Archive for the ‘Politicking’ Category

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Ombudsman probe uncovers ‘oil spill fund’ anomaly in Guimaras

March 2, 2009

By Florence F. Hibionada
The News Today, Mar. 2, 2009

The Fact-Finding Investigation of the Office of the Ombudsman in the Visayas on millions in feared government losses of the Oil Spill fund has now dragged a seemingly “all-star cast” of characters cum subjects of inquiry.

With some P10 million in Presidential assistance as center of the concern, The News Today (TNT) learned that an extensive “first-hand” report has already been submitted. In it, a TNT source said, were names of the suspected erring government personalities in the employ of the Guimaras Provincial Government. (Click here for the rest.)

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I don’t doubt that some anomaly may have occurred in the release of the Oil Spill Fund, but just from the news stories that have been published over the past weeks about the Office of the Ombudsman, it seems to me that Ombudsgirl Merceditas Gutierrez is fighting back the negative publicity about her lack of action on corruption cases by investigating and filing charges against politicians who are contra-partido to her presidentita. Hmm…

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COA finds irregularities in oil spill funds

May 7, 2008

By Nestor P. Burgos Jr.
Visayas Bureau, Inquirer
04/23/2008

ILOILO CITY – The Commission on Audit (COA) has found irregularities in the use of P10 million in taxpayers’ money to help towns on Guimaras Island that were suffering from the country’s worst oil spill.

An 18-page report of the COA, dated Feb. 8, said some of the funds were released to municipalities that were not listed as suffering from the oil spill. A copy of the report was sent to Iloilo Gov. Niel Tupas Sr.

The P10 million was part of at least P40 million released by the Office of the President to Guimaras, Iloilo and Negros Occidental in response to calls for help from towns hurt by the oil spill.

Funds for Iloilo province were released in two installments – P5 million on Aug. 25, 2006, and another P5 million on Sept. 25 the same year. These were used to buy fishing equipment, boat engines and kerosene lanterns.

The provincial government reported that it released P1.95 million to 19 coastal municipalities and P360,000 to 13 barangays.

The COA report, however, said the provincial government also released P1.1 million to 11 coastal municipalities that were not listed as suffering from the oil spill based on a report by the Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council (PDCC). The towns included San Joaquin, Guimbal, Tigbauan, Leganes, Zarraga, Anilao, San Dionisio, Batad, Estancia, Balasan and Carles.

The report said the release of P1.1 million to the 11 towns violated rules on the use of taxpayers’ money. It was signed by Marietta Sofia, audit team leader, and Arlene Togonon, regional cluster director.

Manuel Mejorada, provincial administrator, denied any irregularities in the use of funds for oil spill-stricken towns.

Mejorada said the PDCC report was not an accurate basis to determine whether or not a town was suffering from the oil spill.

While the oil spill didn’t reach the shores of some towns, they also suffered because of lower fish catch, he said.

The COA report also noted a delay in the purchase and distribution of fishing equipment worth P7.68 million.

“Had the equipment been acquired earlier, the equipment and supplies could have curbed the urgent impact of the oil spill …,” the report said.

It also noted a P1.48 million overprice in the purchase of boat engines worth P4.22 million.

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‘PAY ALL OF US!’

August 9, 2007

Oil spill victims ‘used’ and abandoned – priest

By DAVID ISRAEL SINAY
Panay News, Aug. 9, 1007

GUIMARAS – A parish priest accused the national government of neglecting the victims of last year’s oil spill here, and blamed it for the “low” compensation that the affected residents received.

Father Noe Lozada, parish priest of St. Michael Archangel in Jordan town, also blasted “unscrupulous people who exploited the disaster.”

Because of this, Guimarasnons have been unfairly branded as “liars, deceivers and opportunistic,” he lamented.

Lozada said the government has not introduced “lasting solutions.”

“Do not blame the victims of oil spill. Blame the system of governance that we have. Politicians will only visit our place during the election,” said Lozada, who had been in the island for 22 years as a priest.

Last month, the International Oil Pollution Compensation (IOPC) rejected almost all the second batch of compensation claimants. Of the 125,614 claimants for this batch, it only considered 134 claims.

“From the beginning, I know these people (from the IOPC) will never compensate (those affected with the) maximum amount. They haggled to the lowest bargain until we just collapse in exasperation,” Lozada stressed.

“Only if the IOPC had been strict during the approval of the first batch of claimants, this will never happen. Why are they being strict now?” Lozada wondered.

A total of 11,227 claims (first batch) have been paid by the IOPC reaching P118,852,193.
According to Guimaras Gov. Felipe Hilan-Nava, the 134 claims are again being screened for final approval by the IOPC.

