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It was not just a whiff or whisper

Published in On Distant Shore

The recent appointment of a former Customs official, who was accused by a self-confessed fixer as among those taking bribes, to deputy commissioner of the Bureau of Customs puts an anti-climactic conclusion to the P6.4-billion shabu smuggling scandal, which started as a scorching drama that threatened to expose the underbelly of the supposedly corruption-free family of President Rodrigo Duterte.

 

On April 3, the President signed the appointment papers of former Customs district collector Vincent Philip Maronilla, who was identified by Customs fixer Mark Taguba, the principal witness in the shabu smuggling case, as one of several senior Customs officials allegedly receiving bribes from him for the facilitation of huge shipments passing through the customs bureau.

 

Maronilla’s appointment completed the resurrection and promotion of ranking Customs officials implicated in the shabu smuggling scandal, who were placed on administrative leave or who resigned at the height of the congressional investigation into the case only to be reinstated or given higher posts a few months later.

 

Reinstated to their positions were Ariel Nepomuceno and Teddy Raval as customs deputy commissioners. Nepomuceno and Raval were among the BOC officials named by Sen. Panfilo Lacson as among those recipients of “tara” or payola (bribes) at the agency. Nepomuceno resigned again from his post last month, paving the way for Maronilla’s appointment.

 

In November, Duterte appointed two other senior Customs officials who resigned at the height of the shabu scandal to key positions in the Department of Transportation. Deputy Customs Commissioner Gerardo Gambala was named security director of the DOTr while Customs Director Milo Maestrecampo, who was one of those recommended charged by the Senate committee, was appointed assistant director general of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP).

 

Former Customs Commissioner Nick Faeldon, who was one of several senior Customs officials charged in the shabu smuggling case, was appointed as head of the Office of Civil Defense.

 

All 12 key Customs officials charged in the P6.4-billion shabu smuggling case were cleared by the Department of Justice, then under the recently resigned Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre III, along with six NBI officials who were tagged by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) as those responsible for the release of the illegal shipment, and six officers of the Hong Fei Logistics, which owns the warehouse where the 600 kilograms of shabu were seized.

 

Guess who remained charged in the case? Taguba -- who implicated all the Customs officials along with presidential son, erstwhile Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte and a Davao City councilor – was left holding the bag along with nine other private individuals who probably played very minor roles in the scandalous transaction.

 

It is a clear travesty of justice where the accuser ends up being accused, and the accused getting appointments or promotions.

 

The case brought into serious doubt President Duterte’s promise to rid the country of corruption, particularly in the customs bureau. The President had promised to fire government officials even at the slightest hint of corruption.

 

Indeed, Duterte has fired several ranking officials, some of them his closest friends and supporters, on mere rumors of corruption, and yet reappoints and even promotes officials of an agency he himself pinpointed as the most corrupt in the government despite having been actually indicted before the justice department, recommended to be charged by the Senate, and positively identified by a customs broker involved in the deal.

 

And the government prosecutors didn’t even look into the claim of Taguba that the younger Duterte was involved in the smuggling of the 600 kilos of shabu. Something definitely stinks in this turn of events, and the DOJ prosecutors wouldn’t even take a second look at it.

 

In the meantime, Duterte is going hammer and tong to prosecute Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno for allegedly misdeclaring her Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN). Had the government used the same determination to prosecute those involved in the P6.4-billion shabu smuggling and the prominent drug lords implicated in illegal drug activities, perhaps corrupt government officials and criminal lords would be more hesitant to conduct their nefarious activities.

 

Two years after Duterte promised to clean up the customs bureau, it remains one of the most, if not the most corrupt, agencies in the country. In fact, a recent report by the Office of the Unites States Trade Representative, identified the customs bureau as one of the government agencies that keep corruption as a “pervasive” and longstanding” problem in the Philippines.

 

“National and local government agencies, particularly Bureau of Customs (BOC), are beset with various corruption issues,” the USTR said.

 

In June 2016, a few days before being sworn in as president, Duterte said: “Huwag na huwag talaga akong makarinig na (Let me not hear anything about) corruption, [not] even a whiff or whisper. I will fire you or place you somewhere.”

 

It was not just a whiff or whisper that he heard about the P6.4-billion shabu smuggling scandal. It was the sound of a gathering storm. And he failed – or refused – to hear it. (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. )

As founder of MOBILE SIGNING SERVICES, I continue to experience creative ideas on how to save and avoid long lines and waiting time at the Philippine Consulate in San Francisco, California.

