasuelo of CoA provincial office, said they did not accept the justification of the provincial Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) on why the laptop computer delivered by the lone supplier was different from the item described in Purchase Order No. B-1273.

The laptop transaction was included in the 2008 Annual Audit Report on the provincial government which outlined why the deal was attended with irregularities.

According to the CoA report, the PHO requested an Acer Aspire laptop computer (model 5920G-302G16N) costing P99,000.

But the lone bidder, Seven Seven Trading, delivered another brand of lesser specification, an Acer Travelmate 6292-101616MI which only costs P59,900.

But the BAC’s inspection team accepted the delivered laptop even if it deviated from what was originally ordered.

CoA also found out that Seven Seven Trading carries only supplies such as computer ink, not a computer distributor.

The supplier is actually a middleman for a computer supplier, the audit agency found out.

The audit body said the transaction “is considered an irregular expenditure since it is in violation of a government policy to acquire the same directly from reputable manufacturers or their duly licensed distributors.

CoA also rapped the BAC for its “failure to exert efforts to attract competitive bidders, especially the duly registered computer stores in the city, to avail of price advantageous to the government.”

The provincial government, through the General Services Office (GSO), justified the deal saying that the delivered unit was upgraded from 1526 MB DDR2RAM to 2 GB DDR2RAM.

“The upgraded unit has higher specifications compared to the one that was bidded out which Acer Aspire 5290 G-302 G16N.  As to its durability, Acer Aspire model is usually used indoor while Acer Travelmate is used for outdoors and could withstand traveling thus considered more durable than the former,” the GSO said.

But the CoA provincial office did not accept the GSO’s justification and recommended the return of the delivered unit and the conduct of a new bidding on the item.

The Iloilo provincial government can still appeal the Notice of Finality of Decision with the CoA regional office.

CoA held Gov. Niel Tupas Sr., the BAC and other officials who released the funds for the laptop computer liable for the controversial deal.

Baldoza: Tupas gave me envelope with cash 

By Francis Allan L. Angelo 

A RETIRED judge and president of the Iloilo Electric Cooperative (Ileco) 3 board finally admitted receiving money from Iloilo Gov. Niel D. Tupas Sr. to favor an independent power producer.

Mateo Baldoza confirmed his first statement over Aksyon Radyo-Iloilo last May 5 that Tupas handed him an envelope filled with cash during a meeting with officials of Applied Research Technologies Phils. (Artech).

Baldoza made the admission during the hearing yesterday conducted by the National Electrification Administration (NEA) investigation committee on the alleged bribery issue involving Artech and Ileco 3 officials.

The hearing was held at the Ileco 1 main office in Tigbauan, Iloilo Tuesday to look into allegations that Artech handed cash to the directors to approve the 25-year power supply agreement the firm offered to the cooperative.

Baldoza spilled the beans on Artech and Tupas during the examination conducted by Atty. Ramil Naciongayo, counsel for the complainants Gerardo P. Panes and Evelyn P. Peñaflor who called for the NEA probe.

According to Baldoza, he and the Ileco 3 directors were called to a meeting with Artech officials led by president Reynaldo Uy at Tupas’ mansion in MV Hechanova, Jaro, Iloilo City last April 17, 2009.

Baldoza said Tupas called him inside a room of the mansion where the latter gave him an envelope while telling him to help Artech.

The retired judge later learned that the envelope contained P75,000 cash when he got home from the meeting.

He also confirmed that he received another envelope with P75,000 cash after their board meeting April 21, the day they approved the power supply deal with Artech.

In sum, Baldoza received P150,000 cash from Artech. Uy and Tupas had denied Baldoza’s allegations.

Aksyon Radyo anchorman Joel Tormon also testified before the AdCom relative to his May 5 interview with Baldoza.

Tormon said he confirmed the authenticity of the transcript of his interview with Baldoza which was admitted as evidence in the NEA probe.

Tormon said Baldoza’s statements during the NEA hearing were the same information and sequence of events the latter told during the May 5 interview with Aksyon Radyo-Iloilo.

A day after his interview with Tormon, Baldoza modified his statement in a local newspaper saying a woman employee of Artech gave the cash-laden envelope during the meeting at Tupas’ mansion.

But he again hinted that the governor gave him the cash-filled envelope when he faced the probe conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).

In his affidavit submitted to the NEA AdCom last August, Baldoza said he received the cash-filled envelope from someone during the meeting at Tupas’s mansion.

Baldoza said that after eating at Tupas’s house, he was called inside the living room where that “someone” thrust the envelope in his hand.

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

THE Commission on Audit (COA) stopped three fund releases of the executive department of the Iloilo provincial government for lack of approval by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan and other requirements.

These releases involved financial aids to a group of non-government organizations (NGOs) and two multipurpose cooperatives in Iloilo.

The audit body was able to sift out the questionable releases because of the pre-auditing procedure conducted on all provincial capitol transactions.

In a letter to Governor Niel Tupas Sr., Haydee O. Pasuelo, COA state auditor 4 based in Iloilo, returned Disbursement Voucher No. 100-09-09-12615 dated August 15, 2009 for the release of P500,000 to the Iloilo Coalition of Non-Government Organizations and Peoples’ Organizations (ICON).

Pasuelo said in her September 16, 2009 letter that the disbursement papers released by the Office of the Governor bore the following violations and deficiencies:

–         lack of proof that the project to be implemented by the NGO/PO is made public via newspapers, agency websites, bulletin boards and the like, at least three months prior to the target date of commencement of the identified projects;

–         non-submission of accreditation of the NGO/PO as project partners by the GO through the Bids and Awards Committee (BAC), or a committee created for the purpose;

–         non-submission of Memorandum of Agreement (MOA);

–         Lack of proof that the NGO/PO have complied with the equity requirement equivalent to 20% of the total project cost, which may be in the form of labor, land for project site, facilities, equipment and the like, to be used in the project.

Despite the COA advice, the Office of the Governor tried to release a total of P600,000 to two multipurpose cooperatives based in the towns of Banate and San Enrique, Iloilo.

A total of P400,000 loan was to be released to the De La Paz Multi-Purpose Cooperative in Brgy. De La Paz, Banate.

The governor also tried to release another P200,000 loan to the District of San Enrique Public School Teachers and Non-Teachers Multi-Purpose Cooperative.

But Pasuelo said the financial aids were defective as these were not concurred by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan as prescribed by Section 36 of the Local Government Code.

NGOs/POs that seek funding assistance from local governments must first submit several documents as embodied in COA Circular No. 2007-001 before they can receive money from the capitol.

Some of these requisite documents include certificates of registration with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Cooperative Development Authority and Department of Labor and Employment; authenticated copy of the latest Articles of Incorporation or articles of cooperation; financial report audited by and independent certified public accountant.

In a letter dated October 7, 2009, Tupas sought authority from the SP to enter into loan contracts with seven cooperatives that want to borrow a total of P1.5 million.

Among the seven cooperatives were the cooperatives in Banate and San Enrique whose disbursement vouchers were nixed by COA.

Tupas’ letter was included in the agenda of SP’s regular session Tuesday and has been referred to the committee on appropriations.

Vice Governor Rolex Suplico said they will strictly scrutinize the standing of the cooperatives.

Suplico said they will determine if the cooperatives satisfied the documentary requirements set by COA.

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

THE head of the Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) of the Iloilo provincial capitol denied any irregularity in the purchase of two hematology analyzers worth P2.9 million each for two district hospitals.

Atty. Salvador Cabaluna III, provincial legal officer and BAC chair, said the two analyzers supplied by Crestline Scientific Corp. conformed with the specifications in the request of the two hospitals.

