The Biliran Clarion
The pro-Espina majority in the Sangguniang Bayan of Naval refused to approve the P71.6-M budget proposed by Mayor Susan Velasquez-Parilla for 2010. As a result, the municipal government reverted to its 2009 budget and the mayor could not implement her proposed pet projects using municipal funds in the remaining six months of her maiden term.
But this is the lesser disaster from this local impasse. The saddest cut is that while the mayor has no municipal funds for her projects, an amount of at least P2.43-M will surely go to the banks this year as continuing amortizations for debts incurred during the Espina administration. P1.56-M will go to the annual debt payment for the market expansion project that now blocks 1/3 of Zamora Street and 1/5 of Santisimo Rosario Street. Any local contractor could tell you that the amount for yearly payment alone was sufficient to complete the project officially reported to have cost P5-M. An amount of P0.87-M will go the annual loan payment for the Espinas’ drainage project.
The Espinas have certainly saddled Mayor Parilla with public debts to pay. She actually started her term in July 2007 by paying the last amortization for a nearly P10-M municipal loan from the Philippine National Bank (PNB), which was used to purchase a fire truck worth P6.2-M and a dump truck worth P4.2-M. The Clarion had commented in February 2007 that the municipal government lost some P7.7-M to corruption in a single day’s transaction on July 9, 2003, since a similar fire truck cost only P1.7-M elsewhere and a similar dump truck cost only about P1-M. At any rate, the multi-million fire truck publicly proved its uselessness a few years ago, when a fire struck the Baybay area. Its hose had no nozzle when brought to the fire scene and therefore could not spew water at the conflagration. Some other, cheaper fire trucks had to take its place.
Our sources tell us that the Naval municipal government under Mayor Parilla is still paying annual amortizations for some P22.5-M in loans from both PNB and Landbank, for three separate loans incurred during the term of former Mayor Gerry Espina, Sr.
In a larger context, another Espina official has also pawned the future and the patrimony of the Biliranons to the banks.
In 2004, the Biliran Provincial Government under Gov. Roger Espina contracted a loan from the PNB worth P35-M. The visible items purchased with this loan money were just four pieces of alleged second-hand heavy equipment (one bulldozer, one backhoe, and two six-wheel dump trucks). A Technical Audit Specialist from the Commission on Audit reported that “the equipment were brand-new (sic) on the basis of the documents presented,” but no actual physical inspection was ever mentioned.
In 2005, the provincial government again contracted another loan from the PNB worth P30-M. An amount of P12-M went to the computerization project of the Capitol, while the other P18-M remains unaccounted for. The computerization project is the subject of an adverse COA opinion in 2006 due to a number of irregularities. It is the subject of a criminal complaint filed against Governor Espina with the Ombudsman-Visayas by the Biliran Advocates for Good Governance and Transparency (BAGGAT), a local watchdog organization, on 18 August 2009.
Also in 2005, the Capitol availed of some P10-M loan from PROLEND, a program lending facility for Local Government Units (LGUs). The proceeds were used to construct some seawalls in selected areas around the province.
In 2008, the Capitol again availed of a P50-M loan from PROLEND, the amount released out of the controversial P80-M applied for. The money was used to construct various projects, including some P5-M for concrete “improvements” that blighted the natural scenery around Tinago Falls in Caibiran. But serious allegations persist that some projects now marked with PROLEND tarpaulin banners were actually funded with the previous loan and not from the present loan.
Still in 2008, the Capitol availed of between P18-M to P20-M loan from the KfW facility (whatever that means) of PROLEND. This estimated amount is a combination of grant, loan and equity, from which proceeds was bought a still unused x-ray machine worth P4.76-M at the Biliran Provincial Hospital. This x-ray machine, allegedly second-hand, is the subject of another criminal complaint, based on an adverse COA audit report in 2006, also filed against Governor Espina with the Ombudsman-Visayas.
Meanwhile, the governor’s twin brother, Mayor Rudy Espina, on behalf of the LGU of Kawayan, also incurred two separate loans worth P22-M from PNB and/or LBP for some shady and allegedly overpriced projects in that municipality. No, the loans were not spent for the Espina-claimed P16-M worth RORO port project in Kawayan, which was reported to have incurred P11-M worth of damage from a typhoon that spared the similar RORO ports in Naval and Maripipi, which are more exposed to the elements.
Finally, a new P100-M loan to the Capitol approved by the PNB. The bank approved the loan on the last year of Governor Espina’s term despite written warnings that the money would be misused from Biliran Rep. Glenn Chong, and the fact that this was never subjected to any public hearing anywhere in the province. The official warnings proved self-fulfilling. A P10.3-M road concreting project in Barangay Larrazabal, known to be funded with money from this loan, showed some 35 vertical and longitudinal cracks along a 750 meter stretch of single-lane pavement within one week after the completion of the cementing job. Of course, this inept project is not expected to bother the PNB, which always looked the other way in regard to previous loans.
Like it or not, the multi-million official loans incurred by various LGUs in Biliran on the strength of various Espina signatures are real bad debts from the viewpoint of public interest. They hardly benefited the public at all. At best, they can be called blood money, much like the 30 pieces of silver that the Pharisees gave to Judas in exchange for turning Christ in to the Roman authorities. At least in the Biblical case, only one person-god was persecuted and nailed to the cross, and this was some 2,000 years ago.
In our present case, the bad-debts-cum-blood-money continue to burden and nail and crucify some 150,000 Biliranons to the wiles of key elective officials and the cold-blooded Shylocks in the banks, everyday for several years now and for several more years to come.