 

Early this year, Carol and some clients from Concord, El Cerrito and East Bay Area suggested that we meet at the Balboa Park BART Station(near my San Francisco home) instead of the accredited Notary Public going to their homes for the notarization and accreditation of Special Power of Attorney(SPA) needed in the Philippines. Before the meeting at the Balboa Park BART Station, we instructed the clients to prepare three copies of the prepared SPA and three copies of I.D. (e.g. California Driver's License, California I.D. issued by DMV, or Passport)

 

We met the clients at the Balboa Park BART Station lobby and have them signed the SPA and the Journal of Notarial Acts and affixed their right thumb marks. With this creative idea, the clients saved money on gas and mileage fees and other related notary fees. The clients didn't have to go to the Philippine Consulate Office and avoided long lines and long waiting time in the submission of SPA at the Front Desk (one hour or more) and release of authenticated (with red ribbon) documents (3-4 hours) at the release counter because the documents were notarized by accredited Notary Public. The authenticated SPA and documents were mailed (by Priority Mail) to the clients the following day.

 

Last Saturday (day before Easter Sunday), March 31, 2018, another client had creative idea on how to save and avoid long waiting time and long lines at the Philippine Consulate. Roger from South San Francisco arranged to pick me up at home in San Francisco and then brought me to his physically handicapped brother-in-law in the Sunset District in San Francisco for the notarization and follow-up of authentication of Special Power of Attorney. His brother-in-law David signed the SPA and my Journal of Notarial Acts and affixed his right thumb mark. David submitted a copy of his California Senior ID.

 

Then Roger drove me to the workplace of his sister in the Westlake District in Daly City, California. His sister signed the SPA and my Journal of Notarial Acts and affixed her right thumb mark. Roger's sister submitted her California Senior ID. To avoid long lines on Mondays and Fridays, we submitted the notarized SPA and other documents the following Tuesday at the Front Desk (second Floor, 447 Sutter, San Francisco, California). After review of the documents, I paid $25 authentication fee at the Cashier (sixth Floor) and waited for the release of the authenticated (with red ribbon) SPA at the release counter, later in the afternoon. The authenticated SPA (with red ribbon) was picked up by Roger in my home in San Francisco, California the following day.

 

Through this another creative idea, the clients saved on gas and mileage fees and other related notary fees. The physically handicapped husband didn't have to go to the Philippine Consulate Office in San Francisco and avoided long lines and long waiting time. The wife didn't have to take off from her work to go to the Philippine Consulate Office. She avoided long lines and long waiting time at the Philippine Consulate Office in San Francisco, California.

 

As founder of MOBILE SGINING SERVICES, I would like to express my profound thanks, appreciation and commendation to the Philippine Consul General for initiating and continuing the Notary Public Accreditation Program. These savings, convenience and benefits for our hundreds and thousands of “kababayans”and clients were made possible because of the Notary Public Accreditation Program.

 

For immediate help and assistance in the notarization and authentication of Affidavits, Special Power of Attorney, Deed of Donation, QUITCLAIM DEED, Waiver of Claim, Deed of Extra Judicial Settlement, DEED OF ABSOLUTE SALE and other documents needed in the Philippines and in California, just write or contact MOBILE SIGNING SERVICES, 730 Madrid Street, San Francisco, CA 94112 Tel. (650)438-3531 or (415)584-7095 or email:This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

CITIZEN OF THE YEAR: My good friend and incumbent councilmember of the Milpitas City Council, Atty. Garry Barbadilllo, was honored as CITIZEN OF THE YEAR during the Recognition Dinner Night hosted by the Knights of Columbus, last Saturday, March 31, 2018 in Milpitas, California. Congratulations Atty. Barbadillo!

 

6OTH BIRTHDAY: My youngest brother Salvador ”Buddy” Gabot Madlaing celebrated his 60th Birthday through Dinner and Get-Together in Santa Clara, California last Monday, April 1, 2018 with 99-year-old mother Elena Sampayan Gabot Madlaing; sisters Josie Madlaing Lewis, Magdalena Madlaing Sison, Luzviminda Gabot Madlaing; brother Art Gabot Madlaing; several nieces and nephews and in-laws. The event was hosted by his beloved wife Ursula Talon Madlaing and daughter Mercelina. Naragsak ken nebendisyonan a kasangaymo kabagis!

 

KEZIA DEBUTANTE PARTY: My wife Virginia Jimenez Madlaing and I were fortunate to attend the 18th Birthday Dinner Party of Kezia Lenon, daughter of Jun Lenon and Manavir Lenon. last Saturday, March 31, 2018 at Fort McKinley, 101 Brentwood Drive, South San Francisco, California. The party and program was ably emceed by the debutante brother A. Joshua Lenon, like a professional Toastmaster.

