By Pet Melliza, The Beekeeper
The departure of Ma. Merceditas Gutierrez as Ombudsman and before that, those of her underlings, Emilio Gonzalez III, kicked out as Deputy Ombudsman on Military Affairs, and Mark Jalandoni, forced to resign as Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon, only mean more is yet to be done at the Office of the Ombudsman if only to rid it of misfits like Orlando Casimiro, Overall Deputy Ombudsman, and Virginia Palanca-Santiago, a director in the same outfit but misnamed “assistant ombudsman” (her latter title is not in the plantilla of RA 6770 or the Ombudsman Act).
Gutierrez invented that position to circumvent existing set-up to emasculate Pelagio Apostol, Jr., named Deputy Ombudsman for the Visayas in 2007. Since his appointment, Apostol was sidelined, excluded from conferences with the Ombudsman. All communications from the central office were transmitted directly to Palanca-Santiago, tagged in this series “embalmed version of Mommy Dionisia, a moral pygmy whose sense of right and wrong is as revolting as her looks”.
In a forum in Iloilo with non-organic personnel of the Ombudsman-Visayas in 2010, Apostol decried he was stabbed behind his back by Palanca-Santiago. In a dinner same year with Manuel Mejorada, an Iloilo-based columnist, he called Palanca-Santiago “evil” and part of the “protective structure” erected by Mark Jalandoni to shield plunderers in the Arroyo administration led by the President and the First Gentleman Mike.
Luck was on Palanca-Santiago’s side during the Arroyo administration, 2001 – 2010. She called the shots since 2001 as de facto head of the Ombudsman-Visayas though at that time, the Deputy Ombudsman was Primo Miro whose health was deteriorating from his alcohol habit and had to retire early in 2005. Gutierrez named Palanca-Santiago “acting-deputy ombudsman”.
Even though by 2007, Apostol was already named the Deputy Ombudsman for the Visayas, Palanca-Santiago still called the shots.
That brings us to the Pavia Housing Scandal – a project by the Iloilo city government to build houses for its employees from the P125 million debit. The project began in the last months of the administration of Mayor Mansueto Malabor in 2001 with the bond flotation to raise the amount.
Malabor’s successor, Jerry Trenas, implemented the construction. In 2003, one of the subconractors blasted ACE Builders, the principal, for non-payment and for use of substandard materials.
ACE Builders abandoned work. Not one of the 413 units was completed. The city council investigated with then Kgd. Raul Gonzalez Jr. as chair of the probe body. Before the 2004 elections, three complaints were filed by Gonzalez, Antonio Pesina, a member of the city council, and lawyer Romeo Gerochi against suspects in the scandal, foremost among them, Trenas.
The Ombudsman Visayas under Palanca-Santiago sat on the complaint. In 2011, seven years after, the Office of the Ombudsman under OIC-Ombudsman Orlando Casimiro handed down a resolution indicting, of all people, former Mayor Mansueto Malabor but de facto exonerating Trenas who was publicly perceived most guilty.
Casimiro ordered the Ombudsman Visayas to “further investigate” Trenas notwithstanding evidence on hand pointing to the latter’s guilt. Ilonggos, rightly or wrongly, suspect that millions changed hands for the sloppy decision that favored Trenas, now member of Congress.
Trenas implemented the project. When the probe body recommended in 2004 the rescission of contract and the filing of administrative and criminal charges against the contractor, he did nothing but continued paying the contractor which already abandoned work.
Trenas refused to seize its surety and performance bonds to answer for delays and damages. Until 2008, he spoiled the brat of a contractor up to P90 million in installment payments.
Taxpayers bleed P17,000 daily from the interest of the loan. Trenas aggravated that by transferring for no reason conduit from PNB to Veterans Bank, bleeding the city coffer further by P12 million in documentation charges though both banks were mere spitting distance from each other.
Casimiro vied for the Ombudsman post but PNoy named another. He was “contaminated” by the “Merci virus”, said Niel D. Tupas, Sr., former Iloilo governor and now PNOC director.
Tupas disclosed that Palanca-Santiago applied thrice for early retirement but her superiors denied them as she was facing administrative charges for usurpation of authority and official functions filed by Apostol.
Palanca-Santiago must be barred from early retirement. She must be investigated for corruption. She rigged her decision in People Graftwatch of Iloilo vs Igbaras Mayor Jaime Esmeralda, et al, filed in 1995 and resolved it faster in three years, brazenly twisting facts. The amount involved is P1 million.
See the difference of her treatment of the Pavia Hao Shiao with the Esmeralda case. (to be continued).