Sunday, November 9, 2008

Another loan, this time to replace an SP-condemed hospital

I have a copy of a document, the contents of which could determine whether our mga kasimanwa will die in penury or in ill-health in the next two years. Whether it’s the former or the latter, there is no choice, really, but to die for reasons I shall shortly explain.

This document is Sangguniang Panlalawigan Resolution No. 07-2008-66 dated July 8, 2008 granting authority to Governor Natalio Beltran III (God help us if there would be a Beltran IV) “to secure and negotiate a loan agreement with any private or government financing and/or banking institution for the construction of a new provincial hospital, including the purchase of hospital/medical equipment and supplies”.

Earlier, the Romblon Sun has headlined a story about this, but I am not sure if the paper’s reporters covered all the details. I will comment on it, though, by reading the fine print of the resolution.

It can be recalled that on February 22 this year, Gov. Beltran sought from the SP authority “to enter into a loan agreement, and to further negotiate the terms and conditions of the same, with any private or government financing and/or banking institution purposely for the construction of a new provincial hospital”.

The SP may not have acted on this first request and Gov. Beltran, for reasons known only to his sacred heart, wrote again on April 22 to “request for the revision of the earlier request” for authority. Notice the intention of the letter?

In his April 22 letter, Beltran said: “After a brief assessment of the foregoing request, the undersigned finds the need for the revision of the requested authority and to read: authorizing the undersigned to secure and negotiate for a loan agreement with any private or government financing and/or banking institution for the construction of a new provincial hospital, and to include the purchase of hospital/medical equipment and other supplies, and if an whenever a loan agreement has been reached, the same shall be subject to ratification by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan”.

On this basis, Gov. Beltran got the authority, and even as I write, he may already be on his way to the bank, laughing at the gullibility of his SP.

There is no news from the capitol as to what Gov. Beltran is doing with the authority now. Is he securing and negotiating for a loan agreement? If yes, with which private or public government bank? I don’t know. We all don’t know.

Going back to the SP, whose members could be so afraid not to give in to Beltran’s remonstration, we can safely narrate what they did to the governor’s letter when they received it.

First, they referred the letter to three SP committees—Legal Affairs, Ways and Means, and Health. This is to say they referred it to themselves. Got that?

Next, they issued a joint committee report. After that, they debated and finally, approved a resolution giving Gov. Beltran the authority.

It would be interesting to know what the SP members debated about. I’ll tell you.

They debated about Romblon’s existing debt with the Land Bank of the Philippines; on Romblon’s capacity to pay; on the site of the proposed new hospital; the possibility that doctors and other hospital personnel may not be available once a new hospital is erected; and on the new hospital’s sustainability.

These five issues were touched in the joint committee report, but only very mildly. There was no exhaustive study, scientific or voodoo, that could justify another loan. There was no persistent evaluation, no public consultation, and no deliberate attempt to obtain all facts before the decision.

I was told by a source that members of the committees never even visited the provincial hospital in Odiongan, yet, the joint committee report contained definitive conclusion that “the repairs of the existing hospital . . . is no longer structurally and economically feasible. The electrical wiring are dilapidated, the sewerage system, drainage, water faucets, plumbing, pipings (sic) and connections, roofing and others are rotten and dysfunctional due to wear and tear”.

And since when did the members of the committees become engineers and building experts to condemn a hospital? Was there a study or inspection that would merit such a sorry description of the province’s health facility?

Tuyar yaki nak masyaro’y it yuho ka provincial hospital, asing waya pa kina nakandadohi? Asing kina’y abrido pa?

If the hospital is really as described by our honorable SP members, aren’t we endangering the lives of the doctors and the patients in the medical facility? What are Gov. Beltran and the SP doing about it?

By all means, let us evacuate the patients now before the hospital’s roof caves in, or before its wiring electrocutes the nurses and patients, or even before its leaking faucets inundate the hospital rooms. Let us condemn the building if we have to, but let’s do it properly. Let the DPWH do the structural evaluation if it really is crumbling.

Let us not write about the dilapidated condition of the hospital in official government documents, such as an SP resolution, just to form a basis for a haphazard, ill-advised and misinformed decision of a governor.

(Next issue: A new hospital is hazardous to health, it will increase our debt)

A new hospital is hazardous to health, it will increase our debt

I do not question the motive of Gov. Natalio Beltran III for wanting to have a new hospital in the province. Neither do I begrudge the members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan for easily surrendering itself to the wish of the governor without thorough study or debate. They are just being true to their nature as political mercenaries.

