Monday, June 14, 2010

Still thieving

One would think that because Governor Natalio F. Beltran III has been consigned to the backwaters of Tondo after Governor-elect Lolong Firmalo had decisively routed him in the election of May 10, 2010, he and his cohorts in the provincial capitol would stop pronto their blatant day-time raids on the provincial treasury.
What do you know? Beltran and company continue their thievery, if the Commission on Audit is to be believed.

Kapalmuks talaga. Alam kasi na hanggang tanghali na lang ng Hunyo 30 ang kaniyang pamamayagpag kaya ayun, sinasamantala ang kaniyang walang patumanggang paglustay ng salapi ng bayan.

Wala ka nang aabutan pa sa kapitolyo, Dr. Lolong. Nilimas na ng mga buwitre ang kaban ng bayan.

While everyone in Romblon is sleeping, content in the thought that Firmalo will soon clean up Beltran’s mess, big-time thievery is taking place, again if the Commission on Audit is to be believed.

While everyone in Romblon is basking on the happy afterglow of the opposition’s victory in the election, our governor was wasting public money on—of all things—school bags.

On May 14, 2010, or only four days after the election, Concepcion M. Caldit, state auditor and Team I audit team leader at the Region IV Audit Group II, wrote a letter to Gov. Beltran informing him that a P4.196 million purchase of school bags done by the provincial government was done without basis and, therefore, illegal.

The letter called the attention of three provincial officials, namely, Ranilo F. Fruelda of the provincial accounting office; Oscar Vicente L. Ylagan, Jr. of the provincial planning and development office; and Noel M. Magracia of the provincial budget office. The three apparently had roles in the purchase.

I will quote from Ms. Caldit’s letter for the benefit of our readers, to wit:

“In view of the late receipt of CY 2010 Annual Development Plan which we only received last 5 May 2010, we are returning again the herein Disbursement Voucher No. 100-10031516 together with its supporting documents, in favor of Etcetera.Com School and Office Supply for the payment of school bags. Please consider the following deficiencies:

“The procurement of school bags of at least P4,196,000.00 was without appropriation in violation of Section 4(1) of Presidential Decree No. 1445, otherwise known as the Government Auditing Code of the Philippines, thus the Province has no legal basis to purchase the same.”

Ms. Caldit went on to admonish Beltran and company by saying that “financial transactions and operations of any government agency shall be governed by the principle, “No money shall be paid out of any public treasury or depository except in pursuance of an appropriation law or other specific statutory authority.”

She said that the provincial government’s obligation request, No. R-GF 200-01-10-0298, to cover the required appropriation for the procurement of school bags revealed that P3,500,000 was lodged under the item “educational, cultural and sports development program” while P700,000 was lodged under the item “community assistance to barangays and schools”.

Tingnan natin kung papaanong pinalusot ni Beltran ang ganitong mga pagwaldas.

Ayon kay Ms. Caldit, sa kaniyang pag-rebisa sa programa at bill of materials para sa pagbili ng naturang school bags, nakita niya na ang P3,500,000 ay para sa “pagdalo sa mga seminar, pagsasanay, Quiz Bee, cultural presentation, premyo, tropeo, insentibo, at tulong pinansyal sa mga baragay, mga paaralan, at iba pang ahensya na may kinalaman sa pag-develop ng sports”.

Dagdag pa ni Ms. Caldit, ang P700,000 naman ay ginastos di-umano sa “construction materials” at “equipment” para sa mga barangay at eskuwelahan”.

Anak ka ng kagastusan, Gov. Jojo. Ang galing mong magpaikot. Pero mababaw ka pa rin. Akala mo makakalusot ka sa COA.

Mga katanungan sa taong-bayan ng Romblon.

Nakarating ba sa inyong barangay o eskuwelahan ang mga bagay na binanggit ng COA na pinamili ng lalawigan?

Kayo ba’y dumalo sa seminar, nagsanay, sumali sa Quiz Bee, nagpalabas ng tanawing kultural, nakatanggap ng premyo o tropeo, naabutan ng insentibo at tulong pinansyal, at nakatanggap ng construction materials at equipment galing sa kumpanyang Etcetera.Com School and Office Supply? Kilala ba ninyo ang may-ari ng kumpanyang ito na binayaran ng P4,196,000? May nabalitaan ba kayong bidding ukol sa bagay na ito?

