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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Change’ reverberates in Iloilo’s 2nd district

Long before the period for the filing of certificates of candidacy even started, two contenders for the congressional seat for the 2nd district of Iloilo Province began slugging at each other and tear each other’s throats.

Incumbent 2nd district Rep. Augusto Boboy Syjuco and Pavia municipal mayor Arcadio Gorriceta used the radio airlanes and billboards to attack each other on issues of corruption as if elections were around the corner.

The level of conflict between Syjuco and Gorriceta is expected to intensify now that both have filed their COCs. Syjuco is running under the United Nationalist Alliance. Gorriceta is the handpicked candidate of his bosom buddy, Senator Franklin M. Drilon.

However, voters in the 2nd district aren’t as excited over this slugfest as they are with the entry of Kiting Cabaluna into the race, making it a three-cornered battle for the 2nd district. Cabaluna is presently serving as party-list congressman under the 1st Consumers Alliance for Rural Energy (1-CARE).

Cabaluna’s name surprisingly emerged as the front-runner in a three-way fight in a survey commissioned by a businessman recently for Gov. Arthur Defensor Sr. Syjuco and Gorriceta were “statistically tied” but Cabaluna, who had then yet to announce his candidacy at the time the survey was conducted, already took a commanding lead.

“The emergence of Cabaluna’s name surprised many,” said a source who helped analyze the survey results. Cabaluna was a “fresh name” who didn’t even figure in the early conversations about the 2nd district, the source, who asked not to be identified, said. “In fact, at first we couldn’t understand why his name cropped up because we didn’t know him,” he added.

Indeed, Cabaluna is now generating ripples of excitement across the 2nd district. From out of nowhere, a home-grown native son has stepped forward to challenge the monolithic political machinery of the Syjucos, who had ruled over the 2nd district since 1998. “He is truly one of their own,” commented the poll survey expert who talked with this writer. The 2nd district has grown sick and tired of “strangers” just parachuting into the place and claim political supremacy. For the first time, a true-blooded son of the 2nd district is seeking to become congressman.

If Cabaluna’s upsurge in the survey caught a few people by surprise, it’s probably because this three-term vice mayor of Leon, Iloilo keeps a low profile. “Kiting is quiet and unassuming, doesn’t talk much and just works and works,” said a friend from Leon, Iloilo. A lawyer by profession, he joined the Tupas administration as legal officer in 2002, and provincial legal officer in 2005. He became president of the Iloilo Electric Cooperative I (Ileco I) in 2007-2010.

Cabaluna won a seat as party-list representative in the May 2010 elections. In that capacity, he made sure that the 2nd district got a substantial portion of his pork barrel because its eight municipalities had been starved for too long because of corruption. In a way, local leaders in the 2nd district adopted him as “surrogate” congressman, because Syjuco ignored the needs of his constituents.

 

Unease at ‘united front’

Unease at ‘united front’.

Odious and repulsive Liberal Party bet

The Liberal Party in the 2nd district is in a quandary.

Senator Franklin M. Drilon pushed for the nomination of his friend, Pavia mayor Arcadio Gorriceta, to be the congressional candidate to run against incumbent Boboy Syjuco.

However, in a meeting between Gov. Arthur Defensor Sr. with 2nd district mayors the other night, a consensus emerged. Not a single mayor in the other seven towns of the 2nd  district approved of the choice. They made it clear to Defensor they won’t support Gorriceta.

The municipal mayors expressed their support for incumbent party list Rep. Salvador “Kiting” Cabaluna III.
Gorriceta has an odious and repulsive personality, the mayors told Defensor. The mayors even wanted to take a straw vote in the presence of Drilon, an idea that he shot down quickly to avoid embarrassment.
Now Drilon is trying to persuade former Gov. Niel Tupas Sr. to ask Cabaluna not to run. Unfortunately for him, Cabaluna is a man of his own. While he may have served under Tupas before, his decision cannot be swayed by his former boss.
Cabaluna is all set to run, according to my sources. He is emerging to be the strongest challenger to Syjuco. Gorriceta is likely to place a poor third. If this happens, this will be a repudiation of Drilon’s so-called leadership in the province of Iloilo. Drilon is now being exposed as a fraudulent leader in Iloilo province and city.

Iloilo local leaders in limbo

wounded

via Iloilo local leaders in limbo.