IOPC made some startling discoveries, among these were the incomplete information on the claim registration or insufficient signatures verifying that the claimants are bona fide fisherfolks; some claimants already received compensation but applied again; others were underaged; and several more were not even coastal residents but inland villagers.

The IOPC tapped fisheries experts from the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation Limited (ITOPF) and the London Offshore Consultants to help assess the claims of those seeking compensation.

But for Lozada, “it is wrong that only the fisherolks are compensated. Once fishing is affected, all the people of Guimaras are affected. The whole island must be compensated. Everyone of us must be compensated.”

“The government could have helped the people to fight for their right to get maximum benefits and maximum compensation,” said Lozada during a multi-sectoral dialogue on the effects of the oil spill at Shirven’s Hotel in Jordan town on Tuesday.

Lozada said he was saddened by “unscrupulous people who exploited the disaster.”

“We were treated by these multinationals to a certain place and slaughtered. They know our leaders will fight against each other and confuse the people,” Lozada said, referring to the filing of the second batch of claimants which was done during the election period.

Gov. Nava confirmed that some unscrupulous politicians used the claims to further their own agenda at the expense of the unsuspecting residents using it as “part of their campaign slogan… they misguided the people into making money the easy way.”

Lozada took to task the government. “The President, the Senate, and the battery of lawyers in Congress should have helped us. (But) there was none … we were just given small things,’ he said.

He said the government only offered pallative solutions to the oil spill catastrophe that displaced thousands of fisherfolks who lost their livelihood.

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DOUBTFUL CLAIMS

August 8, 2007

Sinister claims dragging oil spill compensation

By DAVID ISRAEL SINAY
Panay News, Aug. 7, 2007

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GUIMARAS fisherman Glen Gabito shows his fishing gear that has been rendered useless by the oil spill one year ago. He said he refused to accept the P14,000 compensation because this was way too small. (Photo from Panay News)

GUIMARAS – Almost a year since the oil spill that ravaged several kilometers of coastal areas and marine life of this island province, the struggle of the affected residents for just compensation continues.

A total of 11,227 claims (first batch) have been paid by the International Oil Pollution Compensation (IOPC) reaching P118,852,193. The second batch of claimants, however, is having difficulty.

Gov. Felipe Hilan-Nava said the IOPC is carefully checking each claim and weeding out dubious ones. There are 125,614 claimants for the second batch but the IOPC has considered only 134 claims.

The 134, added Nava, are still being screened for final approval.

IOPC made some startling discoveries, among these were the incomplete information on the claim registration or insufficient signatures verifying that claimants are bona fide fisherfolks; some claimants already received compensation but applied again; others were underage; and several more were not even coastal residents but inland villagers.

Nava disclosed that of the five municipalities in Guimaras, only claimants from Jordan and San Lorenzo towns were approved with 129 and five claims, respectively.

The IOPC made a surprising discovery — the number of claimants exceeded the number of population in Sibunag, Nueva Valencia and Buenavista towns.

According to Nava, the municipality of Sibunag has a population of 17,802 but the number of claimants from there reached 21,152; Nueva Valencia has a population of 36,813 but the claims from there totaled to 37,764; and Buenavista has a population of 44,853 yet the number of residents seeking compensation reached 45,451.

“In the last meeting of the National Disaster Coordinating Council (in Manila), I left the room. I didn’t like the tenor of (Presidential Adviser for Western Visayas Rafael) Coscolluela and the Petron Corp. that residents here were opportunistic,” he said.

Nava, however, admitted he was surprised by the number of claimants.

“Almost all claims were rejected because of this,” he lamented.

ABUSED

The oil spill hit Guimaras on August 11, 2006. Coastal residents and fishermen complained of low fish catch, or no catch at all. Some had health-related complaints. They were later promised compensation by the IOPC.

But Nava said some unscrupulous politicians used the claims to further their own agenda at the expense of the unsuspecting residents. They used it as “part of their campaign slogan (during the last elections) … they misguided the people into making money the easy way.”

The IOPC tapped fisheries experts from the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation Limited (ITOPF) to help assess the claims of those seeking compensation.
Claimants file damage claims with the amount of compensation derived from declaration of losses and their average income before the oil spill.

Those seeking compensation claimed they were fisherfolk, shell gatherers, fingerlings gatherers and fishpond operators, among others.

Due to the lack of credentials to support the claimants, village chiefs were the ones facilitating the identification of residents directly and indirectly affected by the oil spill to be endorsed by the agriculture and fisheries council, mayor, municipal agriculturist, congressman, or the governor.