Kung hindi ang inyong kasagutan sa mga katanungang ito, mapalad kayo sapagka’t mamanahin ninyo ang kaharian ng langit, hindi katulad ni Gov. Beltran at ng kaniyang mga apostoles na malamang mademanda sa Ombudsman.

According to the COA—through Ms. Caldit—“procuring school bags charged against the above programs/projects is bereft of legal basis”.

Sa Tagalog, iligal.

Ano kaya ang nasa isip ni Beltran nang gawin niya ito?

Mula noong maupo sa kapitolyo ang damuho, iniisip ko talaga kung ano ang tumatakbo sa isip ng pinakabata, ngunit pinakamatulis, na naging gobernador ng Romblon. Ngunit bigo ako. Hindi ko mahulaan ang likot ng imahinasyon ng batang ito. Sa isip ko, siguro, iniisip niya na bobo ang lahat ng Romblomanon. Marahil, iniisip niya na hindi madidiskubre ang kaniyang pagiging gahaman.

Well, well. There is a saying in English that says, “What goes around comes around.”

Sa Tagalog, “Ang umiikot, nauuntog.” Joke.

But seriously, I felt insulted by Beltran’s boldness. Can you imagine? Buying P4.196 million-worth of school bags is no mean feat. It is completely unnecessary. The timing defies logic and common sense, for in Romblon, school bags are not a priority in the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

If only his heart bleeds for the Romblomanon, he would have known that the amount could have bought 2,398 fifty-kilogram sacks of rice, or 119,886 kilos at P32 per kilo, or 839,200 tablets of Biogesic at P5.00 per tablet, or 95,363 kilos of brown sugar at P44 per kilo.

This is not to say we don’t need school bags. We do. But come to think of it, when a member of a Romblomanon household is hungry, or is sick, do you think that member’s hunger would be satiated, or would his health improve, if he or she knew that the governor he or she elected in 2007 bought him or her a school bag, instead of helping him obtain food or medicine?

Go tell Beltran in Tondo your answer to this question while I puke.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Dapitan: An ambitious city

Dapitan is an island.

Four bridges connect it to the mainland of the Zamboanga Peninsula and soon one more is going to be built to make the island more ‘accessible’.

That’s according to Vice Mayor Patri B. Chan who, in the absence of Mayor Dominador G. Jalosjos during our arrival, welcomed us with a brief introduction to Dapitan and to the music of the Shrine Kids Quartet and the Dapitan City Tourism Chorale.

Accessibility should not be a problem though to a Dapitan visitor, as we found out. Coming to and from the island is more than convenient enough. A twenty-minute drive will quickly find one already in Dipolog City, another laid back community that serves as gateway to other Philippine cities. Dipolog is nowadays waking up to the enchanting charm of development.

So is Dapitan, a city all of 82,000 souls living in 50 barangays scattered along 29,000 hectares of plain arable lands, wondrous rock formations, and medium-range hills, lush green on a hot summer with fruit-bearing trees, rubber and coconuts. The calm seas of the Sulu Sea wash its western shores, including its most famous, Dakak, the beach resort seven kilometers south of the city. An expanded modern highway now connects Dakak to the Dapitan city center.

Dapitan’s belonging to modernity gets a boost from its ties to history: its claim to be the Shrine City of the Philippines. Make that “Jose Rizal Shrine City” for no other city in the country has more shrines dedicated or connected to the life and times of the national hero, who lived and spent four short, but precious, years in the island.

St. James, the Apostle, is Dapitan’s patron saint. He is depicted as an image of a horse-mounted warrior raring for a fight. His feast is celebrated from July 15-25 every year, highlighted by the ‘Sinug’, a dance procession, and ‘Kinabayo’, a local pageant in living colors re-enacting the battle between the native chief Covadonga and the Moor, Clavijo. According to local accounts, the latter prevailed in this battle only because of the apparition of St. James who lent Clavijo timely succor.