The heads of Federico Roman Tirador Sr. Memorial District Hospital (FRTMDH) and Ramon Tabiana Memorial District Hospital (RTMDH) refused to accept the two hematology analyzers as it did not follow the purchase orders aside from being defective. 

Drs. Noel Roy Gigare, FRTMDH head, and Levi Osea, RTMDH chief, said the machines lack vital components and produced unreliable and erroneous results.

Cabaluna said the BAC’s technical working group found out that Crestline’s machines followed what the two hospitals requested.

“The concerns of the two hospital chiefs were addressed during a meeting with the technical working group. The advantages of the machines were also discussed with them,” Cabaluna said.

Cabaluna said they will also submit their findings and justifications to the Commission on Audit (COA) which has been inquiring into the transaction.

Cabaluna said he will provide a copy of the letter once it is finalized and submitted to COA.

The purchase of the two hematology analyzers is part of the 2008 Health Facilities Enhancement Program (HFEP) which has a total funding of P33 million.

Cabaluna said the machines have no defects “and these were explained to the two hospital chiefs.”

Cabaluna said they cannot exclude Crestline from the transaction because it passed the BAC evaluation aside from offering the lowest bid.

“We cannot skirt around the procurement laws, especially if the supplier is qualified and offered the lowest bid. If the lowest bidder failed to satisfy the requirements, then we can consider the next lowest bidder,” he added.

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

OFFICIALS in the executive department of the Iloilo provincial government are staring at possible malversation charges for allegedly using funds of the Provincial Population Office (PPO) to house and feed members of the Presidential Security Group (PSG).

Vice Governor Rolex T. Suplico said the use of the PPO’s budget for the accommodation of the PSG is illegal as it violates the 2009 provincial budget.

A total of P110,250 was taken from the PPO’s budget for extraordinary expenses or the so-called “other monthly operating and other expenses (MOOE)” to pay for the hotel accommodations and meals of PSG members.

The PSG members escorted President Gloria Arroyo when she visited Iloilo on September 24 and 25. 

Suplico said the Office of the Governor should have submitted to the Sangguniang Panlalawigan a request to realign the PPO’s budget for the PSG accommodation.

“The 2009 budget is embodied in an appropriation ordinance which is a law approved by the Sanggunian. Thus, it is only the Sanggunian that approves or disapproves any realignment in the appropriation ordinance,” he said.  

Suplico said the persons responsible for the release of the money can be charged with technical malversation.

The vice governor also questioned the bidding process for the PSG expenses.

“What about the bidding? Is there a calamity that will warrant the release of the funds sans any competitive process?” Suplico said.

According to Iloilo provincial administrator Manuel Mejorada, the meals for the PSG members were supplied by Hannah Puda of the Teds chain of fastfood restaurants, which operates the Capitol cafeteria.

Earlier, it was reported that the PPO budget was used to pay for lunch served during the visit of Senators Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III and Manuel “Mar” Roxas II.

There were also reports that the PPO’s budget for the holding of the Barangay Service Point Officers congress was used to feed the Aquino-Roxas contingent.

But Mejorada clarified the report saying that the PPO only shouldered the PSG’s accommodations.

“As a matter of practice, the host local government underwrites the cost of meals and even hotel accommodations for the officers of the PSG. The period covers at least one day before the event and one day after. In this case, the PSG main group was stranded in Iloilo for three days because of Typhoon Ondoy,” he said.

But why did the PPO shoulder the PSG’s hotel and food expenses?

Mejorada blamed the opposition-laden Sangguniang Panlalawigan for slashing the budget allocated by the Office of the Governor to cover such expenses.

“The catering for the PSG underwent the regular procurement process more than a week before we even knew about the visit of Senators Aquino and Roxas,” he added.

Mejorada said Governor Niel Tupas Sr. and Mayor Raul Tupas shouldered the lunch served for the Aquino-Roxas sortie.

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

THE Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas dismissed the administrative and criminal cases filed by an Iloilo capitol official against Tesda Director-General Augusto “Boboy” Syjuco and a Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) official.

The Ombudsman said Provincial Administrator Manuel P. Mejorada failed to prove that there were irregularities in the purchase of two dump trucks worth P2.9 million sometime in 2003.

The cases, docketed as OMB-V-C-06-0249-E and OMB-V-A-06-0260-E, were filed in 2006.

The money used to buy the heavy equipment was sourced from Syjuco’s Countrywide Development Fund or pork barrel when he was still congressman of Iloilo 2nd district.

Aside from Syjuco, Mejorada also sued Cecil Caligan, former head of the 4th Engineering District which covers the 2nd district and Juanito Tizon, chairman/president of Julian Motors.

Mejorada complained that the purchase was irregular on the ground that the trucks were overpriced at P1.49 million each.

Mejorada also claimed that the trucks were not “reconditioned” and “in good running condition” but were actually rotting and rusting at the DPWH depot.  

He also alleged that the dump trucks were originally owned by the Tawo kag Duta sa Kauswagan Foundation which Syjuco established when he was still running for congressman.

The trucks ended up with Azure after a series of sale between the foundation and another buyer.

Syjuco and Caligan were also accused of pressuring the lowest bidder, Julian Motors, to withdraw from the transaction and give way to Azure Builders Corp.

But the Ombudsman-Visayas said Mejorada failed to prove his allegations, particularly the alleged conspiracy between the respondents and overpriced trucks.

The anti-graft body said the bidding for the heavy equipment were open and transparent as it was specified in the bid documents that the engineering district will buy trucks that are “reconditioned” and “in good running condition”, not brand new items.

The withdrawal of winning bidder Julian Motors from the transaction does not prove that Syjuco and Caligan pressured the supplier to back off.

The Ombudsman said Julian Motors voluntarily withdrew in view of anticipated delays of payment and fund releases.

As regards the issue that Syjuco’s foundation was the former owner of the trucks, the Ombudsman said there was no proof that he used his power as congressman to influence the transaction.

The anti-graft body said Syjuco did not coerce Caligan to buy the dump trucks from Azure Builders.

There was also no overpricing in the purchase even if the original cost of the trucks was P800,000 per unit.

“This could hardly be considered as grossly disadvantageous to the government. If a vendor is able to sell something higher than its acquisition cost, it is not conclusive of the fact that it defrauded the vendee. Any seller for that matter would certainly want to sell his products for a profit,” the Ombudsman said.

Carla Narvios-Tanco, Ombudsman graft investigation and prosecution officer 2, recommended the dismissal of the cases in February 2007.

Then OIC-Deputy Ombudsman for Visayas Virginia Palanca-Santiago recommended the approval of the two resolutions on March 20 2007 which were finally approved only on March 25, 2009 by Acting Ombudsman Orlando Casimiro.

Copies of the resolutions were sent to the parties involved October 2009.

SP probes Tupas’s ‘misuse’ of Capitol’s heavy equipment

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

THE Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Iloilo will investigate the alleged misuse of government heavy equipments in the construction of Gov. Niel Tupas Sr.’s house in the town of Banate.

Board Member Richard Garin triggered the investigation when he presented a copy of the video showing province-owned dump trucks and bulldozer and grader owned by the Banate municipal government working in Tupas’ house at Brgy. Juanico, Banate.

Garin said the video, which has been labeled “Iloilo Capitol Video Scandal,” has been spreading in the Internet via YouTube, a video hosting site.

Copies of the video can be viewed in http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZnShzHtGqsU and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_R_gwWu3iMg.

Photos and videos of the heavy equipment were also posted in two blogs: http://krusadakontrakurakot.wordpress.com and http://kontramakawat.blogspot.com.