Last month, Coscolluela claimed that the second batch of claimants was “politically accommodated”. These claims were filed before the elections…somebody might have advised them to file their claims justifying their loss (brought about by the spill),” Coscolluela said.

“The local officials find it hard to reject them outright. They just leave the validation of the claims to the IOPC. The claimants demanded for endorsements from the agriculture and fisheries council, from the mayor, from the municipal agriculturist, from the congressman, or from the governor,” Coscolluela added.

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Charges filed vs. Solar 1 owners, says DOJ chief

July 27, 2007

By Nestor P. Burgos Jr.
The News Today, July 26, 2007

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has denied the statement of the head of a regional inter-agency task force on the Petron oil spill that it failed to file the appropriate charges against those responsible for the country’s worst oil spill.

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez, Sr. lashed at Presidential Assistant for Western Visayas Rafael Coscolluela, head of the Task Force Solar I Oil Spill, for saying that no one has been charged for the oil spill.

“Mr. Coscolluela is very wrong. He might end up eating his words,” Gonzalez said in a telephone interview.

Gonzalez pointed out that criminal charges were filed early this year against owners of the M/T Solar which sank 13.5 miles off Guimaras on August 11, 2006.

The 998-gross-ton tanker owned by Sunshine Maritime Development Corp. (SDMC) was contracted by the giant oil firm Petron to ship fuel to Western Mindanao Power Corp. in Zamboanga del Sur.

The tanker was carrying 13,000 barrels or 2 million liters of bunker fuel in the vessel’s 10 tanks when it sank amid rough seas.

DOJ Undersecretary Fidel Esconde, a member of the DOJ panel that investigated the oil spill, said it filed in March this year charges against SDMC officials for violating the Anti-Dummy Law (Commonwealth Act No. 108 as amended by Presidential Decree No. 715).

Among those charged were before the Manila Regional Trial Court were Japanese nationals Hiroyasu Yamaguchi, Mototsugu Yamaguchi, Tomoki Tsubomoto and Hiromi Irishika, and Filipinos Clemente Cancio, Roberto Mena, Gregorio Flores and Angelita Buenaventura.

The respondents were charged after an investigation of the five-member DOJ panel found the Japanese officials to be illegally occupying key positions in the corporation. The Japanese incorporators also largely controlled the company and were intervening in its management, operation, administration and control, according the results of the DOJ investigation.

Esconde said Guimaras officials had also filed criminal charges against Petron and SDMC officials for violating environmental laws.

But he pointed out that the charges and the subsequent appeal of the petitioners were dismissed by the Guimaras provincial prosecutor’s office.

Guimaras provincial prosecutor Luzermindo Calmorin had dismissed the complaint against Petron and SDMC officials for violating Republic Act No. 9275 (Clean Water Act of 2004), RA 8749 (Clean Air Act of 1999) and RA 9003 (Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000) for lack of evidence.

Calmorin had said in his resolution that the sinking of the tanker and the oil spill were unintentional acts.

“We are waiting for the petitioners to appeal the resolution of the Guimaras provincial prosecutor’s office before we can act on it,” said Esconde in a telephone interview.

Coscolluela said he was unaware that charges have been filed against anyone in relation to the oil spill because the DOJ failed to report it in meetings of the National Disaster Coordinating Council.

“If a case has indeed been filed, then we are happy to hear that,” Coscolluela said in a telephone interview.

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Oil spill victims decry allegations of politics in claims

June 29, 2007

By Nestor P. Burgos Jr.
Inquirer Visayas Bureau
06/28/2007

ILOILO CITY, Philippines – Oil spill damage claimants in Miag-ao town denied that irregularities marred the filing and payment claims of residents affected by the Petron oil spill off Guimaras Island in August 2006.

They denounced Iloilo Representative Janette Garin for making these allegations.

In a manifesto passed on June 12, members of the Miag-ao Municipal Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management Council (MFARMC) denied that fraudulent claims were made without verification aside from the recommendation of politicians.

Around 523 beneficiaries in Miag-ao received around P1.7 million in compensation for damages incurred from the oil spill.

The claimants said they “underwent rigid screening” by the office of the municipal agriculturist and submitted sufficient documents and requirements proving they were oil spill victims.

They pointed out that the claims were processed before the election period and the signing of Miag-ao Mayor Gerardo Flores was only “incidental.”

The claimants said Garin was the one who made the compensation process “a political gimmick.”

Garin’s statements were contained in an e-mail she sent to Hugh Bayley, a member of the United Kingdom House of Commons.

She named Flores, whom she defeated in the congressional race in the May 14 elections, outgoing Dumangas Mayor Rolando Distura and then provincial board member Niel Tupas Jr. as among the politicians who were recommending the claimants.