 

Special highlight of the program was the sharing of 18 roses and messages to the debutante by Jun Lenon (her father with the first dance), Perry Robea (grandfathert), Art Madlaing, Noli Robea, Gion Robea, Rene Quioco, Rodil Gonzales, Rey/Renzi Obispo, Tony Fabros, Mayo Munar, Joross Gonzales, Russel Gonzales, Simon Robea, Ryan Allen, Romy Dalmacio, Zuhair Hussain, Tony Yuen, A J Lenon.

 

Another special highlight of the program was the sharing of 18 candles and wishes to the debutante by Manavir Lenon (mother who also delivered special message), Jovy Robea, Virgie Madlaing, Naomi Quioco, Ruby Gonzales, Mawi Robea, Simone Robea, Lily Obispo, April Alberto, Smithchelle Galvan, Rachell Allen, Teresa Cruz, Graciela Cenina, Rhea Sharma, Emily Chan, Vivian Chiong, Cris Yu, Anh Nguyen.

 

Wishing you a blessed and happy 18th Birthday Kezia! I pray that you may prosper in all things and be of good health, just as your soul prospers. (3rd John 2, NKJV)

 

(ART GABOT MADLAING is a commissioned Notary Public and licensed Real Estate Broker (BRE#00635976) in California since 1981. He is accredited Notary Public by the Philippine Consul General in San Francisco. Art is founder of FITNESS FOR HUMANITY (aka FITNESS FOR CHRIST) and ACAPINOY. He is active Evangelist with the GOLDEN GATE CHURCH OF CHRIST in San Francisco, California.)

Boracay: In Galaxy’s orbit

Published in Perry Scope

In my column last month, titled “Boracay: Paradise Lost,” I wrote: “ Today, Boracay is facing a multitude of environmental issues – overcrowding, garbage, and water pollution -- and there are no easy solutions to fix them. The worsening conditions had prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to threaten to close the popular resort island, which he described as a ‘cesspool.’  He instructed Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Roy Cimatu to resolve the problems in six months.”

 

But Cimatu has a problem bigger than his head.  The number one problem that’s causing his migraine is the non-enforcement of an ordinance requiring residents and business establishments to connect to the island’s sewerage system.  DENR has given businesses not connected to the sewer lines one month to link up or face sanctions. 

 

What we’re talking about here is just the tip of the iceberg.  With the number of visitors increasing 14% every year, it’s projected to hit 2.2 million in 2018.  But the environment may have reached a point of no return where it would take 25 years or more to rehabilitate and restore it to its pristine condition.  But that’s easier said than done.  The problem is that nobody seems to be interested in fixing the damage to the environment.  They just want to deal with “beautifying” the landscape. 

 

Faced with an impossible order to fix this gargantuan environmental problem, Cimatu might just have to quit his high-paying government job and be content with his hefty retirement pay as a retired four-star general.  He served as Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) until he reached the mandatory retirement age of 56 in September 2002.   He served in that position for four months.

 

Think of Oahu

Given his military background, Cimatu expressed disapproval of the planned construction of a 23-hectare casino in Boracay.  He said that Boracay is not the place for this type of establishment.  He cited Boracay’s limited capacity and the DENR’s goal to restore it to its former pristine state.  Although a 23-hectare slice of the island is small relative to the island’s 1,032-hectare size, it would expand the commercial use of the island to a point where it would lose its “Paradise” image.  It would be another Oahu, a Hawaiian island “Paradise,” which had, within a few generations, become so commercialized and packed with people.  It has become one of the most expensive real estate in America.  Nobody calls it “Paradise” anymore.  Its land area is about 100 times larger than Boracay.  Can you imagine how Boracay would look like 30 years from now?  Think of Oahu.

 

Cimatu said that he did not receive any requests for permits for the construction of a casino on the island.  He indicated that he was caught off guard by the reports that plans to build a casino are already underway.   He also clarified that DENR has been planning the rehabilitation and closure of Boracay “months before these reports began to surface.” 

 

“No farms in Boracay”

 

Meanwhile, Duterte approved the recommendation of three government agencies for a six-month closure of Boracay effective April 26 to make way for its rehabilitation.  Duterte also announced his plans to subject the island for land reform since the island is “agricultural.” His statement has become the butt of jokes among the locals. “There are no farms here,” a resident told a reporter.  “I plant vegetables on our rooftop.”

 

It’s interesting to note that Cimatu couldn’t make official statements about building the casino because DENR hasn’t been approached by any Chinese businessman.  But Cimatu asserted that if the plan pushes through, the project would have to comply with Environmental regulations.  But a provisional license has already been granted by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR) for the casino by Macau-based company Galaxy Entertainment and their Filipino partner Leisure and Resorts World Corp.

 

But it seems that Cimatu doesn’t really have a role in the approval process for the casino.   As it turned out, Francis Lui Yiu Tung, vice chairman of Galaxy Entertainment, has been talking to Duterte to discuss “potential business opportunities in the Philippines.” 

