Residents use their hands to measure the 21ft salt-water crocodile
Image source: DailyMail.co.uk © Reuters

CHICAGO – I applaud the residents of Bunawan town, Agusan del Sur,  Philippines for having caught alive a huge saltwater crocodile touted as the longest and heaviest of its kind in captivity.

While the reptile might have consumed humans, it should not be faulted because it was doing it for its survival.

Now that the reptile, which is nicknamed “Lolong” after the man it had devoured, is neutralized, we should now turn our attention to two-legged crocodiles who roam the halls of the Philippine Congress and government offices. These “crocodiles” never get tired of swallowing the taxpayers’ money.

Many politicians have been raiding the national treasury for nearly a decade now and stashing ill-gotten wealth in big investment houses. And they continue to hold onto their elective positions, pretending to be serving the people.

The truth of the matter is that what these few rich people want to do is to keep on piling money so that more people would seek their help and be indebted to them.

These “crocodiles” in the government give a great part of their wealth to lawyers, who represent them in court when they are facing charges.

If they are unlucky, their lawyers would prolong the litigation of their cases so they could rake in more attorney’s fees.

And these politicians do not mind paying much money so long as they keep holding on to their positions.

In the case of Sorsogon, my native province, it is tragic that my provincemates have been governed alternately by a husband-and-wife tandem. And they are not even natives of Sorsogon.  Incumbent Gov. Raul R. Lee is said to be originally surnamed “Rodrigueza” and to have come from Albay, while his wife, former Gov. Sally Lee, is from Vigan, Ilocos Sur, who does not even speak Sorsogon Bikol.

Since both of them are carpetbaggers, how sincere are they in their pronouncement of helping the Sorsoguenos?

When she was governor, Sally Lee obtained a 260-million-peso (U$6 million) loan for the province. When Sorsogon’s provincial board member Vladimir Frivaldo sought an accounting of the loan, he did not get any response.

I told Vladi to direct his inquiry to the Commission on Audit (CoA) so it can conduct an accounting of the loan.

But even with the failure of Sally Lee to explain how the 260-million pesos were disposed of, her successor-husband, Gov. Raul R. Lee, had the gall to secure another loan, this time, amounting to 350 million pesos (US$8.3 million).

Frivaldo opposed the P350-M loan but the other members of the Sorsogon provincial board approved the resolution approving the loan proposal.

Vladi wrote a letter to the two banks – Philippine National Bank and Land Bank of the Philippines – asking them to reject Raul Lee’s loan application and citing two graft cases filed against Lee by the Ombudsman. Vladi also wrote Congress, asking the lawmakers to investigate the loan request. Vladi is still waiting for response to his letters.

If CoA finds that Sally Lee cannot account for the 260-million-peso loan, she should be charged with malversation of public funds before the Ombudsman.

If Sally Lee has yet to account for the 260-million-peso loan, why would PNB or LBP even entertain the application for the 350-million-peso loan?

Court records furnished this writer by Fulton Baylon, an anti-graft fighter in Sorsogon, shows that Gov. Raul R. Lee, Raul G. Hernandez, Sorsogon provincial chief accountant, and Ofelia D. Velasco, Sorsogon provincial treasurer, have been charged with violation of Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (RA 3019) by Ombudsman Orlando C. Casimiro after a preliminary investigation was conducted on the purchase of 2.64-million-peso (US$62,857) bio nature liquid fertilizer from Feshan Phil. Inc. without public bidding.

The overpriced liquid fertilizer, according to former DA (Department of Agriculture) Regional Executive Director Fe Laysa, is “not appropriate for rice and corn, the principal crops in the region.” It is good only for “hanging plants such as orchids and other ornamental plants,” she said.

In another case sent to us by Mr. Baylon, the Ombudsman also accused Gov. Raul R. Lee, Atty. Cesar J. Balmaceda, Provincial Legal Officer Antonio R. Huab, Provincial Engineer  Arnie de Vera, Assistant Provincial Budget Officer Rosie D. Agnis, Provincial Assessor Florenco C. Dino II, Provincial General Services Officer Teresita D. Paladin, Accounting Clerk III Felicisimo D. Brondial, Inspection Officer Manuel S. Laurora and Enrico T. Velasco, president and CEO of First Education and Training Ventures, Inc. of San Juan City, Metro Manila of accepting 12 million pesos (US$285,714.00) worth of satellite and office equipment and a recurrent fee of US$24,000 on March 29, 2004 from FETVI before FETVI was awarded the contract on March 30, 2004 without public bidding.

The same respondents are also accused of obtaining 300 sets of computer hardware and software at a cost of 10 million pesos (US$238,095) which came from a loan obtained from the Philippine National Bank.

The problem with these computers is that these are all “reconditioned/slightly used” instead of the “brand-new fresh commercial stock supplies or property” required by a CoA circular.

With these serious accusations, DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo has every reason to order the preventive suspension of Governor Lee.

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Joseph is a former reporter of the Manila Bulletin, former president of the Rizal-Metro Manila Reporters Association and former president of the Chicago chapter of the National Press Club of the Philippines. A native of Sorsogon, Philippines, he and his family now live in Chicago. A prolific reporter, Lariosa writes a column and news stories for the Filipino Star News and other Filipino community newspapers in the US as well as for GMA News and the Manila Bulletin.

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