Execs face new anti-graft raps


By Jhelyn Andal – Rocha

Governor Joel Reyes and other officials of the provincial government are facing legal charges regarding the alleged excessive amount of over P49 million used in the Barangay Environmental Sanitation Project (BESP) in 2002.

The governor, along with budget officer Luis Marcaida II, treasurer Teofilo Palanca Jr., accountant Orlando Colobong, engineer Charlie Factor and former planning officer Nelson Devanadera, were charged of dereliction of duty and grave abuse of authority by Datu Sangkula, Engr. Emmanuel Feliciano and Job Lagrada before the Ombudsman.

Sangkula, in a press conference Nov. 8, said that BESP exceeded the allowable expenses based on a report from the commission on audit (COA).

“Our basis for filing the case was because we think there was negligence of duty on the part of the province’s chief executive as well as other provincial officials involved in the transactions for the project,” Sangkula said.

Others even say that BESP was not well-implemented in some areas, he added.

BESP was implemented in 10 rural areas all over the province to provide reliable water systems. The project was funded by a portion of the provincial government’s P200-million loan from the World Bank.

“The provincial government spent an excessive amount for the project and yet, it was not implemented well by the contractor,” Sangkula claimed.

C. Lotti & Associati, the contractor for the project, was also included in the case.

“The concept of the BESP was good because it provided safe water to the public to address health concerns. But in terms of implementation, there was a big problem according to the COA report,” Sangkula explained.

In an interview over local radio station DYER, Provincial Information Officer Rolando Bonoan Jr. defended the provincial government saying that the COA reports were just initial findings or observations through special auditing in 2004, and not a confirmed report.

He said that the provincial government had already sent COA a reply but they have not received a confirmed report yet.

“Just to make it clear, the project was well-implemented and still  operational until now. After the implementation, we already turned it over to barangay water associations,” Bonoan said.

The barangay water associations were in-charge of the maintenance of the water system.

Bonoan also explained the “excessive expenses” alleged by Sangkula’s group.

“The World Bank has their own prescribed procedures for sanitation projects unlike locally-funded projects. These include the hiring of consultants which was necessary as part of the package they required,” he explained.

Capitol park named after President Cory


The Provincial Government of Palawan had finally made official the renaming of Capitol Park Square to Cory Park in honor of the late Philippine Pres. Corazon C. Aquino.

The park, located at the Capitol grounds in Fernandez Street, was renamed through Provincial Ordinance No. 1134 authored by Vice-Gov. David Ponce de Leon.

“The ordinance was a voluntary legislation from the provincial board. It was done out of mere love for Cory Aquino,” Gov. Joel Reyes said during the unveiling of the park’s marker Nov. 12.

In an earlier statement from the Provincial Information Office, Reyes said that they “want the future generation of Palaweños to remember and emulate (Aquino) who was responsible for restoring the democracy in the country.”

Ponce de Leon, on the other hand, claimed that naming the park in memory of the former president was the least the provincial government could do to express its gratitude towards the first lady president in Asia.

He added that it was during the term of Pres. Aquino when some of the important legislations in Palawan were enacted such as the Strategic Environmental Plan for Palawan, the declaration of Tubbataha marine sanctuary as a national marine park and the creation of the municipality of Culion.

Present during the unveiling of the marker were the two of the former president’s daughters, Ma. Elena “Ballsy” Aquino – Cruz and Aurora “Pinky” Aquino – Abellada.

Ballsy expressed their family’s appreciation for naming the park after their mother who is known as the “icon of democracy.”

“We are very proud that this park was named in honor of her. This is the very first place named after our mother,” she said.

Narra mining projects to get large scale permit

By Redempto D. Anda

Reports that the government is set to approve the first foreign fully owned nickel mining project in Palawan has stirred renewed debates about the environment and the national government’s attitude towards mining in areas of high biodiversity.