 

Galaxy will partner with Philippine-based Leisure and Resorts Work Corp. to open a $300m to $500m casino on Boracay.  At present, Melco Resorts is the only Macau-based operator to have a footprint in the Philippines.  Melco’s $1bn City of Dreams Manila opened its doors in Manila’s Entertainment City in 2015.With the rush to build casinos on Philippine soil, PAGCOR said that it would refrain from issuing new gaming licenses in Manila during the next five years, following requests by existing integrated resort operators.  Interestingly, Galaxy’s license application was submitted before the ban took effect.  Needless to say, Galaxy’s competitors aren’t happy about PAGCOR’s decision, which obviously favors Galaxy.

 

Another point of interest is Galaxy’s Philippine-based partner, Leisure & Resorts World Corporation.  Leisure & Resorts World Corporation, through its subsidiaries, engages in bingo gaming business in the Philippines. The company provides traditional and electronic bingo gaming services; operates and licenses eGames stations; licenses, monitors, and regulates various i-gaming activities of game operators and entities. It also conducts junket gaming operations; owns and operates the Midas Hotel and Casino; and develops and operates resorts. In addition, the company engages in gaming, recreation, and leisure activities; and development and leasing of real estate properties. As of December 31, 2016, it had approximately 9,790 E-Bingo machines in 138 bingo parlors. Leisure & Resorts World Corporation. [Source: Bloomberg.com]

 

It is with great anticipation what this partnership between a casino and a bingo operator would bring to the people of Boracay, particularly to those whose livelihood depends on tourism.  Would it benefit the people?  Or would it be the milking cow of the casino operators? 

 

One of the dangers of having a casino in Boracay is the further deterioration of the environment.  Think of the human traffic it would create?  Has an environmental impact study been done? 

 

Another danger is that a casino would be a magnet for criminal activities such as organized crime, illegal drugs, illegal gambling, and prostitution. 

 

Uncertain future

 

Right now, with Boracay facing an uncertain future, its citizens are deprived of the revenue generated by tourism.  And there is no telling how long the closure would be. With no other industry other than tourism, the closure would affect some 17,000 workers.  However, it is anticipated that the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) will hire some 5,000 informal sector workers and members of indigenous communities for temporary cleanup jobs, which begs the question: What will happen to the 12,000 soon-to-be out-of-work employees?  In a move that creates more confusion and chaos than what the tourism businesses would be faced with, DOLE Secretary Silvestre Bello III ordered business owners not to lay off any of their workers during the six-month closure, which is set to start April 26. In a labor advisory Bello issued on April 6, he said, "Temporary suspension of business operations should not and must not result in the termination or separation of any employee.”  He said that businesses can only observe the “no work, no pay” scheme or let their workers use leave credits during the closure.

 

No matter how DOLE cuts it, the closure would result in unemployment for some 12,000 workers, many of whom are from other provinces who took jobs in Boracay to support their families back home.  There simply is no other way to generate income for them.

 

At the end of the day, while there is no easy way to solve Boracay’s environmental problems, allowing a Macau-based conglomerate to operate a casino on the island would be detrimental to the preservation of the country’s patrimony.  The best and surest way to save Boracay from the ravages created by carpetbaggers and profiteers is to ban the operation of casinos on the island.   Duterte should not allow Boracay to fall victim to man’s greed for profit.  Don’t put Boracay in Galaxy’s orbit. (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. )

 

CLARK FREEPORT — The Department of Transportation (DOTr) has rejected the offer of Aboitiz Equity Ventures Inc. (AEV) to take over the operations and maintenance of four regional airports in the country.

 

Its infrastructure arm Aboitiz Infra Capital (AIC) has submitted a P148 billion unsolicited proposal for the upgrade, expansion, operation and maintenance of Iloilo International Airport, Bacolod-Silay Airport, Laguindingan Airport and New Bohol International Airport (Panglao).

 

“AIC has received an official response from the Department of Transportation (DOTr) stating that the Department has adopted a policy to publicly solicit bids for the operations, maintenance, improvement, and expansion of all airports under its jurisdiction, and therefore cannot accept the proposal,” AEV said in a disclosure to the Philippine Stock Exchange.

 

“While AIC believes its proposal is a very efficient solution to address the immediate need of the airports in the most expedient and comprehensive way, we understand the DOTr’s decision to take a different course,” it added.

 

The AIC remains committed to support the government in its efforts to develop infrastructure particularly in the aviation sector.

 

“We look forward to receiving the final details of the upcoming tender and will continue supporting the development of the regional airports,” AEV said.

 

Aboitiz InfraCapital is part of the super consortium of seven of the biggest conglomerates in the country which submitted a P350-billion unsolicited proposal to rehabilitate the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

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