Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Deeper into the treasure hunting maze

Maze of paths

Well it happens that, sometimes, in the process of covering up any wrongdoing, one could take some remedy in such haste that only results in one being embroideled deeper and deeper into the maze he or she wittingly or unwittingly created, right?

When I started blogging about the now-famous treasure hunting episode in Brgy. Bahi, I underlined that such stories should be treated with skepticism as buried treasure stories abound in many corners of this mystical island of Marinduque. Some real, some so unreal and simply fantastic.

After a few more blogs about what’s being loudly whispered about in common folk functions, market places and neighborhood umpukan, I got hold of a copy of an official resolution from the municipal council of Gasan (Sanggunang Bayan), that in fact confirmed something about finding treasures was going on in a private property near an estuary in Brgy. Bahi, remember?

To refresh one’s memory said SB Resolution No. 2011-128 stated as follows:

“WHEREAS, alarmed by this report the Sangguniang Bayan conducted an ocular inspection of the place immediately after the declaration of recess of the regular session of May 16, 2011 and found out that efforts have been done to protect the place due to the regular visibility of law enforcers in order to deter other people from intrusion to the expected treasures thereat;

WHEREAS, at present, the place marked as a potential site of hidden treasures is still being strictly guarded to the extent that even the barangay officials of Bahi are prohibited to get into the place…”

Shortly thereafter, I got hold of photos taken during the ocular inspection conducted by the municipal council on May 16, 2011, and published some of them on June 7, 2011, right? Seeing government-owned equipment in the operation, I opined:

Many people obviously find it easier to just look the other way and not remark about any impropriety that may have been committed. Many more would just refuse to acknowledge or feign ignorance about the presence of those big monsters and insist on seeing and believing what they have yet to find, or claim that the workers were just out there on a picnic in the mangroves.

An avid facebook user from Marinduque, Lolong Rejano,re-posted some of those blogs on his fb page generating considerable interest from his followers. There were strong words from some, and as expected, also attempts from some to downplay official involvement in the matter, or diverting the topic by some all the way to the moon – the facebook way. Till the matter is forgotten, they hope, which is not farfetched, short memories of many considering.

But a few ventured an alibi, palusot, although belatedly, as to why government-owned heavy equipment were used in the famous treasure hunt: that the government equipment (photos showed that they consisted of a payloader, a grader and a truck), were rented. It seemed to me that if that was the case, there’s confirmation, indeed, that the provincial government has sanctioned the use of government equipment in a treasure hunting activity without any permit by government agencies concerned. And without permit, that operation could be considered illegal, right?

Now, when it comes to use by private contractors or individuals of government equipment, that’s in accordance with R.A. 7160 as part of LGU power to create own sources of revenue, indeed. But such use, first and foremost, should be covered by a rental agreement and processes, among them to wit:

“Upon approval of the request, the Private Contractor/Individual shall pay in advance to the Treasurer the total amount of charges for the use of the public utility;

“During the Rental Agreement Period, the Private Contractors/Individual shall provide the fuel and oil to be consumed by the public utility being rented/leased;

“Rental Period starts upon departure from and stops when returned to PEO compound of place of official assignment”.

So emphasis on “pay in advance to the Treasurer”. Needless to say, no agreement appears to have been secured prior to actual use of the equipment, nor any advance payment.

Standard rental agreements do not specify any special provisions for private contractors/individuals related to the governor, as is apparently the case here, the property owners being close relatives. Such standard agreements are normally approved by the sitting governor.

Now comes the information that on or about June 10, 2011 (and that’s 3 days after the discovery of the involvement of those government equipment was posted on this blogsite, and long after public concerns were conveyed by official stakeholders, and after much discussion on the matter occurred in the Internet), payment was made in haste for a total of P. 4,126.00 to the Provincial Treasurer representing payment for only two (2) hours each on the equipment (loader and grader).

And here comes a Special Report re Treasure Hunting, dated June 14, 2011, from the Gasan Municipal Police Station stating among others:

“Upon reaching the area, heavy equipment were found which was used to create accessible road to the area were (sic) the said treasure was buried in a shallow water. According Shiela Morales (sic) – the caretaker of the said lot, heavy equipments and certain personalities were already in the area for a week, clearing the area while others started there treasure hunting activity”.

“Heavy equipments”, “certain personalities”, coupled with the fact that the area was “temporarily watched over by PNP personnel of Provincial Public Safety Platoon as requested by the owner of the lot”, and the fact that “PNP personnel of Gasan MPS” were directed by the Gasan Mayor to inspect the area “since treasure hunting has no permit from concerned agencies as well as to the municipal government of Gasan” – all point to the fact that there are things highly irregular, contradictory and anomalous any which way you look at it in this modern-day treasure hunting story.

The said report stated that “the treasure hunting was stopped the day it was inspected” (illegal activity halted), and that by first week of June “PNP personnel from PPSP no longer render (sic) their duty". To secure unhampered operation sana?

Was it really a treasure-hunting activity or perhaps, something more sinister, was a question poised. (In Facebook discussions, some saw shades of the Ampatuans and capitol-owned backhoes from that infamous Maguindanao case).

So you see, the Bahi treasure hunt has turned out to be an intriguing story involving the high and mighty, their relatives, police forces with opposing missions, barangay and municipal stakeholders, cheer-dancers, the common tao, and you and me.

More interestingly, this Marinduque episode came within the same week when national newspapers and other media were trumpeting the involvement of the Governor of Marinduque, Carmencita O. Reyes in the scandalous national fertilizer scam that had taken the Ombudsman some seven years of thorough investigation and the nation in fury. On that one, Reyes posted bail in the amount of P. 60,000 on charges of technical malversation apart from violation of the anti-graft law.

Overheard:

“But, come on, can an 80-year old be sent to jail for those offenses in the Philippines?”

“Good question. But that's probably why things could be done with more impunity and callousness now?”

Browsed:

"Nothing like the Fertilizer Scam should happen under President Aquino’s rule. He seems to be carrying out his campaign promise to make his a corruption free government, which is why his administration has been sloughing off some key people."

Even relatives?

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