Garin said the investigation should clarify why the dump trucks and other heavy equipments are working in Tupas’ house.

The committee on infrastructure chaired by Board Member June Mondejar was initially tasked to lead the investigation along with the committees on good government.

But Capitol sources said Mondejar, a known Tupas ally in the provincial board, refused to handle the issue.

Vice Governor Rolex Suplico said the committee of the whole, which he also chairs, will investigate the issue to involve all provincial board members.

Suplico said they will invite officials of the Provincial Engineer’s Office (PEO), the provincial motor pool and Banate municipal government to explain their side on the issue.

Truck driver Ken Jun Enojas Jr. said he and Domingo Ferrolin were ordered by Engr. Francisco Boy Nobleza, chief of the PEO’s motor pool, to work on a barangay road in Banate.

But Nobleza said he has no authority to deploy trucks, particularly Trucks No. 5 and 11 which are under the jurisdiction of the PEO’s 5th district office in Barotac Viejo under Engr. Ananias Lago.

Banate belongs to the 4th congressional district where Tupas will run for congressman.

The Office of the Ombudsman will also look into the issue saying it will examine the pictures and videos spreading in the Internet.

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

THE Office of the Ombudsman will look into the allegations that government-owned heavy equipments were used to construct the house of Iloilo Gov. Niel Tupas Sr.

Virginia Palanca-Santiago, assistant deputy Ombudsman for Visayas, said they will gather the facts surrounding the latest accusations against Tupas.

Santiago said they need to see the photographs and video footage of the province-owned dump trucks and bulldozer and grader owned by the Banate municipal government working in Tupas’ house at Brgy. Juanico, Banate.

Santiago said the use of government assets for private purposes is tantamount to misuse of government property and abuse of power on the part of an official.

She said they can initiate a formal investigation if they have enough evidence against the governor.

Tupas has denied using government-owned equipment to construct his house although he flipped-flopped in his earlier statements.

The governor initially told Ray Cabarles of RMN-Iloilo that the equipment have never come near his house.

Tupas later changed his tune when he told Regan Arlos also of RMN-Iloilo that he invited the drivers of the heavy equipment to snacks and coffee. This, after he was given copies of photos showing the Capitol’s heavy equipment working on his house.

Tupas said the truck team was working on a barangay road adjacent to his house.

Meanwhile, Capitol employees in-charge of dump trucks and heavy equipment have started finger-pointing.

Engr. Efren Datoon, a project engineer of the Provincial Engineer’s Office (PEO), said the green dump trucks in the photographs are indeed owned by the province but these are no longer used.

Datoon said they are now using yellow dump trucks which the provincial government purchased two years ago.

Datoon said he could not recall if they have road maintenance projects in Brgy. Juanico.

It was later learned that the drivers of the green dump trucks were Domingo Ferrolin and Ken Jun Enojas Jr.

Enojas said Engr. Francisco Boy Nobleza, chief of the PEO’s motor pool, ordered them to work on a barangay road in Juanico, 20 to 30 meters from Tupas’ house.

But Enojas could not recall when they were deployed and how long they worked on the said project. He is still looking for the records at the motor pool.

Enojas said the punong barangay of Juanico requested the road project.

But in an interview with Febe Morales of Aksyon Radyo, Nobleza denied Enojas’ claims saying he has no power to deploy trucks and other heavy equipments.

Nobleza said he is only in-charge of repairs and maintenance of these equipments.

Nobleza said provincial engineers assigned to the five congressional districts in Iloilo can order the deployment of heavy equipments.

He added that Dump Trucks Nos. 5 and 11 are detailed to the 5th congressional district which is the jurisdiction of Engr. Ananias Lago.

Nobleza said the trucks are not supposed to be in Banate which is in the 4th congressional district.

Tupas is running for congressman in the 4th district, reason why he transferred his voter’s registration and established a house in Banate.

‘CRUSADING ART’  Iloilo 3rd District Rep. Arthur “Art” Defensor Sr. (center) announces his plan to regain the governor’s office in the 2010 elections during a press conference in Iloilo City Thursday. Behind him are his supporters (from left to right) including his son, Board Member Arthur Defensor Jr., 4th district Rep. Ferj Biron, running mate Board Member Oscar “Richard” Garin Jr., 1st district Rep. Janet Garin, former congressman Licurgo Tirador and Vice Gov. Rolex Suplico. Thirty-two of the 43 municipal mayors support the Defensor-Garin tandem. (Photo by Tara Yap)

‘CRUSADING ART’ Iloilo 3rd District Rep. Arthur “Art” Defensor Sr. (center) announces his plan to regain the governor’s office in the 2010 elections during a press conference in Iloilo City Thursday. Behind him are his supporters (from left to right) including his son, Board Member Arthur Defensor Jr., 4th district Rep. Ferj Biron, running mate Board Member Oscar “Richard” Garin Jr., 1st district Rep. Janet Garin, former congressman Licurgo Tirador and Vice Gov. Rolex Suplico. Thirty-two of the 43 municipal mayors support the Defensor-Garin tandem. (Photo by Tara Yap)

Defensor-Garin tandem vows reforms at provincial gov’t

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

HOUSE Majority Floor Leader Arthur Defensor Sr. wants to restore decency at the Iloilo provincial government and the people’s trust and confidence in government, reason why he wants to return to the capitol.

Defensor proffered this motivation when he formally declared his candidacy for governor in the May 2010 elections at Hotel Del Rio Thursday morning before a big group of local political leaders.

Defensor also introduced his running mate, Board Member Richard Garin, but cut short of their lineup for the provincial board.

Defensor said he is on a “crusade for reform and restoration of the people’s faith and trust in government”.

He said he had no plans to return to the provincial capitol “as I felt I have served the people well with honor and dignity.”

But Defensor said there is a need to “put an end to continuity” and restore honor and dignity in the provincial government.

Apparently, Defensor was making swipes at the present administration of Gov. Niel Tupas Sr. which has been beset by issues of graft and corruption.

Defensor said he is confident to win the 2010 elections with the support of at least 32 mayors, provincial board members and other political behemoths in the province.

He also basked in his alliance with Garin whom he described as an able ally at the Capitol.

“I fell honored and privileged to have Board Member Richard Garin as my vice governor,” Defensor said.

In response, Garin described Defensor’s nine-year stint as governor as “a time of peace, dedicated and fruitful work, recognizance (sic) of responsibilities and honest transactions and liquidations.”

PROGRAMS OF GOVERNMENT

Defensor said his programs will focus on developing additional sources of power, water and environmental protection.

Defensor will also conduct a reevaluation of the province’s health programs and hospitals.   

“We will also craft a comprehensive development plan to keep up with the changing times in our province,” he added.

Garin said one of his thrusts is on agriculture, particularly the establishment of an animal and plant laboratory.

Garin said he is concerned with the lack of facilities that will help Iloilo farmers diagnose animal and plant diseases.

SHOW OF FORCE

The declaration also served as a show of force, a coalition of major political sectors in Iloilo.

Aside from the Garins, who rule the 1st congressional district, Rep. Ferjenel Biron, Vice Gov. Rolex Suplico and former congressman Licurgo Tirador lent support to the Defensor-Garin tandem.

A total of 33 Iloilo mayors have committed to support Defensor’s candidacy even if his chief opponent, Barotac Viejo Mayor Raul Tupas, is the incumbent president of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines in Iloilo.

Reportedly, the Syjuco couple – TESDA Director General Augusto and incumbent Rep. Judy – will support the Defensor-Garin tandem despite their falling out with Philippine Coconut Authority Administrator Oscar Garin.

Oscar Garin ran for governor in 2001 against Gov. Tupas but lost.