Resolution No. 07-2008-66 is a debt trap. It is consigning the future of the province into the hands of the banks which will collect, no matter what.

When the three SP committees—Health, Ways and Means, and Legal Affairs acquired jurisdiction of Gov. Beltran’s letter, the proper thing they should have done was to summon the governor to explain and justify his request.

They didn’t. Instead, the members of the SP, bless them for their laziness, read it to the letter and acted on it as if the end of days will come if they didn’t.

Perhaps, Fred Dorado, Health Committee chair, Gil Moreno, Ways and Means Committee chair, and Geminiano Galicia Jr., Legal Affairs Committee chair, were so afraid of the governor or they have so much faith in his wisdom that they treated his letter as biblical fiat.

Well, the letter was just a letter. It was short and did not contain any earth-shaking justification that a new loan is needed to build a new hospital.

The worst—and Romblomanons should rise in indignation over this—was that the SP resolution authorizes the governor to do not just ONE but TWO acts.

The first is to secure and/or negotiate a loan “FROM ANY BANKING AND/OR FINANCIAL INSTITUTION”, and the second is to “PURCHASE HOSPITAL/MEDICAL EQUIPMENT AND SUPPLIES.”

See how clearly the SP granted Beltran a blank check? Any bank means any bank. If and when he gets the money, he will torn down the old provincial hospital and erect a new one, and then buy the hospital equipment and supplies. All these in the hands of one elected public official whose management experience is razor thin!

Question: Why does Beltran want to become a loan negotiator as well as purchasing officer, instead of just remaining a governor for which he was elected to? I leave your imagination to answer this quiz. Include in the calculation the commission that will be paid by the contractors and the suppliers. To whom? Guess.

Waya purchasing officer ka kapitolyo? Asi riin gi tuyaghot kag budget officer, health officer ag provincial accountant it probinsiya? They are the proper persons to do the above tasks.

Oh, yes, I forgot. There is a provincial accountant who, incidentally, certified that as of December 31, 2007, the province has still an outstanding loan of P103.551 million, consisting of the principal of P73.551 million and interest of P56.587 million. This loan was contracted when? Four years ago? By whom? By then Governor Budoy Madrona?

Now, if the members of the SP were sane, they would not have granted the authority the moment they see our provincial debt. It’s gargantuan. Can we pay?

The SP said it doesn’t know. Look, here is a legislative body, being asked of an authority to contract a loan, but doesn’t know—because it refuses to know—if the province can afford to pay it. Why do I know that the SP doesn’t know?

Here, from the excerpts of the minutes of the regular session when this issue was taken up. Read:

“With this (sic) figures given (Note: The SP was referring to the outstanding loan and interest), the committee members were unanimous in saying that insofar as the CAPACITY of the province to secure for (sic) another loan is concerned, it is solely the BANK which can certify as to whether or not the province can still afford to secure another loan.”

Omigosh. This is one of the dumbest arguments I have ever heard. Mautang ka pero buko nimo sador kung kaya nimong magbadar? Ni-oy rang!

For two years now (and thank God we only have one more year to suffer this idiocy in our provincial legislative body), the SP has been deliberating on the provincial budget so that it should know the province’s financial health. But it doesn’t.

Read further: “It was agreed that in case the Governor is given the authority, he should first secure a certification from Land Bank whether the province can still secure for (sic) a loan and can pay it without sacrificing its development thrust.”

Well, the governor was granted authority. Well, SP member Benjamin Irao, could you please ask the governor if he had secured this certification?

Of course, honorable members of the SP, you can’t borrow money without sacrificing something—in this case, the province’s development thrust. Why? Because the loan—big or small—will eat up something from the budget in the form of principal and interest payments.

We don’t need the Land Bank to tell us this. A good father knows that when he has just enough money and has a debt to pay, he has to forego something, some necessities maybe, or even a few luxury, just to make both ends meet. That’s fiscal responsibility. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to understand this. But you can’t understand this, even if it’s so simple, if you are a member of the SP because of your blind obedience, like a dog's, to your master at the capitol.

Is there a remedy to this stupidity of another loan?

Yes, there is. What SP members Manuel Madrid and Benjamin Irao could do is to move for the recall of the authority in the next SP session.

I know. You are clearly outnumbered, but just try. By trying, you will not only expose the callous manners of your fellow legislators who voted for the authority, but you will also demonstrate to the Romblomanons that there is hope, however remote, in restoring decency in your exalted positions.

Comments, even criticisms, are welcome. Text them to 0917 623 8842 or email them at, or .

