|Alaminos City Mayor Hernani Braganza shows recently to the media the multi-million pesos Hummer and Land Cruiser SUVS owned by Pangasinan Gov. Amado T. Espino, his rival for the governorship.|
This was how Alaminos City Mayor Hernani Braganza described the alleged P4.7-billion plunder complaint filed against him by village chiefs affiliated with the camp of Pangasinan Gov. Amado Espino. “Nalulungkot ako dahil na kuryente (journalists’ term for bum steer) ng mga kababayan kong kapitanes ang mga kaibigan nating journalists sa Manila,” said Braganza, who is a former Press Secretary.
The mayor said his lawyers advised him that the document filed by the village chiefs before the Office of the Ombudsman last Friday was not a valid criminal complaint but a mere letter-request for investigation of on-going infrastructure projects in Alaminos City. “Wala pong kaso na nai-file. Nagre-request lang po ang mga kapitanes sa Ombudsman naimbistigahan ang mga alegasyon nilang pawang walang mga batayan,” Braganza said. He noted that the village chiefs also submitted perjurious statements before the Ombudsman, chief among them the claim that they have personal knowledge of the allegations brought before the investigative body. “How can they claim that they have personal knowledge of the allegations when what they submitted to the Ombudsman were merely lifted from the Alaminos City website and from the accomplishment report of our City Engineers’ Office?” Braganza said.
“What they submitted is a white paper full of unfounded and baseless allegations, which is being sold to the media as a legal document,” he added.
Braganza said he has yet to officially receive a copy of the document filed by the village chiefs, though he was able to get hold of documents furnished to reporters during a press conference held by the village chiefs in Quezon City last Friday. The press conference, he noted, was attended by lawyer Abraham Espejo, who is also defending Gov. Espino from a P900-million plunder case filed by Bugallon mayor RicOrduna.
The mayor from Bugallon, Pangasinan had filed the criminal case against Gov. Espino before the Ombudsman for allegedly pocketing P900 million from proceeds of jueteng operations in the province. Braganza said the allegations hurled by village chiefs against him were “absurd” and “ridiculous” considering the staggering amount of money (P4.7-billion) involved. “Do I look like a billionaire?
Will a small-time city mayor accumulate billions of pesos from the budget of his local government unit?
Just absurd and ridiculous,” Braganza said.
The mayor earlier noted that the village chiefs’ activities in Manila were part of the squid tactics employed by Gov. Espino to divert people’s attention from his alleged involvement in jueteng operations. “This is a crude attempt to muddle the jueteng issue in Pangasinan and take the political heat away from Gov. Espino,” he pointed out. “My political opponent is getting so desperate that he has to unleash his stooges to trumpet a non-existent criminal case against me,” said Braganza, who is running against Espino for the gubernatorial post in Pangasinan. Braganza said he also finds it absurd that the village chiefs had described as “ghost projects” the major infrastructure projects being implemented at the moment in Alaminos City. “Construction work on these major infrastructure projects are ongoing right now and will be completed as scheduled. These projects have not been abandoned as being portrayed in the media,” he pointed out. Braganza further explained that it is impossible for local executives to pocket the budget for these projects as the bank providing loans for the projects release the fund in tranches depending on the completion rate of construction work and submission of required documents. “The money is still with the bank, which releases the fund on several stages until the projects are completed,” he said.
Braganza noted that the village chiefs lied to the Ombudsman and the media when they alleged that that the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) has already released P249 million to the city government for the construction of the major infrastructure projects. He said official records would show that only P85.772 million in loan money had been released to the city government to fund major projects such as procurement of heavy equipment, construction of Alaminos City Hotel and Hundred Islands Medical Complex, and expansion of the Pangasinan State University (PSU) campus in the city.
He explained that the city government sought a P300-million loan first from the Land Bank of the Philippines for the funding of the infrastructure projects, but transferred them to DBP for more favorable interest rate. “What we did is more advantageous to the city government since we were able to cut down the interest rate from 10 percent (Land Bank) to seven percent (DBP) as a result of the loan buy-out,” the city mayor pointed out. Braganza noted that two of the projects, the PSU Phase I and the Medical Complex Phase I, were even cleared by the Commission on Audit (COA) when the agency was still conducting pre-auditing procedure as a requirement for any construction work. He also laughed off the allegation that the Department of Health (DOH) downgraded the classification of the Alaminos City Hospital to a “mere Medical Services Complex” after the project failed to qualify with the Department’s standard of hospitals. “Whoever prepared the document submitted to the Ombudsman did not do his homework: a Medical Complex is a bigger facility than a hospital,” he said. Braganza said the DOH, in fact, had upgraded the status of the project to a Medical Complex due to the inclusion of additional features such as Crisis Intervention Center, Stimulation and Therapeutic Activity Center, and Rehabilitation Center for drug dependents.
These features, he explained, were added to address the needs of victims of domestic violence, senior citizens, and young residents of Alaminos who had fallen prey to drug addiction. With regard to the Hundred Islands International Airport, Braganza clarified that the city government was given budget by the national government only for the purchase of lots from city residents. The budget for feasibility study was handled by the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC), while the fund for actual construction work is with the Department of Public Works and Highways. “What I mentioned were just the glaring issues of deception being peddled by my political opponents. The other allegations were similarly amusing that I will answer them one by one after everyone has finished laughing,” Braganza said.