OpinionsViewpoint“Curiouser and curiouser”

“Curiouser and curiouser”

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CEBU CITY–So Alice murmured in “Wonderland”. She chomped “magic cake” and ballooned to nine feet. Lifted from Lewis Carrol’s book (1865), the phrase expresses a disconnect between the bizarre and the rational.

“Curiouser and curiouser” fits the Supreme Court’s flip-flop on 16 “cities”. Batac in Ilocos Norte, Naga, Bogo and Carcar in Cebu, plus 12 others, were demoted into towns. The Court’s “final” judgement”, however, wilted into a “not-yet-final” ruling. Busted towns were restored — unless the Court decides otherwise, yet again, based on a League of Cities’ protest.

The 16’s legal counsel Estelito Mendoza wrote a “For-Your-Eyes-Only” letter to the Court in January 2009. Justices, who didn’t participate in deliberations be allowed to vote anyway, he asked.

“Unethical”, snapped League Vice Chair Paulino Salvador Leachon. “This is completely against the law–to write the court seeking a favorable decision,” the Calapan mayor added…” We were not provided with those secret documents.”

“Curiouser and curiouser” describes adrenalin outbursts of a once-somnolent Ombudsman. Cases mouldered in the Ombudsman’s dusty files. Among these were the P728-million fertilizer fund scam, the pillaged road user’s tax to the ZTE broadband contract. The inaction “bordered on criminal neglect,” Sen.Miriam Santiago asserted.

Merceditas Gutierrez shredded raps against the former President and then First Gentleman. By happenstance, he is Gutierrez’s school chum. Then, she found herself on the wrong end of an impeachment rap. Overnight, the Ombudsman waddled off to wage unaccustomed battle against accumulated sleaze.

She even retrieved a seven year old case over looted Cebu Girl Scout funds. Rep. Clavel Asas-Martinez allocated slabs from her pork barrel for scouts. But some turned up, on Sept. 22 in 2003, in the lady’s personal account at BPI in Pasay City. Pag may salaping tangan, pusa ma’y napapasayaw, the proverb says. “Money can make the cat dance.”

An Ombudsman in overdrive also rapped the “Euro generals” for toting undeclared 105,000 euros through Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow. “Excess funds from the intelligence budget of the PNP,”the cops stammered. Nonsense. That’s “private funds,” probers replied.

Two years late, the Ombudsman urged graft raps be lodged against former Philippine National Police comptroller Eliseo de la Paz, Gen. Avelino Razon Jr., plus Samuel Rodriguez, Orlando Pestaño, Tomas Rentoy III, Elmer Pelobello, Romeo Ricardo, Emmanuel Carta, Ismael Rafanan, German Doria, Silverio Alarcio Jr., and Jaime Caringal.

What did the confidential letter to high court justices, on allowing 16 towns to rehoist painted—over city hall signboards, seek?

In his Jan. 19, 2009 letter, Mendoza asked the Court: “Allow the participation of judges who were not physically present during the deliberation of the Nov. 18, 2008 order.”

That order “declared with finality” that turning 16 municipalities into cities were unconstitutional. All 16 — including Baybay in Leyte; Lamitan in Basilan; Tabuk in Kalinga; to El Salvador in Misamis Oriental — flubbed the P100-million income requirement.

None of the 16 are qualified, Magsaysay Awardee and DILG secretary Jesse Robredo said from the sidelines. “Let’s wait for the Court’s decision.”

Did anyone jump through Mendoza’s hoop? The League protested that Justices Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Mariano del Castillo, Roberto Abad and Martin Villarama Jr., who didn’t sit in earlier hearings, participated in December 2009 sessions. They reversed a “final” decision.

“Why should a counsel make a request to the Supreme Court when (that) Court already declared, with finality, that conversion (of the 16) was unconstitutional,”a bewildered LCP president and San Fernando Mayor Oscar Rodriguez asked.

The Girl Scout fund scandal stemmed from the release of P26 million in three tranches — two in 2002 and one in 2003. Intended as “financial assistance”, the cash was to go to the GSP Council in Cebu, reported Gulf Times of Qatar (Aug 17,2004).

The transfer to Martinez’ personal BPI account was not authorized by a GSP Council resolution, the Girl Scout committee report said. Neither were two separate transactions.

Bogo town — where Martinez’s son, Celestino Martinez III, was mayor — received P7.5million from Martinez’s pork barrel. These were deposited in the GSP Council’s trust fund. But funds were converted into GSP checks payable to cash — and vanished.

The transaction took place when Martinez was president of GSP-Cebu. Her daughter Ma Cielo served as treasurer, Gulf Times added. GSP learned how its funds caroomed only when the Land Bank-Bogo office asked for appropriate “resolution” from GSP officials.

“Hogwash”, Martinez said. She dared the whistleblower to surface. Regional Deputy Ombudsman Virginia Santiago, however, was not impressed. Instead, she asked COA to do a special audit.

After a seven-year hibernation, the Ombudsman suspended Bogo City treasurer Rhett Minguez and accountant Cresencio Verdida. ”The order did not mention any action on Clavel Asas-Martinez,” Cebu Daily News noted.

Minguez attested to availability of funds. Verdida certified that supporting documents were complete. The suspended officials conspired in laundering of GSP funds, the Ombudsman claimed.

Is this where the buck stops? “This is getting curiouser and curiouser,”Alice would have murmured.

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