A statement attributed to Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) director Horacio Morales by Dow Jones Newswire last September 16, indicating that the government is set to approve a Canadian mining company’s application for a Financial Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) permit in Narra, Southern Palawan, has prompted opposition by environmental group.

Morales was quoted by the foreign news wire during the recent Mining Philippines 2009 summit as saying that the MGB is set to endorse to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo several FTAA applications including that of Canada based MBMI Resources.

In the same conference, DENR secretary Lito Atienza batted for continued support to the mining sector and said the government is anticipating some $14 billion in mining investments over the next five years as the global economy starts to recover.

An FTAA granted to MBMI Resources will be the country’s first fully foreign owned nickel mining operation. At least four large scale permits issued as Mineral Production Sharing Agreements (MPSA) have been approved in Southern Palawan.

Hundreds of pending applications covering most of the entire Southern Palawan’s forests had earlier prompted the provincial government to impose a moratorium on small scale mining, with the DENR following suit with its own pronouncement.


The mining concessions in Narra operated by MBMI companies are located in the Victoria Anepahan Range where early this year, a group of scientists from the United Kingdom announced they had discovered the existence of a new species of pitcher plant which is the largest in the world.

They had named the species Nepenthes attenboroughii, in honor of British natural history broadcaster David Attenborough.

“The DENR is saying one thing but doing another,” Beth Maclang of the Palawan NGO Network, a civil society group in the forefront of the local anti mining campaign, said.

Small scale to foreign owned

If approved, the Canadian company is expected to consolidate several nickel concessions totaling over 20,000 hectares held in separate titles by local dummy companies that had been granted small scale mining permits by the provincial government and other local regulatory bodies.

Vice Governor David Ponce de Leon said the provincial government is not aware of the FTAA applications converting the small scale permits the province had granted to MBMI affiliated local companies.

MBMI is a start up venture capital company largely reliant on the stock market to raise capital and finance its planned direct shipping nickel ore operations in Palawan.

Environmental groups however criticized the MGB pronouncement, claiming it contradicted the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ earlier declaration of a moratorium against new mining projects in the entire Southern Palawan in recognition of the province’s high biodiversity and the threat posed by mining activities.

The Palawan NGO Network (PNNI) also accused the Canadian affiliate companies of committing environmental violations while operating 50-hectare concessions under small scale permits issued by the provincial governor.

In a visit to Palawan in February this year, environment secretary Lito Atienza issued a DENR order proclaiming a moratorium on new mining projects in the nickel ore rich southern Palawan which also hosts biologically important forest blocs including Mt. Mantalingahan and the Victoria-Anepahan Range.

Atienza’s pronouncement had followed the provincial government’s own resolution seeking a 25-year moratorium on the issuance of new mining permits by the local government.

Stock market speculations

Meanwhile, the MGB pronouncement has triggered a steep climb in the stock price of MBMI Resources which is traded at Canada’s TSX Ventures.

Nearly all nickel mining projects in Palawan grounded to a halt last year as a consequence of the global economic decline that saw nickel demand mainly from China and several developed nations take a nose dive.

Over the past months, the value of MBMI shares languished around 0.02 per share after the company ran into management and financial troubles and its local dummy companies were forced to stop operations due to high manufacturing costs and a bleak global demand for nickel. It rose to 0.45 per share last week, buoyed apparently by reports of an impending FTAA permit for the project.

Comelec says only 10 seats, not 12, in City Council

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has issued a resolution stating that voters from Puerto Princesa City will elect only 10 city councilors in the coming May 10, 2010 national and local elections, despite the city being a highly-urbanized city (HUC).

Under the Local Government Code, there shall be 12 elected members of the city council in an HUC.

Comelec Resolution No. 8670, promulgated Sep. 16 this year, listed Puerto Princesa under HUCs which will elect only 10 members of the city council, together with the cities of Lapu-Lapu and Tacloban.

Puerto Princesa, however, has 14 city councilors since it was converted to a highly-urbanized city through a plebiscite on July 9, 2007. 10 of them were elected during the 2007 elections; two were ex-officio members and; the other two were appointed to comply with the HUC requirement of 12 city council members.