Garin also accused the personnel of the International Oil Pollution Compensation (IOPC) Fund of allowing the alleged scam to happen because of “wanton laziness” in verifying the claims and of tolerating “barbaric political gimmickry.”

IOPC director Willem Oosterveen earlier disputed Garin’s allegations.

The IOPC is an inter-governmental organization which provides compensation to oil spill victims.

The claimants said, in their manifesto, that Garin’s actions “jeopardized the chances for claims of some 2,000 additional victims.” They also asked Garin for a dialogue in the presence of members of the media.

Garin said she was willing to dialogue with the Miag-ao claimants but she also stood by her allegations.

She maintained that the compensation claims were used for political purposes, from the identification of recipients to the distribution of payments.

Garin said the processing and payments of claimants during the election period went against the agreement reached in a meeting of Iloilo representatives, Petron officials and Presidential Adviser for Western Visayas Rafael Coscolluela with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

She said they agreed that the payments for Iloilo claimants would be made after the elections to avoid it being influenced by partisan politics.

Only the claimants from Miag-ao and Oton towns received compensation because the other coastal towns in the First District moved back their filing of claims to after the elections, said Garin.

She said the claimants in Oton were given priority being the worst affected in the district.

Garin said she issued the statement because the country’s reputation was at stake in the receipt of assistance from foreign agencies.

“I came out in the open because we need to be transparent,” Garin said in a telephone interview.

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GMA: Guimaras recovery fast – press release

June 17, 2007

Iloilo City (13 June) – President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo expressed satisfaction over the rehabilitation efforts initiated for the recovery of the once oil-spill devastated province of Guimaras.

President Arroyo made this assessment as she listened to the report of Petron CEO Nicasio Alcantara on the activities undertaken in Guimaras to mitigate the effects of oil spill to human and marine life.

Alcantara reported on the cash for work program which resulted to the cleaning up of the oil-spill affected shorelines in less than four months. He said that the scientific community from leading institutions have provided needed inputs for ecological recovery.

He was pleased to report to the President that according to the UPV, the affected mangrove areas are slowly recovering, and based on a study by Siliman University ’s Dr. Angel Alcala, there is no visual evidence of coral damage.

The Petron CEO also reported of the oil retrieval operations conducted by Sonsub, and that the IOPC has ensured that those affected by the oil spill are reasonably compensated.

“About a hundred million pesos has been given to claimants,” he said as he pointed out that Petron has continuing program to ensure the safe transport of fuels.

Another long term rehabilitation program of Petron was materialized with the construction of Library Hub in Jordan, with President Arroyo leading the inauguration yesterday.

The Petron Library hub received an initial 36, 000 books and this will be made available to teachers and administrators for schools within the designated area. Each school is allowed to borrow the book bundles for a period of 30 days.

President Arroyo asked Petron to install computer terminal in each of the 17 high schools, and according to her Petron readily said yes. She stressed that one of her ten-point agenda is education for all where high schools would have computer linkage before her term ends in 2010.

During the occasion, the President was also presented with the MOA signed between Petron and the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center to establish a Mariculture livelihood model farm within the Seafdec facilities in Nueva Valencia. The Department of Social Welfare and Development also turned over the P3 million seed capital to four Self-Employment Assistance Kabuhayan Associations for seaweed farming. (Phil. Information Agency)

Petron assures safety of fuel transport in Guimaras – press release

Iloilo City (14 June) — With lessons already learnt from the devastation brought by the Solar! oil spill incident to the province of Guimaras, Petron assured President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the public that they have instituted measures to ensure the safe transport of their fuels.

This assurance was made by Petron CEO Nicasio Alcantara to President Arroyo during the inauguration of the Petron Library Hub, and turn over of multi-million peso-livelihood assistance for the oil spill affected people of Guimaras.

It may be recalled that MT Solar ! sank off the Guimaras Strait in August 11, 2006. The tanker spilled some two million liters of oil and affected 11 coastal barangays in Nueva Valencia, Guimaras.

Alcantara said that they have launched in 2004 a shipping alliance project, a continuing program to ensure the safe transport of fuels.

Towards this end, Alcantara said “we launched the building of nine new double-hull and double bottom vessels by 2008, ahead of international regulations”.

He said that the first vessel was inaugurated in 2005, followed by another in 2006, and the third vessel which is considered the largest and most modern oil-tanker in the Philippines.

He further told the Preisdent that they have joined the East Asia Response Limited, the largest oil spill response organization in the world.

“This enhances our capability, and that includes the government, to deal with very large oil spills giving us access to rapid response services,” the Petron CEO concluded.
(Phil. Information Agency)