The Garins attributed the defeat to Augusto Syjuco’s sudden change of heart and turned his support to Tupas.

Another “surprise supporter” in the Defensor-Garin tandem is Board Member Rodolfo “Boy” Cabado who has been identified with the Tupas group.

Cabado said there is nothing shocking in his decision to support Defensor as their friendship goes a long way back when they belonged to the same law office before.

Cabado said Defensor has always been his ally throughout his political career.

Heavy equipment are seen working at the house of Gov. Tupas in Brgy. Juanico, Banate, Iloilo sometime in April 2009

Heavy equipment are seen working at the house of Gov. Tupas in Brgy. Juanico, Banate, Iloilo sometime in April 2009

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Tupas may face graft for misuse of gov’t resources

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

ILOILO Gov. Niel D. Tupas Sr. is facing possible graft charges for misuse of government resources when he allegedly used government-owned heavy equipment to work in the construction of his rest house in Banate, Iloilo.

The latest controversy that Tupas figured in stemmed from video clips and photographs showing two province-owned dump trucks and a grader and bulldozer owned by the Banate municipal government working in Tupas’s house at Brgy. Juanico, Banate.

The said materials showed the trucks dumping filling materials in the work site while the grader and bulldozer were clearing the area.   

The green dump trucks are marked “Province of Iloilo” while the blue grader and bulldozer bear the official seal of the Banate municipal government.

In an interview with Rey Cabarles of RMN-Iloilo last Monday, Tupas said “the truck never got near my house.”

But in his next interview with Regan Arlos also of RMN-Iloilo yesterday, said the heavy equipment passed by his house and he only invited the drivers to have coffee and snacks.

He made this statement after Tupas was shown with copies of pictures of the heavy equipment.

In another interview with Bombo Radyo, Tupas said the heavy equipment were getting quarry materials from a quarry site near his house.

The governor established a house at Brgy. Juanico in preparation for his candidacy for congressman of the Iloilo 4th congressional district opposite incumbent Rep. Ferjenel Biron.

Early this year, Tupas transferred his voter’s registration to Brgy. Juanico.

Highway to new Iloilo Airport snagged by right-of-way claims

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

THE Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) vowed to hasten the expansion of the national highway from Iloilo City to Sta. Barbara, Iloilo, particularly the provision of easement and sidewalks.

Engr. Juby Cordon, DPWH assistant regional director, said they are processing the compensation and relocation of residents who will be affected by the P568-million widening project.

Aside from widening, the project also includes the rehabilitation and asphalt overlay of the 13.10-kilometer Iloilo City-Pavia-Sta. Barbara. The contractor of the project is Iloilo Builders Corp.

The road was widened from two lanes to four lanes to facilitate easier vehicular traffic flow towards the new Iloilo airport in Cabatuan-Sta. Barbara area.

The project is encountering problems in the provision of easement and sidewalks, particularly the 2.74-kilometer road stretching from the Diversion Road in Mandurriao to Jaro, Iloilo City.

Cordon said the budget for the project included the easement and sidewalks but they have to acquire privately-owned lots for the road-right-of-way and utility lines.

The road is supposed to have a 1.5-meter shoulder aside from the sidewalk as part of the easement.

The lack of the road shoulder rendered the widening project useless as private and public utility vehicles park on the road posing hazards to traffic.

Pedestrians also traverse the lanes while houses are almost standing on the road.

Cordon said they have acquired 20 meters of easement from the center of the road but several residents are encroaching on the right-of-way.

“We also have to process the compensation and relocation of residents whose lots will be acquired for the easement. The DPWH has requested the help of the Iloilo City government in relocating these residents,” Cordon said.

Cordon said they also requested Panay Electric Co. to move its posts from the easement to facilitate the construction of the shoulders and sidewalk.

Cordon was one of the resource persons during a press conference of Bantay Lansangan or Road Watch.

Bantay Lansangan is a multi-sectoral group composed of non-government, private stakeholders, and official development partners to work with the DPWH and other government stakeholder agencies in enhancing the delivery of quality national road services.

Formed in 2007, the initiative seeks to increase transparency and access to information on the one hand, as well as monitor DPWH performance in delivering national road services.

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

THE Sandiganbayan ordered the arrest of a former mayor of Barotac Nuevo, Iloilo relative to an alleged ghost barangay market project.

In a resolution issued September 16, 2009, the anti-graft court’s 4th Division ordered the issuance of a warrant of arrest against former Barotac Nuevo mayor Pedro “Indo” Hautea.

 Sandiganbayan Associate Justices Gregory S. Ong, Jose R. Hernandez and Rolando B. Jurado signed the resolution of the case docketed as SB-09-CRM-0150 to 0152 (People vs. Pedro Bayona Hautea, et. al.)

Hautea is now the incumbent vice mayor of Barotac Nuevo.

Hautea, along with Manuel Siaotong and Norma Lustria, were initially accused of violating the anti-graft law and malversation of public funds and property through falsification of public and official documents before the Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas.

The case is relative to an alleged ghost market project in Brgy. Tinurian, Barotac Nuevo.

On June 17, 2003, the Ombudsman resolved to indict Hautea of the charges but the latter sought for reconsideration.

Hautea’s plea was forwarded to the Ombudsman’s Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP).

On May 22, 2009, Deputy Ombudsman for Visayas Orlando Casimiro approved the filing of charges for falsification of public/official documents against Hautea before the Sandiganbayan.

Hautea filed a second motion for reconsideration saying the case filed by the Ombudsman before the Sandiganbayan was different from the original suit.

But the Sandiganbayan said Hautea already benefited from the review undertaken by OSP on his case “which led to the filing of a lesser charge against him.”

“He (Hautea) can no longer be allowed to file a second motion for reconsideration after his first one has already been duly considered. In the mind of the Court, accused Pedro Bayona Hautea had already been afforded the measure of his right to a full and complete preliminary investigation. Accordingly, upon independent and judicious appraisal of the records, this Court finds probable cause for the issuance of the corresponding warrant of arrest against the accused,” the Sandiganbayan said.

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

A MULTI-sectoral group monitoring road projects in the country will observe the construction of 20 major road constructions in Iloilo.

Vince Lazatin, executive director of Bantay Lansangan (Road Watch), said the Iloilo roads are part of the 40 projects included in the second round of monitoring in Visayas region.

Bantay Lansangan (BL) seeks to increase transparency and access to information and monitor Department of Public Works and Highway’s (DPWH) performance in delivering national road services.

The aim of the initiative is to reduce transaction costs for road construction and maintenance, improve response times for maintenance, increase road user satisfaction, and improve public perception of the DPWH.

BL is funded by the Australian Agency for International Development. 

During the first round of monitoring in Iloilo, BL’s report on the provincial P30-million road project in Brgy. Mambog, Oton prompted DPWH to order the contractor to remove and replace a defective portion of the road.

President Gloria Arroyo visited and inaugurated the road project last July 28, 2009.

Based on the BL monitoring report prepared by Iloilo CODE, a group of non-government organizations, cracks were found in a 4-kilometer portion of the road.

Engr. Juby Cordon, DPWH-6 regional director, their agency found cracks on the project even before BL started monitoring projects in Iloilo.

Cordon said the DPWH ordered the contractor, F. Gurrea Construction, to remove and replace the damaged portion at its expense.

Cordon said they appreciate BL’s effort as a partner of DPWH in implementing road projects.

According to I-CODE, this is the first time in 10 years that the DPWH issued a “remove and replace” order to a contractor.

“It’s good that there is a third party monitor that could attest to how we are trying to respond to citizens’ concerns and how we fight corruption since it will be self-serving if these statements would come from us,” Cordon said.