The Mar Roxas blunder

In pushing aside a loyal Liberal Party leader in Niel Tupas Sr. to bring in Arthur Defensor Sr. and Oscar Garin, DILG secretary Mar Roxas has succeeded in reinforcing the winnability of the man he wanted defeated in next year’s gubernatorial race.

Original LP leaders in Iloilo province were so disgusted over the shabby treatment Roxas, and President Aquino, gave Tupas that they immediately packed  their bags and crossed over to the United Nationalist Alliance of Congressman Ferjenel Biron.

Now, Roxas only has Defensor, and Garin, to fend for him. Which is going to be a tough mission, because the reconfiguration of Iloilo provincial politics tilted the balance in favor of Biron.

The true-blooded Liberals abandoned the sham “matuwid na daan” because of this betrayal of the cause. It’s traditional politics in the shade of KBL forty years ago. Aquino, Roxas and Franklin Drilon shelved the principles of the LP and embraced the practices of Marcos. Along the way, they forged an alliance with Bong Bong Marcos.

This is an uprising of the original Liberals in Iloilo province. They will prove to Aquino, Roxas and Drilon that they are not puppets who can be manipulated to serve selfish interests.
The saddest part of this is that Tupas is being led to the guillotine to be sacrificed, and he is a cooperative lamb for the sake of his son, Rep. Jun Jun Tupas.

Politics, crime, corruption rolled into one

It is a done deal: The Liberal Party of President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III is forging a coalition with the Nacionalista Party of Senator Manny Villar and the Nationalist People’s Coalition of Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco as it prepares for the 2013 national and local elections.

At first glance, there is nothing unusual about it. In the Philippine setting, political parties are treated lightly,  more of labels to indicate the current affiliation of the country’s political figures than a firm commitment to a set of party platform and core values.

It has been this way since the dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos abolished the two-party system of the past with the declaration of martial law in 1972 and institutionalization of the one-party system a few years afterwards. When democracy was restored in 1986, the political party system was thrown into mayhem.

But I am appalled that the Liberal Party, to which I still belong, would seek to strengthen itself at the expense of the principles it espouses. A little over two years ago, the Liberal Party castigated then NP standard bearer Manny Villar for the criminal conversions of irrigated ricelands for development as subdivisions. The LP vowed to make Villar answer for his sins against the nation, as his property development schemes shrunk the productivity of our agricultural sector, particularly for the staple crop, rice.

Indeed, memories fade rapidly under our democratic system, and accountability will soon become a forgotten principle.

In Iloilo City, the two top elected officials are mired in corruption scandals, and still, they were welcomed with wide open arms by the Liberal Party after faithfully bowing to the Lakas/NUCD of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. It’s as if the stain of corruption can just easily be wiped clean with a drop of dishwashing soap.

This is the politics that is putting down the nation under its own weight. We can’t pursue reform seriously, because our leaders choose convenience over principles. The reality of the times? Maybe. But it is one that is cause for frustration for many Filipinos.

We’ve seen the consequences of this corrupt system with the floods that hit many parts of the country this past week. It uncovered the neglect of our leadership in looking after pressing issues as it sought to achieve better political footholds. It shows that the “matuwid na daan” advocacy of President Aquino is nothing but lip service.

Cadio’s letter

Pavia mayor Arcadio Gorriceta likes to think of himself as “Mr. Clean.” He constantly talks of honesty and integrity in government. He puts up billboards condemning corruption. If clean governance can have a poster boy, Gorriceta will rush forward to grab the role. And, lately, he has embraced the duty to advise the Aquino administration, through a presidential sister, on quality of people to be appointed to key positions.

This came to light a few days ago after I obtained a draft letter addressed to Ms. Ballsy Aquino-Cruz to recommend a well-known businesswoman, Teresa Chan, to the position of Presidential Assistant for Western Visayas. The signature line on the letter showed the name of Gorriceta. Its authenticity would have been doubtful if only I didn’t recognize the handwriting of Gorriceta on several portions of the document.

What’s wrong with Gorriceta writing a letter of recommendation to the President’s sister? If it were just that, I wouldn’t have complained. But the letter contained a pernicious and malicious lie to disparage the image of the entire Tupas family. The intention to malign the Tupases was glaring, and I felt this had to be exposed.