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Romblon Sun as opposition

I cannot understand the vehemence by which some public officials react to the Romblon Sun’s reports about their alleged misdeeds while in position of power.

To me, such attitude indicates two things. One, either these officials are guilty or innocent, and two, they were not called or asked to give their side about the reports that appear on the paper.

I said this because two weeks ago, on a short trip to Odiongan, Manong Julius Fortuna, who hosted my visit, again reminded the Romblon Sun to always present both sides of a story for the sake of objectivity and fairness.

This reminder was timely because there are observations that the Romblon Sun is perceived as an opposition paper; that it is thought to be a tool to “malign” and “destroy” Romblon’s political leaders.

This, of course, is farthest from the truth, and I strongly disagree with those who say the Romblon Sun is politically destructive. I mean, can the Romblon Sun single-handedly bring down the capitol? Can it force our politicians to admit to and mend their corrupt ways? I doubt.

First, there is no organized political opposition in Romblon, so how could the Romblon Sun be an opposition mouthpiece? Does the erratic and unsteady as the subasko Dr. Joey Cabrera, who is covered by the paper from time to time, own a share in the paper? Is Romblon Sun former representative Lolong Firmalo’s? Are the writers of the paper paid hacks of those salivating over Rep. Budoy Madrona’s or Gov. Jojo Beltran’s posts? I doubt.

Where is Firmalo, by the way? After his bitter defeat, he hibernated, disappeared, hid, and so became a ghost of his old self.

And Romblon? It was left to its own devices under the baton of the current political overlord, Rep. Madrona and his orchestra, led by the likes of Beltran who, disappointingly for a governor, doesn’t seem to understand a bit what civil service meant. To Beltran, to be a civil servant seemed to be a servile servant, but these two are different animals. Amelie Mallen, kudos to her, is more informed than the governor.

Second, the Romblon Sun, if it is a paper of the political opposition, should not be begging for money to buy its weekly supply of paper and ink. Because of budget constraints, it has a limited circulation, so magnifying the harm it could inflict on the political status quo is more of a compliment rather than a disparaging attack.

I can’t imagine the Romblon Sun to be solely responsible for the low regard that many Romblomanons nowadays have for their leaders. The Romblon Sun is only a newspaper whose editors and writers happen to disagree with the views of the establishment. And its reportage on what it sees as the pestilences plaguing Romblon is rightly a function of a newspaper. It is, while struggling, only performing its responsibility to serve as watchdog of the people, without being asked to be rewarded.

I know. I have read some of the text messages received by the paper, commending it for its courageous reporting on the burning issues of the day. The text messages don’t come from politicians belonging to the opposition. They come from readers, the ordinary Romblomanons, with whom the Romblon Sun has come to identify itself with. That means the paper is credible and, therefore, trusted.

Now, compare this to the deafening silence of those who are making it to the news like, for example, Gov. Beltran or Engr. Rolindo Perez, two officials who are often flagellated because of their conduct. If I were they, I will write back to dispute every untruthful or malicious item that comes out in the paper, if there are any, and request that it be published for the sake of fairness and objective reporting.

Alas, and unfortunately, the reports in the Romblon Sun about alleged anomalies, malfeasance, omission, or corruption are not challenged by the subjects of the reports, even if, as Tony Macalisang told me, he exerts every effort to get their side on a story.

Again, this indicates either of two things: that the reports are true or the person subject of the report is plain lazy or doesn’t know how to write. What do you say, Messrs. Beltran and Perez?

And what if the Romblon Sun stopped reporting on the issues that affect Romblon? What if, for example, instead of reporting the Ombudsman’s dismissal of Engr. Perez, it reported that he was ordered promoted as DPWH secretary?

What if the Romblon Sun, instead of writing about SP Benjamin Irao’s refusal to accept the P66, 959.00 in cash incentives given to all provincial officials and employees—even if the money came from the calamity fund!—wrote that Irao is suing the provincial government for not tripling the amount?

Or, what if the Romblon Sun, instead of reporting that Gov. Beltran was rebuffed by the Civil Service Commission for illegally dismissing Ms. Mallen, reported that the CSC encouraged the governor to dismiss some more employees who don’t agree with his views?

If these things happen, then I can bet my daily gin budget that the readers of Romblon Sun, instead of reading the paper, will turn to reading road and store signs, or the clouds, or gumamela leaves. At least, these are truthful. Then, Romblon Sun can rename itself the Romblon Moon for peddling dark lies.

My point? Don’t hate the newspapers. Save your contempt for the newsmakers. Comments are welcome. Text them in to 0917-623-8842 or send to