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

THE Office of the Ombudsman in Western Visayas denied violating the red plate policy it is implementing by allegedly misusing its official car.

The issue on the alleged misuse of the Ombudsman car surfaced when the vehicle was spotted in Cabatuan last September 10. The town was celebrating its annual patronal fiesta on the said date.

Reports surfaced that Deputy Ombudsman for Visayas Pelagio Apostol attended the fiesta after leading the strategic planning and assessment of Ombudsman-Western Visayas.

The alleged use of the Ombudsman car to attend the town fiesta is a violation of the red plate policy which mandates that government vehicles should be used for official purposes only.

But in a text message to The Daily Guardian, Ombudsman graft investigator Evangeline Nuñal said they observed proper procedure when Apostol used the office car.

Nuñal said Apostol led the Ombudsman strategic planning in Iloilo City on September 10.

The following day, Apostol was to attend the anniversary celebration of Ombudsman Western Visayas office in Iloilo City. 

Apostol decided to go home to his in-laws in Cabatuan instead of staying in a hotel.

“He normally stays there instead of a hotel. The trip (to Cabatuan) was official and we have properly accomplished the trip ticket which is open to scrutiny by the public,” Nuñal said.

Nuñal said the Ombudsman is not exempt from laws governing the use of government resources.

“We encourage people to report whenever they feel that the law is being violated especially by the Office of the Ombudsman. We always welcome feedbacks from the public.” She added.

Meanwhile, the Ombudsman is set to charge five public officials in Western Visayas for alleged misuse of official vehicles.

Taxi operators, drivers fuming mad on Suansing’s action

By Tara Yap

A GROUP of taxi operators and drivers is not satisfied with the recommendation of an investigating panel of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) to just relieve controversial regional officials.

They were seething with discontent that they also charged LTFRB chairman Alberto Suansing of covering up the alleged systemic graft and corruption happening inside LTFRB-6.

This developed as the LTFRB panel headed by Atty. Manuel Mahipus recommended the relief of LTFRB 6 Regional Director Porferio Clavel, regional hearing officer Romel Duron and administrative officer Janet Solinap.

The panel was tasked to investigate the alleged extortion committed by Duron on taxi franchise applicants.

The investigating panel expanded its probe on other purported graft in LTFRB-6, according to Suansing.

But the Alliance of Panay Taxi Operators and Drivers Association (APTODA) is not contented with the panel’s recommendation.

APTODA president Benjie Clavel said Suansing whitewashed the issue.

“Ginatakpan niya lang ang tanan nga kabutigan (He is covering up the truth),” Clavel said.

Clavel said that Suansing is defending Duron when the LTFRB chairman made pronouncements that Duron is not directly involved in the graft and corruption charges.

“Hambal ni Suansing, wala direct involvement si Duron maskin nag testigo si Salvacion Ruiz nga siya mismo naka hatag sang P30,000 kay Duron para sa taxi franchise (Suansing said that Duron is not involved even though Salvacion Ruiz testified that she herself gave P30,000 to Duron for the fee of the taxi franchise),” Clavel explained.

“Kami na ang ga pangita hustisya pero si Duron ang gin hatagan sang hustisya (We are the ones looking for justice, but Duron is one who is given justice),” Clavel pointed out.

Clavel also said that Suansing had to find a reason to relieve regional director Porfirio Clavel to divert attention away from Duron, whom they want to be permanently removed from LTFRB.

Director Clavel was relieved for violating a memorandum which only allows 150 units per year to be granted a franchise. An investigation by a 5-men team found that Director Clavel gave a franchise to more than 150 units.

However, Clavel said that it is Duron’s responsibility as the latter heads the technical working committee and is the regional hearing officer. 

“The applications pass by Duron before (these go) to director Clavel,” Clavel said.

Clavel also said that they do not know why Suansing gave Solinap relief orders as she has nothing to do with the allegations of graft and corruption charges.

Meanwhile, Clavel and the rest of the aggrieved taxi operators and drivers are appealing to Suansing to permanently remove Duron not just from LTFRB 6, but LTFRB itself.

“Wala si Suansing naluoy sa linibo nga ging tonto ni Duron. Dapat, pahalinon  gid si Duron sa LTFRB (Doesn’t Suansing feel sorry for the thousands of people who was fooled by Duron? Duron should be removed from the LTFRB),” stressed Clavel.

Duron could not be reached at his office. Text messages to his cellphone asking for his comment were unanswered.

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

THE Office of the Ombudsman in Western Visayas will ask the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) to explain and resolve the delayed remittance of retirees’ pensions.

This after the Ombudsman received complaints from GSIS pensioners in the cities of Bacolod and Iloilo about the 8-month delay in their monthly pensions.

Evangeline Nuñal, Ombudsman graft investigator, said 79 pensioners from Bacolod City and 40 pensioners in Iloilo sent their complaints to the People’s Graftwatch in their respective areas. The Graftwatch then forwarded the complaints to the Ombudsman-Western Visayas office for investigation.

Nuñal said the case was assigned to her through a raffle by their office. Her first move is to send a letter to the GSIS regional and national offices asking for an explanation and resolution to the pensioners’ problem.

If GSIS does not respond to their first letter, Nuñal said they will send two more letters of the same nature.

If the state pension fund does not respond after three letters, the Ombudsman will launch a formal investigation which could lead to the filing of administrative and criminal cases.

Aside from the complainants in Bacolod and Iloilo, some pensioners in Antique and Capiz are also planning to send their own complaints to the Ombudsman through the Social Action Center of the Catholic Church.

GSIS pensioners recently complained that they did not receive their September pensions on the designated date.

Fe Panes, GSIS-Iloilo assistant manager, said the delay was caused by the “migration” or transfer of pensioners’ records to their new computer system.

GSIS is implementing an overhaul of its computer system after the software of its technology provider crashed.

Panes said GSIS sent text message broadcast to pensioners informing them about the delay in the remittance of their pensions.

But some pensioners said they did not receive any word from the state pension fund.

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

THE Office of the Ombudsman in Visayas has begun its probe on the controversial power supply agreement (PSA) between Iloilo Electric Cooperative (Ileco) 3 and an independent power supplier.

Deputy Ombudsman for Visayas Pelagio Apostol said they have formed a fact-finding body that will gather information on the agreement between Ileco 3 and Applied Research Technologies Philippines, Inc. (Artech).

Ileco 3 board president Mateo Baldoza claimed last May that he received P75,000 from Governor Niel Tupas last April 17 when they met Artech officials at the governor’s house in Jaro, Iloilo City.

Artech was offering a 25-year PSA to Ileco using diesel-fired and biomass power plants when the alleged bribery at Tupas’s house happened.

Tupas and Artech officials have denied Baldoza’s allegations.

Apostol refused to give the details and coverage of their investigation saying the proceedings are still confidential.

“When we find in the fact-finding investigation that there is probable cause to investigate any public official involved in this issue, we will start the formal probe. For now, we are gathering more information relative to this issue,” Apostol said.

Apostol urged persons who have knowledge about the transaction to share their information with the office of the Ombudsman.

The National Electrification Administration (NEA) Legal Department has submitted a copy of its own fact-finding investigation on the Ileco 3-Artech deal to the Office of the Ombudsman.

The NEA fact-finding team has recommended the rescission of the power supply deal citing onerous provisions.

NEA also took over the Ileco 3 management and deactivated its board of directors pending the investigation on the alleged bribery.

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

THE mess besetting the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) regional office may have stemmed from the power struggle between its two top officials.