In an interview over local radio station DYPR, Comelec Commissioner Lucenito Tagle, however, said that Comelec may have just overlooked the provision.

“I will bring that to the attention of the en banc. Perhaps we have approved that long ago,” Tagle said, adding that there should be 12.

City Legal Officer Atty. Gregorio Austria, on the other hand, said that the city government would look into the matter to come up with a solution.

“We will talk about it with Mayor (Edward Hagedorn) because as of now, we have 12 functional city councilors. We will talk of ways on how to solve it,” Austria told DYPR.

Resolution No. 8670 also confirmed that Puerto Princesa will no longer vote for provincial officials but will vote for member of the House of Representatives.

Since the city still has no congressional district of its own, residents would elect its congressman among Palawan’s second district candidates.

Province confident of meeting deadlines on infra projects

By Jhelyn Andal – Rocha

Various stalled infrastructure projects are eyed by the Provincial Government to be finished even before the election ban.

In a press conference Sep. 16, Provincial Information Officer Rolando Bonoan Jr said that the priority development projects of the province, mostly public works, would be finished in a few months.

Election ban on public works start on March 26, 2010 until election day on May 10 next year.

Continuation of the projects would be funded by a portion of the P1.1-billion loan obtained by the provincial government from the Philippine Veterans Bank.

“We can finish the projects even before the election ban,” Bonoan said.

The projects include the 40-hectare reclamation area in Coron, the development of Calauit Park, construction of Northern Provincial Hospital, and construction of lying-in clinics in municipalities.

“These projects were initially funded by the first tranche of our Malampaya share. The second tranche did not arrive so the province was forced to loan (to finish the projects),” Bonoan explained.

He added that the provincial government did not want the projects to be called “white elephants” because that would mean a waste of money. The next administration can even use the projects, he said.

Asked if the province was affected by statements made by various groups regarding the source of funds of these projects, Bonoan said they were not much affected because everything thrown against them were lies.

“Why will we stop working? We will not stop until the last day of our term,” Bonoan expressed.

“One year before elections, nagsisimula ang paninira. That’s the culture of our politics,” he said.

Palawan to lose P250M in new loan – KLM

By Redempto D. Anda

The province of Palawan stands to lose at least P250 million under a scheme that transfers the provincial government’s outstanding debt from its current depository, the Land Bank of the Philippines, to a private bank, the Philippine Veterans’ Bank.

A civil society group blasted Wednesday the provincial government for filing to heed warnings of a financial bankruptcy for the local government if it pushes through with committing the local government to “an onerous loan package” with the PVB amounting to P1.1 billion and ties up the province into heavy debt obligations even beyond the current term of its present set of officials.

Part of the loan deal imposed by PVB, according to documents, is for the province to takeout its outstanding obligations from the LBP amounting to over P500 million and restructure it under PVB.

The same agreement grants the province a fresh loan of P500 million that will be used to fund its unfinished major infrastructure projects, among others.

“The takeout portion of the agreement will tie up the provincial government to mandatory penalties, bank charges and a never ending cycle of debt payments that will leave them with no funds for development projects,” Cesar Ventura, a former provincial budget officer and member of the Kilusang Love Malampaya said.

The KLM likewise dismissed an earlier claim made by the province that it will save the government around P134 million due to the lower interest rates offered by PVB compared to the Land Bank.

“I don’t know where in thin air they got their figures but we have done the math and we know  we are on the losing end of this deal,” former board member Gerry Ortega said.

The group said they will ask the Central Bank to intercede in the loan agreement that was recently sanctioned by the provincial legislature, after their group was rejected by the provincial board to present their position paper during its regular session Tuesday.

Spurned by government banks

Official documents obtained by KLM showed that the loan proposal was earlier submitted by the provincial government to the Land Bank and the Development Bank of the Philippines, which both rejected it, citing its proximity to the May local elections next year.

