Unease at ‘united front’

Unease at ‘united front’.

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.

Iloilo Capitol power bill soars anew; P1.925 million for March

An early look at the 2013 gubernatorial race | The News Today

An early look at the 2013 gubernatorial race | The News Today.

Ombudsman drops bribery case vs. ex-Gov Tupas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second look

Iloilo governor Arthur Defensor Sr. is a pitiable sight each time he faces the media. Much as he would like to put some punch into the way he talks, his voice sounds scrappy and thin, a far cry from the orator that he was in the 80s. It is apparent every word requires a Herculean effort for him, and he is like a toddler learning how to speak when he gropes for words and even connect them to each other.

But Defensor is even more pitiable when he tries to jump into the controversies surrounding the new Iloilo City Hall. A few days ago, Defensor was quoted by friendly media as wanting to seek another investigation into alleged overpricing of the Iloilo Capitol when it was built between 2001 and 2003. His basis? A reckless statement of Conrado Goco, president of the Pacific Orient Construction Management Co., that the construction cost for the Capitol was higher than the new City Hall.

Desperate to pin down his predecessor to perceived anomalies in government transactions, Defensor quickly grabbed the ball and signified his desire for a “second look”. The reader might ask: why second look? That’s because Defensor wasted millions of pesos in a witch hunt for supposed overpricing in the New Capitol construction when he was still a congressman and chairman of the House committee on good government. That investigation yielded nothing.

Now Defensor is hopeful Goco’s statement will score him some points in his efforts to link former Governor Niel Tupas Sr. to wrongdoing. Poor fellow. He had the power and resources to discover such anomalies in the Capitol construction if indeed there were. But after more than two years of probing, he failed in his mission. Will Goco’s statement change that? No.

It doesn’t take a math genius to make a comparison. The Capitol is six floors with about 15,000 sqm. in floor area. The City Hall is 14,000 with seven floors. The Capitol has a wide parking area with cobble-stone surface and lamp posts. The City Hall doesn’t have a single parking slot. The Capitol is surrounded by a steel fence. The City Hall isn’t. The Capitol’s total cost of development was P428 million. The City Hall, as projected, is P720 million.

So how can Defensor hope to prove his theory that the Capitol is overpriced?

Anyway, the stench is now so overpowering in the Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) in the Iloilo provincial government that several members have even resigned. The purchase orders (P.O.) for several big transactions have not been issued six months after the bidding. Is this the result of “failure to clinch the SOP?” The Commission on Audit (COA) should look into this. Because of this, much-need medicines and supplies have not been delivered. Services have suffered.

Suppliers are also complaining that payments are unreasonably delayed. The officials involved in the procurement process are busy facilitating the transactions whose suppliers were quick to come across. It is a shameless display of greed and corruption that many employees at the Iloilo Capitol can only frown upon.

The corruption that Defensor is searching is happening right under his nose! But he is being kept blind by a cordon sanitaire that’s exploiting his weak health condition. Those who have read Peter Jimenea’s columns are familiar with this story. And Peter Jimenea used to be an ardent admirer of Defensor and believer in his “Reporma kag Pagbag-o” campaign promise. Like Peter Jimenea, so many Ilonggos are disgusted at what is happening at the Capitol.

“Kutso-kutso” governance

I must have hit a raw nerve when I described the latest round of boasts from Gov. Arthur Defensor, Sr. that he contemplated filing cases against his predecessor, Niel Tupas Sr., as symptomatic of senility (“naga-uli-anon”). This threw Defensor into a fit of rage during his regular press conference last Friday and began calling me names: “irresponsible” and “ignorant”. He said I didn’t know the facts about the purported move of the Truth Commission to investigate COA disallowances during the Tupas administration. He said he wasn’t making up the story. He heard the rumor (using the word “kuno” several times) about the Truth Commission digging into his predecessor’s administration, he told the media.

By his own admission, he didn’t have first-hand information about the so-called Truth Commission investigation. He didn’t even bother to double-check, because had he done so, he would have discovered that the information was distorted. It was half-wrong, and half-wrong isn’t the truth. He embellished unverified information and made it appear, before media, that the Tupas administratin was being targeted by the commission.

