As I See It

Herbert Bautista and Rico E. Puno

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Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista should be commended for yielding to the public clamor against politicians polluting the city with their names and pictures on billboards, tarpaulins, posters, banners, waiting sheds, basketball courts, roads, plant boxes on islands in the middle of the streets, etc., etc. These advertisements purport to inform the public that the politician is the sponsor of this or that project, but of course the real purpose is to curry votes. The mayor himself had his initials “HB” etched on the tiles decorating the plant boxes on the city’s major thoroughfares, which created an uproar among the public. Recently, he had his initials painted over so commuters will no longer be irritated by them.

That done, the mayor has ordered all city politicians and officials to also remove their offensive “epal” signs. Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago has already filed a bill penalizing the beneficiaries of these “epal” signs.

The people’s complaint against these self-serving ads is that the taxpayers, and not the politicians, spent for those projects. In fact, some of the money used for those projects may have gone into the politicians’ private pockets.

In some banners—bearing messages such as “Happy Fiesta,” “Congratulations graduates” and “Happy Birthday, Ka Erdy”—there is not even any project to speak of. It is just to advertise the name of the politician. But the taxpayers are still paying for them.

Not only that, these signs destroy the beauty—or what’s left of it—of the city. These signs are hung from trees, electric wires and posts, on fences and walls. They even pose a danger when they are hung from power lines. And because they distract drivers, they also contribute to traffic accidents. So Mayor Bautista’s order not only prevents other politicians from having an advantage over him after he had his initials on those decorative tiles painted over, they also reduce danger to the public.

There’s just one problem with his order to politicians to remove their “epal” signs. They won’t. So he has to order those same workers who painted over his initials to remove all—and I mean all—the “epal” signs and ads all over the city.

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Another person to be commended is former Interior Undersecretary Rico E. Puno’s resignation from his post, which President Aquino quickly accepted. Now Puno faces two investigations in Congress.

Puno was earlier reported to have attempted to “raid and ransack” the offices and living quarters of Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo after his plane crashed in the sea off Masbate. Puno was allegedly trying to get documents incriminating him in cases being investigated by Robredo. The President himself said that he had ordered Puno to “lock down” the offices of Robredo to safeguard documents.

That cleared, Puno now faces two congressional investigations on his alleged links to jueteng, illegal logging, and the purchase of overpriced guns for the Philippine National Police. According to speculations, Puno is the bagman in the collection of “tong” from  jueteng  operators. Another speculation is that he is the protector of illegal loggers. And think of it: P1 billion (repeat, P1 billion) in taxpayers’ money would be spent to buy 60,000 pistols for the PNP. No government contract that big is ever concluded without any kickbacks to some officials, so the speculation goes.

It is well that Congress will investigate Puno for these insinuations so that the truth will come out. But let us respect the constitutional guarantee on the presumption of innocence until a person is proven guilty.

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FOLLOW-UP: Last Jan. 12, I questioned here why the Department of Justice had taken over the investigation of the syndicated estafa case at the Manila City Prosecutor’s Office. The complainants were questioning the motive of the DOJ.

To make the story clear, let me repeat the background on the case in that column:

“On Sept. 26, 1995, a joint-venture agreement was entered into by GIDC (Guevent Investments Development Corp.) and HBI (Honeycomb Builders Inc.) on the one hand, and Omico Corp. on the other, to develop parcels of real estate owned by GIDC and HBI along Pasong Tamo Extension in Makati. Omico was to construct the condominiums.

“Omico raised, through a public offering, P250 million to be used exclusively to develop the mixed-use condos. However, the amount was instead diverted to other projects and can no longer be accounted for. The amount went to Omico Kapital Inc., a subsidiary firm, only to be loaned back to Omico without interest.

“It is not only the two partners asking where the money went but also the thousands of small investors who bought shares of Omico’s public offering. A publicly listed corporation, Omico’s board chair is Antonio Lopa, a relative of President Aquino.”

After an investigation, the National Bureau of Investigation filed the case with the Manila City Prosecutor’s Office on Nov. 22, 2010, against two executives of Omico Corp.—Tommy Kin Hing Tia and Juana Lourdes Buyson—for alleged obstruction of justice. The two officials refused to surrender documents subpoenaed by the NBI. The DOJ took over the case soon after.

Finally, after two years of foot-dragging and buck-passing, Acting City Prosecutor Edwin Dayog filed criminal charges in court against Tia and Buyson.

The obstruction of justice complaint stemmed from the earlier syndicated estafa complaint filed with the NBI by GIDC against Omico.

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