Notwithstanding this depiction of the subjugation of the local people by the rampaging invaders, Dapitan has become a big story interwoven between its storied past and its yearning and aspiration for a comely and bright future.

This past—or place in history—is already guaranteed by the accident of fate. Thrust into the map as Jose Rizal’s home when the latter was punished of banishment—exile, as the history books say—the island was, and forever will be, associated with that solitary chapter in Rizal’s life and benefited abundantly from his creativity and benevolence.

The first of this association is Sta. Cruz beach in Dapitan Bay where 225 years earlier, or in 1565, Miguel Lopez de Legaspi erected a 20-foot cross to symbolize the propagation of Christianity in this remote part of Mindanao. It is on this beach where the S. S. Cebu, the wooden corvette that sailed from Manila, deposited Rizal and a handful of Spanish civil guards on the island. This landing is honored by a shrine, the first of the must-see shrines of Dapitan.

Overlooking the bay is Ilihan Hill, an old fortress that houses the Spanish settlement at the time. The name of the place is derived from “ili”, which means “fortress” in itself. When Rizal was here, the settlement was led by Ricardo Carnicero, the Spanish commandant who was in charge of the high-value prisoner. Carnicero stayed with Rizal all throughout his banishment.

“Dapitan is a rural city dreaming of big things. We are an ambitious city,” says Vice Mayor Chan. “Our ambition is reflected in our priorities,” she added.

And those priorities include developing Dapitan as a world-class tourist destination, an ambition that is now beginning to take shape as the city emerges from its rural cocoon.

I was in Dapitan last week as part of the contingent of Department of Labor and Employment officials which sat down for a two-day workshop on the department’s balance scorecard performance report which we needed to finalize as the country moves in transition with the inauguration of a new president and a new administration.

We arrived while Dapitan was in a frenzy over the Hudyaka Festival, a one-week thanksgiving celebration (Hudyaka means thanksgiving) of songs, fashion, food, dances, parades and sporting events that announces Dapitan’s arrival in modern times and signals its membership bid to the country’s elite circle of premier tourist destinations.

DOLE Regional director Ponciano ‘Nonoy’ Ligutom hosted this visit—and our workshop—so it was his warm hospitality and the efficiency of his staff that gave us a close view of the Dapitanon’s socio-cultural upbringing. They patiently and gamely guided our education about Dapitan.

“Dapitan is an emerging eco-tourism player. It has great potential,” said Dir. Ligutom, pointing to us the colorful and varied Hudyaka Festival activities.

Vice Mayor Chan proudly agrees. She said: “The Hudyaka Festival now ranks fifth among the country’s festivals.”

Articulate and bursting with enthusiasm, Chan bared the local government’s plans for the city in the next three years. On the works is the bid of the city to host the Palarong Pambansa, the annual sporting mecca that draws thousands of athletes from all over the country.

“In December, we will be moving to our new city hall,” she said.

The new city hall is a head-turner. Standing by the banks of the Dapitan River, the domed edifice towers over the surrounding residential houses and a few commercial buildings and serves as sentinel on a busy fisherman’s wharf on its feet. On the day we visited, the wharf teemed with abundant produce from the sea and local sellers and buyers from as far as Pagadian City were haggling for the freshest at the best prices.

And what will the local government do with the old city hall? Vice Mayor Chan did not say, but most likely, it will be transformed into yet another shrine, or even into a museum. The old city hall is patterned after a Casa Real of Spanish design. Its interiors have been changed, but the exterior fa├žade has not been touched which lends the edifice an ambience of antiquity.

One’s visit to Dapitan would be incomplete without a stroll on the Dapitan City Plaza by the yard of the century-old church of St. James and the rectory, two Spanish heritage edifices that have withstood the ravages of time.

The plaza is an old promenade that Rizal himself designed. Itself a shrine, the plaza’s lights are now powered by electricity, but in Rizal’s time, he lined the public square with tree trunks complete with lamps fueled by coconut oil. When we visited, the plaza smelt of solemn ambience. In the air, unseen, must have been Jose Rizal’s ghost taking a visual survey of his creation.