The lie was the newspaper clipping that he attached to the “Dear Ballsy” letter. It was a planted op-ed article under a fictitious name, Romeo Cabaluna, that appeared on July 21, 2010, a day before Gorriceta sent the purloined letter. Both article and letter were written by one and the same person, Jose Nereo C. Lujan. Don’t ask me how I know. I just know. The article was an false indictment against the administration of Tupas, something that Lujan has been writing about for quite sometime. With the article clipped to the “Dear Ballsy” letter, Gorriceta wanted to poison the mind of Ms. Aquino-Cruz, and perhaps goad her into blocking any appointments for the Tupas clan.

Gorriceta makes the mistake of thinking ordinary mortals are incapable of seeing through his schemes. But one doesn’t need an IQ of 140 to figure out the scam. How else can Gorriceta destroy the reputation of the Tupases than presenting an “opinion” piece from a newspaper to validate his point? Manufacture the evidence, it’s that simple! Which is exactly what he did. The article comes out along with the draft letter for his approval.

Has anybody heard of a Romeo Cabaluna writing for The Daily Guardian aside from this July 21 op-ed piece? It was a one-time performance. And even if this guy was who he said he was, how can Gorriceta say that the opinion of one writer reflect the true public image of former Governor Tupas? He even picked the wrong platform: The Daily Guardian is closely linked to Rep. Ferjenel Biron, bitter political rival of Tupas in the last elections. The bias of the paper becomes apparent.

Anyway, the treacherous ploy isn’t likely to work. President Noynoy Aquino is not about to let a schoolboy’s prank to cloud his judgment of a political leader he highly esteems. Governor Tupas is an original Liberal Party member who had fought political battles with the late national hero, Ninoy Aquino. The President knows how hard Tupas had worked to bring about his victory in Iloilo province, where rival Manny Villar had initially led in the surveys. He is so unlike Gorriceta who switched to the LP when he was rejected by Villar, under whose party he tried to push his way in.

Let’s turn our attention to Gorriceta who, by the way, confessed to authorship of the letter over Bombo Radyo. Hence, the authenticity of the document is established.

Is he the “Mr. Clean” that he projects himself to be? Is he the poster boy for clean and honest government?

The stink that emanates from the long list of anomalies associated with Gorriceta provides a clear answer to the questions. NO!

  • Gorriceta is a self-confessed bribe taker. In 2004, he accepted a check from Boboy Syjuco for P450,000 as “commission” for allowing the Pavia LGU to serve as conduit in the laundering of a P5-million government fund to the Tagipusuon Foundation. Despite the glaring discrepancies in the paperwork, Gorriceta approved the full release of the entire fund to the foundation, thereby becoming an accomplice to the crime.
  • Gorriceta implemented, without a valid bidding, the P12-million asphalting project in Pavia, Iloilo in 2007 which turned out to be severely substandard. The asphalt was damaged only a few months after it was laid because its thickness was much, much less than was specified. When the floods brought by Typhoon Frank hit Pavia, the remainder of the damaged asphalt was swept away. This project was given special mention during a Senate investigation conducted by Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago last year.
  • Gorriceta cornered the bulk of the earth material excavated from the flood control project and used it to backfill several properties he owned. As a result, the value of his properties went up greatly, while constituents who desired to get a few truck loads were greatly disappointed.
  • COA chided Gorriceta several times for spending public funds to print calendars that displayed his photograph. He also spent government money for stickers on notebooks given to school children. This is considered inappropriate expenditure of public funds. On top of this, many other expenditures of the LGU were thumbed down by COA for being illegal.
  • While he was still a director of PanayFed, an organization of sugar planters in Iloilo province, Gorriceta was caught to have taken away about a million pesos from its coffers, without authority. At first, he denied it. But then, receipts were produced, some of which were signed by his wife, showing that the money was indeed in his custody. He repaid the money in installments.

The list could go on and on. My objective isn’t to indict Gorriceta. It’s just to show he isn’t what he claims to be. In fact, he could be worse than Boboy Syjuco. He should stop pretending to be somebody he isn’t.

A not-so-subtle hint to get out

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

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

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

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

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

President Noy calms LP Iloilo leaders’ fears

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

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

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

“The Liberal Party

“Provincial Directorate

“Province of Iloilo

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

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

“Warm regards.

“Sincerely,

“BENIGNO S. AQUINO III”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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