What is the truth about the Truth Commission’s action? In a resolution, the Truth Commission asked the Commission on Audit to submit a report of disallowances on irregular, extravagant and unnecessary expenditures during the past administration. It was a blanket resolution to facilitate the gathering of evidence against the likes of Augusto Boboy Syjuco, former head of TESDA and a key ally of Defensor, for the plunder committed during the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo administration.  And the “disallowances” contemplated in this resolution are the overpricing of materials and supplies such as the 16,000% overprice of Syjuco at TESDA.

So who is ignorant? Who is irresponsible? Certainly not me. Under the circumstances, the harsh accusations made by Defensor has backfired on him. He has turned “rumor-mongering” into official policy. He is guilty of “kutso-kutso” governance. It only reinforces my theory that senility is quickly setting in. Now, it’s not just Defensor’s body that’s ailing. It appears that his mind is deteriorating, too.

The big difference

Although it’s  just a little over three months into the Defensor administration at the Iloilo capitol, there is already an abundance of stories coming from various sectors of the community on their unpleasant experiences with the brand of leadership being displayed by Governor Arthur Defensor Sr.

A common theme has emerged, and it can be lumped into the broad category of “the big difference” in the conduct of public service between the previous governor, Niel Tupas Sr., and the incumbent. The words “arrogance”, “indifference”, “hot temper”, and “betrayal” are becoming the most commonly used words to describe the present dispensation. This is a sharp contrast to the pleasant manner the Tupas administration has been described during the previous nine years.

The irony is that the most vitriolic of these complaints come from individuals who had openly supported the candidacy of Arthur Defensor Sr. Not surprisingly, a tide of regret is now sweeping their ranks as frustration and disappointment are being experienced in rapid fashion.

One of those who groused about his sad experience is a barangay captain in Passi City who swung his support for Defensor shortly before the May 10, 2010 elections when he obtained a handsome financial package from Rep. Ferj Biron. This barangay captain hails from one of the biggest barangays of Passi City, and he thought Defensor would enthusiastically look after his request when he went to the capitol a few weeks ago.

To his bitter disappointment, the barangay captain wasn’t even granted an audience by the governor. Worse, his request was just filed inside a thick folder which didn’t look as if previous requests were favorably acted upon.

Harsh words about the new governor were also uttered by a barangay captain from Dumangas, Iloilo who sought the assistance of the capitol for a dog bite victim in his barangay. This official obtained a note from a Sangguniang Bayan member who is a relative of the governor, thinking this would open doors for him. When he knocked on the doors of the governor’s office, he was surprised the handwritten note didn’t even warrant a cursory reading. His request was rejected.

It seems Ilonggos will have to expect more of this kind of treatment from the governor for the next 32 months of his term of office. Well, it’s not as if they weren’t warned about the character of this man. Many voters allowed themselves to be swayed by the P50-bills with the name “Art” stapled to it. They will have to suffer the consequences for this error in judgment.

The first 100 days of Manong Art

There was no pompous ceremony at the Iloilo capitol to mark the first 100 days of the Defensor administration last week. That’s because there wasn’t really much to boast about. Gov. Arthur Defensor Sr. gave a brief media interview in which he outlined the few things he considered accomplishments, like the tree-planting activity at the Maasin watershed (which his predecessor had religiously done for nine years, so nothing spectacular about it). But even Defensor didn’t seem too enthusiastic making a report, for he knew he had done nothing much.

But there were happenings during his first 100 days that Manong Art had consciously avoided because these were too embarrassing for him.

The first was his complete turn-around on his promise to the health workers of the province on the issue of the hazard pay. During the campaign, Defensor told health workers he sided with them in the legal battle with the Tupas administration over the benefits they claimed were rightfully due them under the Magna Carta for Public Health. It wasn’t a complicated promise: Defensor made them believe he would give them their allowances for the last several years.

The picture completely changed when Defensor assumed office on June 30 and the health workers, who obtained a favorable judgment from the Iloilo regional trial court, went to see him to ask for their expected bonanza. The health workers were not met with a smile; rather, a deep frown and an unfriendly tone told them the new governor wasn’t going to award them back benefits. Worse, the governor issued an ultimatum: accept my offer of the benefits commencing January 2010 onwards, or get nothing.

It was a painful emotional blow to the health workers who could have started getting these benefits, on a gradual, phase-by-phase, scheme, as early as July 2006. Governor Tupas had already constituted a committee which I headed to discuss the gradual implementation of the hazard pay scheme, only to be met by a civil suit before the court. This forced Gov. Tupas to suspend the plan and jsut wait for the court ruling. The court decision came in May this year, or about six weeks before Gov. Tupas was to step down from the capitol. He decided to leave the implementation to his successor.