Another shrine worth a visit is the Lourdes Grotto, at the southwest foot of Ilihan Hill. Before the Spaniards dedicated the site as a Christian shrine, the place served as burial grounds of the ancient Dapitanons.

Most famous, most frequently-gawked at is Rizal’s house, a shrine that mimics the original residence of the hero in the island. One can imagine Rizal himself choosing the native, light materials that he used in the construction of his house. The house’s design bespoke of Rizal’s simple, yet utilitarian taste, as well as his attempt to be modern.

It is in this house where Rizal entertained his numerous visitors; and where his family stayed on extended visits. On the front yard is where Rizal even had whispered nightly discussion and debates with Pio Valenzuela when the latter came as Andres Bonifacio’s emissary to bring the news of the impending break-out of the Philippine Revolution in Luzon. On his visit, Valenzuela even tempted Rizal with a seemingly irresistible offer: an escape which the latter turned down to Bonifacio’s dismay.

Dapitan, according to Vice Mayor Chan, has two distinct faces. “There is an Old Dapitan and there is a New Dapitan,” she explained.

The Old Dapitan, she explained, is the Dapitanons’ heritage that they aim to preserve. “It’s our connection to the past which we strengthen and safeguard from the intrusion of modernity represented by the technology revolution—building design, infrastructure, economics, etc. In the Old Dapitan, we don’t allow just anything to be adopted, inserted or built,” she said.

The opposite is true with the New Dapitan. This section of the city is a profusion of modern structures, facilities, and commerce. “Anything in the New Dapitan is permissible, except those that violate our laws and ordinances and those that serve as an affront to decency, honor and culture of the Dapitanons,” says Chan.

The road that leads to this New Dapitan is Sunset Boulevard which provides a spectacular view of the Dapitan sunset. Imagine Rizal sitting in front of this view, beside a heart-shaped rock, while writing his “Mi Retiro” and “El Himno A Talisay”. This rock is now aptly called Mi Retiro Rock, another prominent shrine.

On Sunset Boulevard sits some of Dapitan’s resort hotels, Alexandra by the Sea, Bajamunde Resort Farms Hotel, and Dapitan City Resort Hotel, which Vice Mayor Chan swears are booked fully especially during summer. Seven kilometers south of the city, in Brgy. Taguilon, is the world-famous Dakak Park and Resort Hotel where the sand beaches are powdery white and the waters azure. For all its grandeur and elegance, Dakak is so quite you can hear nature meditating.

Tourism promotion is the function of the City Tourism Office, which also coordinates the local government’s and the private sector’s cultural and tourism efforts and activities. Lending valuable support to the office is a vibrant cultural and artistic community, personified by the Foundation of Artists and Musicians in Zamboanga del Norte, or FAMUZ.

The FAMUZ’s leading light is Alma Calasang, a nurse who has since changed careers to become a performer, voice coach, and choir conductor. As the city’s artistic consultant, Ms. Calasang is mentoring and managing the Shrine Kids Quartet, Shrine City Band, and the Shrine LGU Choir, all of which performed during our visit. Another musical group, the Dapitan City Tourism Choir, performed using the “angklong” a bamboo chime instrument that originated from Indonesia.

“These performing artists are regulars at the Gloria de Dapitan, the city’s entertainment park which is another must to visitors,” Ms. Calasang says.

The shrines, while compelling to any Dapitan visitor’s itinerary, are just one of the more abundant reasons why one should come to the city. Scuba-diving, trail hiking, mountain biking, local dining, and of course, cross cultural exchange, offer visitors alternative experiences that no other vacation destination in Mindanao can equal.

Access to Dapitan is both by land, air and sea. There are ferries and ships daily and weekly to and from Cebu, Dumaguete, Iligan, Zamboanga, and Manila. By air, one can come either through Philippine Airlines or Cebu Pacific via Dipolog Airport. Buses ply regularly along the Zamboanga City-Dapitan, Davao-Cagayan de Oro-Dapitan, and the Ozamis-Pagadian-Dipolog-Dapitan routes.

Once in Dapitan, imbibe the culture, enjoy the hospitality, savor the history, and partake of the ambition of Rizal’s rustic city.