A Great Wind Blowing?

by Juan L. Mercado

What a difference an honest Ombudsman makes. You doubt that? Ask Lapu-Lapu city’s Rep. Arturo Radaza.

He dodged with ease, over the last six years, raps for buying 470 computers overpriced by 116 percent. Now, new Ombudsman Conchita Carpio ordered the former Lapu-Lapu City mayor charged for buying computers at  P12 million more than market prices.

The First Gentleman’s” classmate” Merceditas Gutierrez used to be Ombudsman then. Under her “cases lie there / And they die there,” Philippine Human Development Report noted. That’s from the 1950 pop song: “Mona Lisa.”

She quit to derail impeachment charges. President Benigno Aquino named  Carpio Morales as Ombudsman, after she  retired from the Supreme Court. A “new  herrif rode into town,” Sun Star noted. Tiene cojones. “She has balls”

“One swallow does not make a summe,” the old proverb cautions. But when a somnolent Ombudsman suddenly uncorks a slew of overdue charges, you sit up.

Gutierrez took years to flip through documented charges by  Businessman Efrain Pelaez Jr. He cited a Commission on Audit  report that found computers delivered were not the specified Pentium 4 processors, with 512 megabytes of memory, Lapu Lapu students got Celeron with only half megabytes of memory.”

“Conviction rates slumped “dramatically to 14.4 percent by first semester of 2008,” under Gutierrez. “Rates (dipped) to as low as 5 percent in March, then 3 percent in May. It was zero by June.”

Three months later, only 7 percent of the 349 cases brought forward by  Ombudsman Gutierrez resulted in jail terms. In her State of the Nation messages,  President  Gloria claimed the opposition.  The conviction  slide persisted into 2009. “There has been parallel erosion in public perception of the Ombudsman’s sincerity”.

City Mayor Paz Radaza  offered  the  de-cajon response, on behalf of her husband.  Like  many  Philippine cities,  Lapu-Lapu has had  husband  and wife  take  turns at running City Hall.

“We  still  have  to receive a copy of the information from the Office of the Ombudsman, Mayor Radaza  told Sun  Star.  “As soon as we get a copy, our lawyers will study it and recommend to us our next legal move.”

Do the Radazas and other Lapu-Lapu officials get the message to get their act together – or be fired?  That is the basic  issue. Look some specific findings in  COA’s latest report on Local Governments:

1. The 20% Development Fund is intended to address urgent human needs, from malnutrition to urgent medical needs. But  Lapu-Lapu charged P2.55 million against this vital safety net “without observing pertinent guidelines…resulting in the irregular disbursement of government funds.”

2. Use of the P213.9 million “Hoops Dome and Jeepney Terminal Facilities were not maximized. An income shortfall  resulted.

3. Over P11.4 million in cash advances, granted to Lapu-Lapu officials “for travel and special purposes, remain unliquidated. This results in padded entries on receivables. “Issue demand letters or withhold salaries” of deadbeats.

4. To beat COA  bidding safeguards, Lapu-Lapu  spent P3.0 million for “security  services” by splitting purchase orders. The Bids Committee must stop this underhanded practice.

5. A laid back Lapu-Lapu didn’t bother to withhold P2.53 million in taxes from P18.3 million allocated for hazard pay.

Is a great wind blowing”? Catherine the Great asked. “That gives you either imagination or a headache.”

(Email: juanlmercado@gmail.com)

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