LTFRB Chairman Alberto Suansing said allegations of graft and corruption against Atty. Rommel Duron, LTFRB-6 hearing officer, surfaced when the latter applied for promotion as regional director of Western Visayas.

The current LTFRB-6 regional director is Atty. Porfirio Clavel who vowed to reveal what he knows about the alleged graft and corruption happening in his office.

Suansing said the panel that is looking into the accusations against LTFRB officials is hoping to finish its probe this week.

But Suansing said the investigation does not only cover Duron but all LTFRB officials and personnel.

“It is not only Duron who is the subject of complaints. I also received complaints against Clavel and other personnel. Based on the reports I received, even the plain utility worker might be involved in these alleged graft and corruption. That is the reason why the panel is investigating the whole regional office,” Suansing said.

Suansing said he ordered Clavel and Duron to continue discharging their duties and functions.

“But if this issue affects our operations in your region, we will not hesitate to revamp the whole regional office,” Suansing said.

The Alliance of Panay Taxi Operators and Drivers Association (Aptoda) and Association of Taxi Operators in Panay (Atop) had dumped administrative and criminal cases against Duron and former casual driver Henry Mamon for alleged extortion and misconduct.

The Archdiocese of Jaro also joined the fray after Archbishop Angel Lagdameo lent support to Atop and Aptoda.

An ecumenical service will be held today at Jaro Cathedral with Lagdameo delivering a homily on the evils of graft and corruption.

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

THE Catholic Church has joined taxi operators in their struggle against alleged graft and corruption in the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB).

Bengie Clavel, president of Alliance of Panay Taxi Operators and Drivers Association (Aptoda), said they got favorable endorsement from Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo relative to their drive to cleanse the LTFRB.

Officials of Aptoda and Association of Taxi Operators in Panay and complainants against LTFRB officials met Lagdameo over the weekend to discuss their problem.

Clavel said churches under the Archdiocese of Jaro will deliver homilies during masses that will focus on graft and corruption in government.

“The clergy understood our position and the church agreed to help us by way of prayers and masses to give us strength in our crusade,” Clavel said.

Aptoda and Atop accused Atty. Rommel Duron, LTFRB hearing officer, of graft and corruption for overcharging franchise applicants in their office.

Duron denied the allegation saying he is a victim of a grand conspiracy between the taxi groups and LTFRB regional director Porfirio Clavel.

Meanwhile, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) cautioned taxi operators against seeking help from rebels in resolving their differences with LTFRB.

Major Lowen Gil Marquez, chief of the AFP’s Civil Service Relations, said transport operators should bring their complaint to the proper forum.

“They should not seek help from the New People’s Army (NPA) because we have a criminal justice system in place. Bringing their concerns to the NPA will only compound their problems,” Marquez said.

Marquez said the so-called Independent Alliance of Transport Operators (IATO) might be trying to stir the situation by dragging the NPA into the fray.

IATO issued an open letter addressed to the NPA to help bring justice to Duron’s alleged victims.

Aptoda and Atop denied any links with IATO nor do they support a bloody end to the issue.

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

A TAXI group that filed graft cases against a top Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) official said they welcome the help of any entity in their crusade, even from the New People’s Army (NPA).

But Genie Primalion, spokesperson of the Alliance of Panay Taxi Operators and Drivers Association (Aptoda), said they will not seek the blood of Atty. Rommel Duron, LTFRB hearing officer.

“We are not calling for the death of Atty. Duron nor do we endorse any death sentence on him. All we want is for him to resign from office,” Primalion said.

Primalion was reacting to the open letter of the Independent Alliance of Transport Operators (IATO) requesting the NPA’s Coronacion Chiva “Waling-Waling” Command to intervene in the LTFRB issue.

IATO asked the rebels to bring justice to the complainants who sued Duron and former LTFRB casual worker Henry Mamon.

Primalion said they have no connection with IATO nor do they know the personalities behind the said transport group.

Still, Primalion said they thank IATO for supporting their cause which they expect to shake and ease Duron out of the LTFRB.

Primalion said IATO might have links with the NPA reason why it asked the rebels’ help.

“We have our own direction by way of Ombudsman and Civil Service Commission cases we filed against Duron,” he added.

Primalion said only the NPA can answer the requests of IATO relative to the LTFRB controversy.

Aptoda and the Association of Taxi Operators in Panay heaped administrative and criminal cases against Duron for allegedly overcharging taxi operators applying for franchise with the LTFRB.

The complainants claimed that Duron and Mamon collected P30,000 to P40,000 for each taxi franchise when the actual fee is only P810.

But Duron and Mamon said the accusations against them are part of a conspiracy among taxi operators and those who want them out of LTFRB.

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

A LETTER purportedly written by a transport group asked the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, to help the victims of alleged graft and corruption inside the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB).

In an open letter addressed to the Coronacion Chiva “Waling-Waling” Command of the NPA, the Independent Alliance of Transport Operators (IATO) asked the rebels to bring justice to the complainants who sued Atty. Rommel Duron, LTFRB hearing officer, and Henry Mamon, former LTFRB driver for corruption at the government office.

The IATO said the transport sector has lost hope and trust in LTFRB Chairman Alberto Suansing and the Civil Service Commission (CSC) whom the group accused of protecting Duron and company.

The transport group said only the revolutionary movement can help the transport sector achieve justice.

Duron and Mamon are facing extortion and graft cases filed by the Alliance of Panay Taxi Operators and Drivers Association and Association of Taxi Operators in Panay.

The complaints stemmed from the allegations of taxi operators Salvacion Ruiz and Tony Caram that Duron and Mamon made them pay P30,000 to P40,000 for their taxi franchise when the regular fee is only P810.

Operators of vans for hire and other public utility vehicles are reportedly preparing to come out and dump more cases against Duron and Mamon.

Duron and Mamon had denied the accusations saying the issue stemmed from his insistence to implement the installation of receipt issuing taxi meters.

Duron said taxi operators, in connivance with LTFRB regional director Porfirio Clavel, opposed the use of the digital meters.

Chief Supt. Isagani Cuevas, Police Regional Office (PRO-6) director, said they will first verify the existence of the letter before reacting on the issue.

“We cannot react on this because we have procedures to follow. And we have to cross check the information with other intelligence units,” Cuevas said.

Cuevas said complaints against any person, be it in the public or private sector, should be lodged with the proper forum.

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

THE top official of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) branded its regional office in Western Visayas as corrupt, thus, all its personnel must be investigated.

LTFRB Chairman Alberto Suansing said that aside from corruption charges against Atty. Rommel Duron, LTFRB hearing officer, he also received reports on alleged shenanigans of other LTFRB officials and personnel.

“Most of the personnel in LTFRB Western Visayas are corrupt and that is based on the reports we have been receiving,” Suansing said.

Suansing said their investigation will not only focus on the complaints lodged by taxi operators against Duron but also on other officers and rank and file employees.

Suansing said they will also go over inventories of transport franchises and transactions in LTFRB-6.

He said they are also monitoring the actions of Atty. Porfirio Clavel, LTFRB-6 regional director.

Suansing said they might release the initial findings on the complaints against Duron next week.

The Association of Taxi Operators in Panay and Alliance of Panay Taxi Operators and Drivers Associations accused Duron of extortion by charging operators fees in excess of the regular P810 franchise payment.

Clavel said he welcomes any probe on their office saying Suansing was just being concerned with the regional office.

“Like a father to his children, Chairman Suansing is only making sure that everything is in order in the regional office. We welcome the investigation,” Clavel said.

Clavel earlier said he will tell what he knows about the goings-on inside LTFRB regional office at the proper forum.

