By Jarius Bondoc
The Philippine Star
If there’s one agency politicians are afraid of, it’s the Comelec. The poll body can disqualify their candidacy, delist their party, or declare them loser. So it’s best for them to be on the Comelec’s good side. This makes ticklish the planned Senate investigation of the 2004 and 2007 poll frauds. For, the probe should include present Comelec officials tied to fraudsters, like powerful chairman Sixto Brillantes no less.
In avowing recently knowledge of the 2004 cheating, police colonel Rafael Santiago unwittingly exposed one such link. Allegedly former poll supervisor Roque Bello and son Ruel had switched the election returns at the Batasan Complex. Immediately Leila de Lima, a hotshot election lawyer before becoming justice secretary, recognized the names. “They are known election operators,” she said, implying mastery of tricks like dagdag-bawas (vote padding-shaving). Brillantes, also a former poll attorney, reportedly is related to the Bellos, and was a law associate. He disowns present ties to them. Still, unsavory talk persists about ongoing partnerships.
One thing going for the Senate inquiry is that Panfilo Lacson and Alan Peter Cayetano pushed for it. With both terming out in 2013, they have no need to curry Comelec favor, unless running for other posts. Lacson is known to fight steep battles. Cayetano has twitted Brillantes for releasing multimillion-peso pensions to Comelec ex-chairman Ben Abalos and ex-commissioner Virgilio Garcillano. This, despite their link to the ZTE scam and “Hello Garci” tapes, respectively.
Two related items need scrutiny:
• the sudden replacement of Comelec legal head Ferdinand Rafanan with an officer whom the Ombudsman is suspending for a procurement scam, and
• Grand C Graphics, which was tied to the printing of bogus election forms in 2004.
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A year and one month since forcibly evacuated from their condos, how are residents of West Tower in Bangkal, Makati doing? All 130 unit-owners continue to live elsewhere, as the building remains uninhabitable due to fumes from the fuel pipeline leak. Pipeline operator First Philippine Industrial Corp. goes on siphoning free-floating gasoline from the sump at the basement parking.
FPIC disowns liability. Supposedly to blame for pea-size cracks in the pipeline is the public works office, for erecting a flyover across it, half a kilometer away 35 years ago. The agency denies causing harm. Nineteen of the owners have accepted FPIC’s “assistance”: P600 per square meter per month for 18 months to owner-residents, P300 if the owner was leasing out the unit, then a quitclaim. Ninety-seven are suing for P2-billion damages at the Makati court. Citing experts, they say it would take three to five years to fully soak up the 1.8 million liters of leaked gasoline, longer to clean up the leachate. They want FPIC to pay for their acquisition of equivalent condos nearby.
Trial has yet to commence, pending side issues. FPIC is contesting the court exemption of the owners, under a Writ of Kalikasan, from the P40-million filing fee. It has sued them for P200-million defamation.
Victims’ leader Bobby Dimayuga decries the scant government action. Allegedly the environment department and the Makati city hall are pointing to each other as in charge of helping them. Neither office has checked the extent of FPIC’s cleanup, he says, so owners have no basis to believe claims of 50-percent completion.
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In Taguig City condo buyers are suing the directors of First Global BYO Corp. for reneging on advertised building specs and amenities. Patricia del Rosario and Cynthia Nakpil, for 57 other buyers, allege fraudulent schemes to deprive them of ownership of units in Fort Palm Springs at The Fort. Accused of breaking the Condominium Code are Philip Cea, Catherine Cea, Richard Juansing, Lourdes Mana-ay and Arlene Camacho.
The main breach is in the number of condos and carports. The Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board approved construction of 229 residential and commercial units, and 210 parking slots. Actually built were 293 units. This reduced the parking slots to 164, with narrowed width from the standard 2.5 to only 1.6 meters. Diminished too were the promised “stunning lobby”, outdoor swimming pool, and ground and rooftop gardens. The HLURB issued last year a Notice of Violation.
The complainants say First Global refuses to turn over the titles to their fully paid condos. This allegedly is due to its non-payment of real property taxes. Without the buyers’ knowledge, First Global purportedly borrowed P20 million in their behalf, from another firm controlled by Philip Cea. Since the condos were placed as collateral, the owners fear that their units will revert to the builder-lender if the loan is unpaid.
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The Sigma Kappa Pi marks its 43rd anniversary with a national congress tomorrow, Sept. 3, at the Angeles City Library. Right after is the anniversary festivity at the Casino Filipino, Balibago. Contact Bing Villarta, 43rd anniversary chairman, 0905-2801782.
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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).