Ventura claimed they also have a certification from the Bureau of Local Government Finance (BLGF), an agency which clears the borrowing capacity of local government units, that the province will exceed its debt service ceiling if it pushes through with the loan.

“It’s just proper that the Central Bank look into this. We are borrowing beyond our capacity to pay and our present administration is leading the province into bankruptcy,” Ventura said.

The group warned that the money could be used for political ends, with next year’s local elections barely 10 months away.

Provincial Information Officer Rolando Bonoan earlier defended the loan in light of the national government’s failure to deliver on its commitment to release portions of the disputed royalty shares from the Malampaya natural gas project in northern Palawan, which had been obligated to fund the province’s priority development projects.

Terms of loan package

Ventura claimed that the province will suffer financial losses because of the takeout provision of the loan package, including the imposition of a floating rate by the PVB that takes effect after the first year of the loan payments, and a host of charges such as a 3% pre-termination payment to Land Bank amounting to over P17 million.

The provincial government has claimed that the PVB loan is advantageous to them because of its lower interest rates at 8% per annum, compared to the Land Bank’s flat rate of 9%.

“They cannot just say that PVB is the better deal because the 8% is just a bait and will apply for just the first year. After that, it’s floating rate and the market forces take over,” Ventura said.

Tempers flare at board hearing

By Jhelyn Andal – Rocha

The Provincial Board’s question hour Sep. 8 heated up as Vice-Gov. David Ponce de Leon and Dr. Gerry Ortega of Kilusang Love Malampaya (KLM) had an intense discussion over the word “KURAKOT”, meaning ‘corrupt’, as written in the KLM’s letter to the Board.

The word, spelled as “KURACOT”, was written at the back page of the letter, following the names of members of the Provincial Board and of the vice-governor who approved the resolution authorizing Gov. Joel Reyes to enter into a P1.1-billion loan agreement with the Philippine Veterans Bank (PVB).

KLM appeared before the Board supposedly to present the reasons why they were objecting to the Provincial Government’s loan.

Ponce de Leon objected to the term KURACOT and questioned KLM for using it.

“Is that proper? You have no right to destroy an official of the government unless proven by court,” Ponce de Leon said, adding that they “honor their reputation.”

KURACOT stands for Kagalanggalang Until Refused Another Corrupt Obnoxious Term, an acronym formulated by KLM.

Ponce de Leon also insisted that KLM explain the term before they would be allowed to present. Although Ortega claimed that they were not referring to anyone in particular, the vice-governor did not recognize the explanation.

“I will not accept the statement that it is a general term considering the attachments here,” Ponce de Leon stated referring to the documents along with the letter such as the report of the Commission on Audit regarding the alleged irregularities on projects of the provincial government.

Ortega asked whether they were invited to explain KURACOT or to present the reasons why they were opposing the P1.1-billion loan. Other members of KLM who appeared before the Board were Ceasar Ventura and Prof. Oscar Evangelista.

“We thought we were invited to explain our disapproval over the loan but now we are asked to explain that term in our letter,” Ortega said. He added that they were only using the freedom of expression as guaranteed by the Constitution.

“People in the government should not be very sensitive. In this case, bato-bato sa langit, ang tamaan ‘wag magagalit,” Ortega furthered.

The question and answer hour was originally scheduled at 10 in the morning but started only at around three in the afternoon, after the Board had finished all the matters in the agenda. Despite the long hours of waiting, KLM was not able to present because the Board decided to terminate the proceedings saying that the loan, which the group opposed, was already moot and academic.

Majority Floor Leader Modesto Rodriguez Jr motioned for the termination of the question and answer hour and was granted after the board members cast their votes, 7 – 3, in favor of the termination.

“We are not depriving them of their constitutional rights. If they want to air their sentiments, they can use the Capitol Park Square or any part of the Capitol,” Rodriguez said.

In a press conference Sep. 9, Ortega expressed his disappointment over what happened during the Board’s regular session. The principle guaranteed by the Constitution was wasted, he said.


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