The health workers had anticipated a moment of glee and thanksgiving when Defensor assumed office. They had started to count the eggs, so to speak, because they thought Defensor was with them on the issue. Instead, frustration quickly engulfed the ranks of the health workers. Now it’s a black mark for the first 100 days of Art Defensor as governor. Word of honor is gone from the lexicon of public governance.

The second is the waste of millions of pesos which Manong Art took from the province’s calamity fund. When the dengue fever threat reached unprecedented heights last August, Manong Art got a declaration of a state of calamity from the Sangguniang Panlalawigan and immediately set aside nearly half of the province’s 5% calamity fund for the purchase of medicines, IV fluids and other supplies. All in all, about P35 million was reportedly spent for this purpose, with a large chunk going to the purchase of generic drugs (read medicines from Pharmawealth of Ferj Biron).

Everybody knows that the dengue fever epidemic, if it can be called an epidemic, didn’t reach a magnitude requiring nearly half of the province’s 5% calamity funds. As a result, the epidemic has died down, and hundred of boxes of the purchases have been left unused in the capitol. Manong Art knew from the start he didn’t really need so much money to respond to the threat. But he had a debt of gratitude to pay, and he had the perfect cover to dispose of public funds.

Under Gov. Tupas, the province didn’t utilize the calamity fund unless absolutely necessary, as when the province was hit by Typhoon Frank in 2008. The fund was merely plowed back into the general fund, year after year after year. In February this year, as thousands of families suffered in hunger because of the El Nino phenomenon, Gov. Tupas asked the Sanggunian to let him use P5 million to buy emergency food supplies. That was a real calamity situation, and yet Gov. Tupas only asked for a small portion. Sadly, the Sanggunian controlled by allies of Manong Art rejected that request.

Third is Manong Art’s early announcement that henceforth, officials and employees of the Iloilo provincial government can no longer expect the big year-end bonuses that Gov. Tupas had generously extended, even to the point of engaging agencies like COA in legal combat. Gov. Tupas recognized that provincial employees are grossly underpair, and even the partial implementation of the Salary Standardization Law II this year isn’t enough to raise their standards of living. The year-end bonus became a mechanism for Gov. Tupas to “level the playing field” for employees.

But Manong Art made it clear that provincial employees will no longer enjoy that perk. He’d rather spend it on buying additiional heavy equipment for the province and generic medicines for dengue for the most obvious of reasons. For Manong Art, provincial employees are the least of his worries. Just as he had done with the health workers, he’s always ready to kick their butts if they don’t bow to his wishes. It’s a sharp contrast to the management style of Gov. Tupas who always put the welfare of ordinary rank-and-file employees on top. This early, the employees are feeling demoralized, unwanted, poorly motivated.

Manong Art will be known for his campaign of dismantling the legacy of Gov. Tupas at the capitol. And his determined effort to bring jueteng into the province in the form of the STL operations of the Eddie Gonzales-Iggy Arroyo combine will capture first place in his list of the dismantled legacies. Gov. Tupas waged war against illegal gambling in Iloilo for nine years, turning down handsome and tempting bribes along the way. He even banned STL in the province because he felt that gambling for the poor will not develop unhealthy values toward work among them. It ranks as one of his best legacies as governor. Defensor is about to undo that.

Towards the end of the first 100 days, Manong Art formally endorsed the application of Around the World company, the STL firm operated by Eddie Gonzales and Iggy Arroyo, to commence operations in the province. Why Manong Art chose an outsider over a local STL operator is rather strange. In fairness to the local STL operator, it had never been known to engage in jueteng or daily double. It’s no secret that Eddie Gonzales and Iggy Arroyo want jueteng to start business in Iloilo, and they apparently have made Manong Art and his provincial administrator industrial partners in the enterprise.

What strikes me as even more puzzling is the lack of opposition from the Church. Has the Church given up on the issue? How about the other civic groups and NGOs?

Well, the first 100 days of Manong Art’s administration have come and gone, and as I said, it was marked more by the unsavory things he has done than anything good for the province. Let’s see if the local media will now take off the gloves and treat his administration with objective scrutiny. I’d like to be proven wrong about my perceptions, but this early, we have already seen how the next two and a half years will unfold at the Iloilo capitol.

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