By Seth Mydans/Int’l  Herald Tribune 

MANILA — When former President Corazon C. Aquino died this month, Filipinos filled the streets in mourning and in celebration of the golden moment in 1986 when she led them in a peaceful uprising that some called a revolution.

The nation’s dictator, Ferdinand E. Marcos, had fled as masses of people faced down his tanks, and democracy was restored after 20 years of repressive rule. Mrs. Aquino, the opposition leader who became president, ushered in wide-ranging political reforms.

But the weeks since Mrs. Aquino’s death at the age of 76 have been a period of self-examination and self-doubt among many Filipinos, as they consider how little has really changed since then.

“The legacy is the mess we are in,” said F. Sionil Jose, 84, the nation’s most prominent novelist, pointing to continuing poverty, inequality and political disarray as evidence that the nation failed to capitalize on its moment of possibility.

“We have a word for it — sayang — ‘what a waste,’” he said.

In schools, coffeehouses, rice fields, churches and offices around Manila and in the countryside, there seemed to be a shared sense that the people of the Philippines had failed themselves.

“We thought all we needed to do was remove the dictator and do nothing about it,” said Teresita I. Barcelo, president of the Philippine Nurses Association. “We thought the problem was just the dictator. I say the problem is us. We did not change.”

Sister Dory Reyes, 61, a former Roman Catholic nun and teacher in the farming town of Santa Maria, said: “The poverty is still there. The corruption is still there. Unemployment is still there. I don’t see improvement.”

The Philippines, with a population of 92 million, is one of the most vibrant nations in Asia, with a flamboyantly free press and a creative, assertive body of independent organizations and interest groups.

But it has not managed to tame its Communist and Muslim insurgencies or its restive military, which seems constantly to be plotting coups. The military has regularly been accused of human rights abuses and disappearances.

And the political arena sometimes seems more like a form of mass entertainment than a place of governance.

Since Mrs. Aquino left office in 1992, there have been three presidential elections, two attempts at impeachment, two apparent attempts to stay in power through constitutional change, one popular uprising that ousted an elected president and another that failed.

“We keep coming up with new ways to describe the country,” said Sheila Coronel, director of the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia University in New York, who for years was a leading journalist in the Philippines.

“Democracy in decay, a nonfunctioning democracy, a challenged democracy,” Ms. Coronel said, listing some of the epithets. “There was a time when the phrase ‘illiberal democracy’ was fashionable.”

Almost nothing in the Philippines escapes politics, and Mrs. Aquino’s funeral procession on Aug. 5 has been widely seen as a protest against the unpopular incumbent president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, whose term is scheduled to end next May.

“When Cory’s term ended, she did not seek to extend her stay,” said Consolacion Paje, 53, a housewife, as she stood in the rain with tens of thousands of people to view the funeral cortege, referring to Mrs. Aquino by her common nickname. “That’s what makes her different from Gloria. Cory was honest. She had integrity.”

Mrs. Arroyo is barred from running for a second six-year term as president. But the nation is transfixed by the possibility that she could amend the Constitution and stay in power as prime minister in a parliamentary system, a concern she sought to tamp down last month during her state of the nation address.

Despite constant attacks on her, Mrs. Arroyo is a ferocious politician, and she has already used her majority backing in Congress to turn aside attempts at impeachment.

With so much energy expended on political theater, not much progress has been made in improving the lives of ordinary Filipinos in a nation where 30 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

“Things get harder and harder every year,” said Ernesto Policarpio, 74, a farmer in Santa Maria, 20 miles northeast of Manila, who sells snacks and supplies from a stall by his rice field for extra income.

He paused to sell a single cigarette to a young man who lighted it with a lighter hanging from a string.

“But here in the province you don’t feel the hard times as much as in the city,” he said. “Here if you have nothing to eat you can always go to the neighbor and ask for food.”

Mr. Policarpio said he had worked abroad for a while, as many Filipinos have, earning $2,000 a month as a security guard in Los Angeles until the economy stumbled and he headed home.

Eight million Filipinos work overseas, or 25 percent of the country’s work force, its leading export. They send home about $17 billion a year, accounting for 13 percent of gross domestic product in 2007, according to the World Bank.

Before the financial crisis, the Philippine economy was growing by an average of more than 5 percent a year, World Bank figures show. But even that was not fast enough to outpace some of the world’s worst corruption or a birthrate that will bring the population to an estimated 101 million by 2015.

Many families here depend on remittances from abroad, and an overseas job can be one of the highest ambitions for the upwardly mobile.

“I’m optimistic,” said Danica Canonigo, 16, a high school student in Santa Maria. “I’m looking forward to another future in another country.”

This umbilical connection to the outside world may come in part from the history of the Philippines, which was an American colony for half a century, until 1946, after spending 400 years as a colony of Spain.

“We are not yet a nation,” said Mr. Jose, the novelist. “This is the whole problem. We have all the trappings of a modern state, but we are not yet a nation.”

The Philippines remains a collection of fiefdoms and oligarchies and political dynasties that include the children of Mr. Marcos and of Mrs. Aquino. She was herself elected as the widow of a prominent politician, Benigno S. Aquino Jr.

“I’m for Noynoy,” said Win Rico, 25, who serves coffee at a Starbucks outlet in Santa Maria, referring to Senator Benigno S. Aquino III. Mr. Aquino’s name has become a hot item in next year’s presidential election maneuvers since his mother’s funeral.

“I think Noynoy is a person who will put our country first,” Mr. Rico said, “the same as his father and his mother.”

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

PERSONALITIES involved in the alleged irregularities at the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) exchanged taunts and accusations when taxi groups mounted at picket at the agency’s regional office in Jaro, Iloilo City Wednesday.  

Atty. Rommel Duron, LTFRB hearing officer who is accused of extorting P33,000 from a taxi operator, went out of his office, flashed a V sign at the protesters while smiling.

Whatever the V sign meant was not clear but protesters belonging to the Alliance of Panay Taxi Operators and Drivers Association (Aptoda) and Association Taxi Operators of Panay (Atop) said Duron might be expressing victory against the cases against him.

Genie Primalion, Aptoda spokesperson, said Duron might be bragging that he will survive the slew of criminal and administrative cases filed against him because of his closeness to LTFRB national chair Alberto Suansing.

Duron said he was happy to see the taxi drivers and operators outside their office. He even advised them to eat well drink lots of water because they might get exhausted in the middle of the rally.

Duron also challenged taxi operators Perfecto Yap and Joseph Vincent Go to join the protesting drivers to show that they are also concerned with their personnel. He said the protesters were given money to join the rally.

Go, who joined the rallyists, said the taxi transport sector is united in their crusade against the alleged excesses of Duron. He also hit Duron for calling them “Intsik” (Chinese) when the latter challenged them to join the rally.

Around 40 taxi units joined the picket and noise barrage at the LTFRB office.

TAXI METER

Meanwhile, Duron said LTFRB regional director Porfirio Clavel should also be investigated for his refusal to implement the installation of digital taxi meters that issue receipts.

Duron said the LTFRB central office did not defer the new metering policy.

“It is only here in Western Visayas that Director Clavel acceded to the request of some taxi operators to delay the use of taxi meters issuing receipts. I have proof that he gave in to the operators instead of enforcing the law,” he said.

Clavel said he is willing to be investigated because he is the head of the LTFRB regional head.

Clavel said any complaint against him is welcome, particularly in relation to the controversy raging in his office.

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

PERSONNEL of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) are refrained from issuing any statement relative to the alleged graft case filed against a ranking official.

Atty. Porfirio Clavel, LTFRB regional director, said the LTFRB central office issued the gag order after ordering a probe on Atty. Rommel Duron, regional hearing officer and technical services department chief.

