By PET MELLIZA/ THE BEEKEEPER
Don’t blame lawyer Roming Gerochi for smelling a rat in the investigation report by the Office of the Ombudsman on the “Pavia Housing Scandal”.
He was among the complainants against then Mayor Trenas before the May 2004 elections. Merceditas Gutierrez, the Ombudsman then, sat on it. It was not only Gerochi who sensed something fishy as the Ombudsman-Visayas Office, de facto ruled then by Virginia Palanca-Santiago, lost track of the records.
Palanca-Santiago held the position “assistant Ombudsman for the Visayas” in the incumbency of Merceditas Gutierrez. She sports the same title today although Pelagio Apostol, Jr., Deputy Ombudsman for the Visayas, now assails that rank as “non-existing”.
Columnist Peter Jimenea followed up the investigation and got a reply from Palanca-Santiago via text messaging that all records on the Pavia housing mess were spirited away to the central office in Manila on orders of Mark Jalandoni, another controversial character who was deputy ombudsman for Luzon.
Nothing has been heard of on the P135 million housing scandal though tell-tale signs of the monumental thievery are writ all over with Jerry Trenas, the mayor then and now the congressman of Iloilo City, at the forefront.
Not one of the target 413 units was completed. The structures were substandard. The contractor, Ace Builders Enterprises owned by Alexander Trinidad, abandoned work. Trenas continued paying the contractor up to P90 million and allowed it to laugh its way to the bank ignoring legal remedies available to him, namely: seizing the contractor’s surety bonds to reduce losses, rescinding the contract and suing the contractor for damages as recommended by the investigating body formed by the sangguniang panglungsod.
Rubbing salt to a gaping wound, Trenas inflated the city’s indebtedness by transferring conduit banks for the housing project, from the Philippine National Bank (PNB) to the Veterans’ Bank. Both institutions are situated in the same street – Valeria, Iloilo City – but the transfer of deposits costs city taxpayers P12 million more, in the strange animal called “documentation fees”.
The investigation report on the Pavia housing, dated August 20, 2010 merely proves that the Office of the Ombudsman is good at practicing retroactive diligence under the aegis of Merceditas Gutierrez. It came as a matter of course at the time when that institution was besieged by criticisms for inefficiency and corruption, with Gutierrez facing impeachment raps for breach of public trust, for protecting grafters and crooks led by the First Family then.
“I haven’t received a copy of the investigation resolution but I am not happy with published reports,” noted Gerochi. “It spared from indictment those known to be more guilty”.
The housing project was signed in 2001, before the elections by outgoing city mayor Mansueto Malabor. The Malabor administration released P15 million in “mobilization fund” to the contractor which was irregular.
The rest of the disbursements were done by the succeeding Trenas administration up to P90 million. However, before he could finish his first term, the incumbent mayor was bedeviled by exposes on the scam by laywer Antonio Pesina, a member of the city council.
Pesina, Gerochi and the investigating panel led by then councilor Raul Gonzalez, Jr., filed separate charges before the 2004 elections.
The investigation report, signed by Orlando Casimiri, Overall Deputy Ombudsman, leaves a bad taste in the mouth, for Gerochi. Why pin only Malabor, members of the Bids and Awards Committee, the architect and the contractor?
And why only now? Gerochi cites the case “People of the Philippines versus Perez” where the accused invokes her constitutional right to speedy trial. The anti-graft body has dragged its feet for more than five years before releasing the results of its investigation. The Sandigabayan acquitted Perez on that ground.
Gerochi’s dismay on the-rap-on-the-wrist of Trenas is understandable. The report, after five years of investigation, remanded the complaint against him to the regional office for deeper probe – which may drag for many more years, thus, pave the way for Trenas to invoke his constitutional right to speedy trial leading to a happy ending as in “People versus Perez”.
Columnist Boy Mejorada hints Trenas’s luck stems from the Gutierrez-Jalandoni team up to place Palanca-Santiago in control of Ombudsman-Visayas (2001-2010) as “protective structure” for the former First Family and protégés like Trenas. No wonder.