BY PET MELLIZA/ THE BEEKEEPER
The tremblor of February 6, 2012 is befuddling.
Only a 5.7 intensity shook Iloilo which caused zero casualty unlike the 6.9 in the Richter Scale that triggered landslides killing over 200 people in Negros Oriental, broke bridges and rolled concrete roads like mats.
No steel bridge collapsed nor concrete road cracked wide enough to swallow a car in Iloilo unlike that in Negros.
No building fell. Iloilo was built during the Spanish period. None of the edifices of the Hispanic era like the old Provincial Capitol, nor those put up during the American period (1901 – 1946) caved in. In fact, they all survived. Only the plasters of their concrete walls cracked.
The only structure that suffered is the Iloilo Hall of Justice later to be renamed Chief Justice Ramon Avancena Hall of Justice. This building was built only in 1990 with a P105 million budget, a big fortune then that Pres. Cory Aquino spent to promote, well as the word suggested, justice in this blighted land.
The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) inspected the building after the quake and declared it unfit for occupancy. The cracks from the ground to the third floor, and all the way to the penthouse on the fourth which housed the Board of Pardon and Parole and the office of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) – iloilo Chapter, posed grave risks to occupants and visitors.
Upon inspection, the disjointed beams and floorings showed that the steel bars used were substandard.
We have here an instance where the very victim of thievery, the very object of injustice, is the hall of justice itself.
Lawyer Hans Sayno, former president of IBP-Iloilo admitted he was “dismayed” that the noisy Iloilo press suddenly shut up its big mouth at such “monumental injustice”. He commented: our reporters screamed loud on minor thievery, but how come nobody this time stood up and unearthed this plunder?
I can only smile at my good friend who insists that the Iloilo Hall of Justice itself is the very “monument of grand thievery”.
Your guess is as good as mine. Somebody has lobbied that P105 million be allotted for the building which is now aptly called “Substandard Hall of Justice”. The contractor based in Negros is the friend of the lobbyist.
Retired Chief Justice Reynato Puno in a huddle with members of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) Iloilo Chapter last March 10, 2012, gave a very interesting explanation. The tete-a-tete was held at the Promenade restaurant, Iloilo City, companero George Que could attest to that meeting.
To sum up CJ Puno’s narration: the judiciary has nothing to do with the defective structure. It was the executive department, particularly the Department of Justice (DOJ) that went into a spending binge in the early ‘90s to erect halls of justice from Aparri to Tawi-Tawi.
However, after the buildings were finished, the DOJ washed its hands – it turned over the halls of justice to the Supreme Court and along with them, all the burdens of maintenance including the janitorial, security, power, telephone and water bills of the offices of the DOJ squatting under their roofs like the prosecution service, the public attorney’s office, the board of pardon and parole, and the registry of deeds.
So, how’s the Iloilo Hall of Justice now?
Its offices are now in diaspora, scattered, a headache to lawyers and litigants.
It’s now, among others, the “De Paul of Justice” in Jaro district says Assistant Iloilo City Prosecutor Jeremy Bionat, referring to the defunct De Paul College which the SC rents to house the RTC and the city courts.
Bionat mischievously adds: the other is the “Super Justice” in the city proper, referring to the second floor of the Super Market or the Iloilo Terminal Market which the city legislature bequeathed to the Office of the City Prosecutor after the councilors transferred to the newly finished city hall.
Next, there is the “Sports Justice”, the Iloilo Sports Complex in La Paz district, part of it, which Gov. Arthur Defensor spared for the office of provincial prosecutors.
The “only redeeming factor” is the defunct catholic high school in La Paz leased to the PAO, the “Hall of Justice of St. Clement”, formerly St. Clement’s College of the Redemptorist Fathers.