“Maybe the central office is already conducting an investigation on the allegations against Atty. Duron reason why it issued the gag order,” Clavel said.

Clavel earlier said he will reveal everything he knows regarding Duron’s case at the proper forum.

Duron is facing administrative and criminal cases filed by taxi operator Salvacion Ruiz and the Alliance of Panay Taxi Operators and Drivers Associations (Aptoda).

Ruiz claimed that Duron made her pay P33,000 for her franchise application when the regular fee is only P810, based on the official receipt issued to her.

Another taxi operator, Tony Caram also surfaced and alleged that he paid P35,000 to casual driver Henry Mamon for his franchise application.

Caram said Mamon is detailed to Duron’s office and may have an involvement in the alleged racket.

Caram’s statement became the basis of administrative and criminal cases filed by the Association of Taxi Operators (Atop) in Panay against Duron and Mamon.

Duron had denied the allegations against him saying he did not directly deal nor meet the complainants.

Mammon claimed in his affidavit that Atop officials pressured him to pin down Duron in the administrative and criminal cases.

Clavel said he did not renew Mamon’s appointment as casual driver for conduct unbecoming, act of dishonesty and insubordination.

Clavel said Mamon’s continued interviews relative to Duron’s case was basis for the non-renewal of his appointment.

Aptoda and Atop began Tuesday its series of protest actions against Duron by tying yellow and black ribbons in taxi units of their members.

Genie Primalion, Aptoda liaison officer, said the ribbons symbolize their despair on the slow development of the complaints filed against Duron and Mamon.

The taxi groups will also mount a protest rally and noise barrage at the LTFRB regional office.

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

SEVERAL taxi groups will stage protest actions against the alleged extortion committed by some Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB-6) officials and personnel.

Genie Primalion, spokesperson of the Alliance of Panay Taxi Operators and Drivers Associations (Aptoda), said they will take their cause against LTFRB hearing officer Rommel Duron and other personnel in the streets.

Primalion said they are dismayed by the slow progress in the complaint they filed against Duron with the LTFRB central office.

Primalion said taxi groups under the Aptoda umbrella will issue statements against the LTFRB and hold protest rallies at the agency’s regional office in Jaro.

Drivers will also wear black armbands as a sign of unity against the alleged extortion activities.

Aptoda is one of the complainants in the administrative cases against Duron.

The cases stemmed from the revelations of taxi operator Salvacion Ruiz who accused Duron of extorting P33,000 from her in exchange for the approval of her taxi franchise.

Duron denied meeting Ruiz or demanding money from her in excess of the regular P810 processing fee.

Duron said he is the target of black propaganda by some quarters in the taxi operators.

The Association of Taxi Operators in Panay also filed administrative and criminal cases against Duron with the Office of the Ombudsman in Visayas.

They are also planning to lodge disbarment cases against the said LTFRB official.

By Tara Yap

A LAWYER of the provincial government represented the board of directors of Iloilo Electric Cooperative (Ileco) 3 who are under investigation for the alleged bribery in a power supply agreement (PSA) with an independent power producer (IPP).

Atty. Joseph Anthony Lutero of the Provincial Legal Office represented Ileco 3 directors Achilles Pama, Joy Fuentes, Azur Salcedo, Vincent Espinosa and Emmanuel Pacardo during the hearing conducted by the National Electrification Administration (NEA) Thursday in Sara, Iloilo.

The directors are under investigation after Ileco 3 board president Mateo Baldoza revealed that he received P150,000 from Iloilo Gov. Niel Tupas and Applied Research Technologies Philippines Inc. (Artech) on two separate occasions.

Artech offered a 25-year PSA to Ileco 3 using a diesel-fired and biomass power plant. But technical managers of Ileco 3 claimed that the firm’s price is higher compared to other IPPs.

Lutero said there is nothing wrong with his appearance at the NEA Administration Committee hearing in behalf of the Ileco 3 directors.

“I don’t see any conflict of interest as we are still allowed to pursue our private practice,” Lutero said.

He added he appeared in the hearing on his private capacity, not as a capitol lawyer.

Lutero also assailed the complaint filed by Ileco 3 consumers against the board with NEA.

“It’s clear that the complainants didn’t understand what they were filing. They are emphasizing on the alleged bribery, but they did not focus on the contract to find out if it’s fair, just and reasonable,” he said.

He added the complainants’ issues on the price has no basis for comparison as it is not possible to compare diesel, biomass and coal with each other as these are different sources of power.

“To my mind, the truth is important. We all want to find out if the BoD acted lawfully,” he added.

In his fact-finding report, Atty. Omar Mayo, NEA legal department chief, said the PSA between Ileco 3 and Applied Research Technologies Phils., Inc. is “grossly disadvantageous and prejudicial to the interests of the cooperative and its member-consumers.”

Mayo said there was “undue haste, aggravated by bribery, in the signing of the said PSA, totally disregarding the findings of the very own technical personnel of Ileco 3.”

The NEA Administration Committee has directed the Ileco 3 directors to submit their position paper on the alleged bribery on or before September 12.

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

MEMBERS of the Iloilo Electric Cooperative (Ileco) 3 board of directors have until next month to answer allegations that they were bribed to approve a 25-year power supply agreement (PSA) with an independent power producer (IPP).

The Administration Committee (AdCom) of the National Electrification Administration (NEA) gave the directors until September 12 to submit their position papers as regards the bribery yarn.

Atty. Xerxes D. Adzuara, NEA AdCom chair, set the deadline after the preliminary hearing conducted at Ileco 3 head office in Sara, Iloilo Thursday morning.

The hearing began around 9am until past 10am and was attended by the Ileco 3 board headed by former Judge Mateo Baldoza, Rene Arandilla, Emmanuel Pacardo, Azur Salcedo, Achilles Pama and Vincent Francis Espinosa.

The directors were aided by their legal counsels Edison Belloga and Joseph Anthony Lutero.

Instead of a full blown hearing, the directors asked the AdCom that they will just submit their position papers.

Adzuara said they will make their recommendation to NEA Administrator Editha Bueno a month after the Ileco 3 directors submitted their position papers.

“If they don’t submit their position papers, this case will be submitted for decision to the NEA board meeting,” he added.

The NEA investigated the Ileco 3 board due to the complaints filed by two consumers following Baldoza’s exposé that he received P150,000 from Iloilo Gov. Niel Tupas Sr. and officials of Applied Research Technologies Philippines, Inc. (Artech).

The money, Baldoza said in his interview with Aksyon Radyo last May 5, was meant to facilitate the approval of the PSA with Artech which NEA recommended to be rescinded due to alleged onerous provisions.

 

SOMEONE?

But in his sworn affidavit which he made available yesterday, Baldoza pulled back his punches.

Baldoza said that he received from “someone” last April 17 an envelope containing P75,000 during a meeting with Artech officials at the house of Gov. Tupas in Jaro, Iloilo City.

Baldoza said that after eating at Tupas’s house, he was called inside the living room where “someone” thrust the envelope in his hand.

In his May 5 interview, the former judge said Tupas handed him the money. But he changed his tune in another interview May 6 saying a female Artech employee gave him the money at Tupas’s house.

He again hinted that the governor gave him the cash-filled envelope when he faced the probe conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).

In an interview with Aksyon Radyo yesterday, Baldoza said he revealed the persons behind the alleged bribery to the NBI. He will also detail what happened at the governor’s house in his position paper to the NEA.

Aside from the April 17 meeting in Tupas’s house, Baldoza also claimed that he received another P75,000 from an Artech employee during their special board meeting in Iloilo City last April 21.

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