By Rolando O. Borrinaga
Hometown Naval Website
NAVAL, Biliran – The Office of the Ombudsman (Visayas) accredited recently a local graftwatch group at a large public forum attended by two of the country’s most visible anticorruption campaign personalities.
Deputy Ombudsman for the Visayas Pelagio S. Apostol and Dr. Juan V. Pastor, chair of the Biliran Advocates for Good Governance and Transparency (BAGGAT), signed the memorandum of agreement which acknowledged BAGGAT as the accredited Corruption Prevention Unit (CPU) of the Ombudsman for Biliran Province. The signing was done during the “Good Governance and Integrity Forum” held at the Naval Gymnasium here last June 2.
An Ombudsman manual defined the CPU as “a non-governmental organization or religious, civic, urban poor and people’s organization of good standing accredited by the Office of the Ombudsman to promote its objectives in the fight against graft and corruption.”
The forum was preceded by small-group anticorruption seminars held here on June 1. The Ombudsman-Visayas, represented by a team of eight staff including Apostol, conducted an orientation briefing about their anticorruption efforts at Marvin’s Seaside Inn. The afternoon briefing was conducted by Dr. Belle M. Quijano, graft investigation officer, and was concluded with an inspirational message from the deputy ombudsman. It was attended by some 30 representatives of the NGO community around the province.
In another venue, Fr. Albert E. Alejo, SJ, national team leader of Ehem!, the anticorruption project initiated and developed by the Jesuit Priests in the Philippines, lectured on their initiative to the clergy connected with the Diocese of Naval at the Social Action Center here. The lecture was attended by Bishop Filomeno G. Bactol and 23 priests assigned in different parishes all over the diocese.
Both Deputy Ombudsman Apostol and Father Alejo were the main speakers at the larger forum on June 2. Apostol spoke on “Public Accountability” and appealed to the audience to join in the Ombudsman’s crusade against graft and corruption in public office.
“Let us be partners in the crusade against graft and corruption. With a united multi-sector front that includes the church, NGOs, and corruption prevention units, you can help dissipate the pressure on the Ombudsman in the performance of its tasks,” Apostol appealed at the forum, and at the NGO briefing and the evening dialogue with the local media on June 1.
He spiced his talks for good governance with testimonial lessons and insights from his past experiences as a Philippine Marine for nine years, as a budget management specialist for eight years, and as the special prosecutor who signed the charge sheet that led to the conviction for plunder of former Pres. Joseph Estrada.
On his part, Father Alejo presented a documentary and video clips to expound his topic about “Kadasig sa Kaligdong (The Inner Joy of Integrity in Public Service).” He used his vast theatrical and musical skills to keep the audience alert and awake during his hour-long lecture after lunch.
Originally intended for an audience of about 150 composed of the congressman, governor, municipal mayors and key elective officials around the province, as well as heads of national and local offices, NGOs, civic organizations and religious groups, the forum crowd ballooned to around 600 after a local politician demanded to bring at least 100 of his supporters to sit in the bleachers as a condition for his attendance, which added partisan political color to an otherwise non-partisan gathering.
Six out of the eight municipal mayors around the province attended the forum. Also in attendance were Rep. Glenn A. Chong and Gov. Rogelio J. Espina, the two bitter political enemies in the province who rarely attended a public affair together.
Naval Mayor Susan V. Parilla delivered the welcome remarks at the forum. Governor Espina and Representative Chong also delivered special messages, which included tart allusions and comments against each other that did not escape the public’s notice.
At the start of his talk, Apostol acknowledged the key officials who attended the forum. At the mention of the governor’s name, loud applause was heard from the bleachers. A few names later, a staff went up the stage to submit the name of the congressman who was not in the initial list. At the mention of his name, an equally loud applause was heard from the gymnasium floor.
An awaited public showdown between the governor and the congressman did not materialize as the open forum was scheduled at the last part of the program in the afternoon. Both politicians had left the venue before lunch. After lunch, the crowd in the bleachers had also shrunk to a fifth of its size, leaving much of the invited audience seated around tables on the gymnasium floor.
During the open forum, Apostol revealed that a total of 45 cases had been filed with the Ombudsman Visayas from Biliran Province, but he refused to provide details. Seventeen of these cases have now been docketed in various courts, while 28 others are still in the fact-finding stage.
Already, BAGGAT is in possession of hundreds of pages of documents, including reports of the Commission on Audit (COA), for processing into documented complaints that could be filed with the Ombudsman in the near future. The group will soon seek observer status in the procurement processes of various government agencies – national, provincial, or local – in the province.