Graft case filed vs town execs over Boracay’s floating walkway

The controversial pontoon bridge in Boracay Island. (Contributed photo)

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

The controversy behind the pontoon or floating walkway in Boracay Island is far from over.

This, as charges for graft and corruption, abuse of authority, and gross negligence were filed Jan 13, 2020 before the Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas in Iloilo City.

The complaint also sought the immediate preventive suspension of Malay Acting Mayor Frolibar Bautista and Acting Vice Mayor Niño Carlos Cawaling.

The plaint also included the entire Sangguniang Bayan composed of Daligdig Sumdad, Lloyd Maming, Danilo Delos Santos, Maylynn Graf, Nickie Cahilig, Dante Pagsuguiron, Junthir Flores, Ralf Tolosa, and Christine Hope Pagsuguiron.

The controversy erupted on Dec. 21, 2019 when the local government of Malay collected P30 from every person who used the pontoon docked at the beach front of Stations 1 and 3.

The fee was based on Bautista’s Executive Order No. 51 series of 2019 mandating all water sports and sea sports operators to utilize the pontoon in their activities.

“Beyond doubt, the fact that the collection of said user’s fee was implemented without the requisite of an Ordinance is highly anomalous. The law is very clear in Section 132 of the Local Government Code that the power to impose a tax, fee, or charge or to generate revenue shall be exercised only by the Sanggunian of the local government unit concerned through an appropriate Ordinance,” the Ombudsman complaint stated.

The complainant, Boracay-based journalist Noel Cabobos, said that aside from the absence of an ordinance, the legislative body did not oppose the EO, which already constitutes gross negligence and violation of Section 3 of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

“We are governed by laws not of men. They cannot just impose fees as simple as that. The bad faith and manifest intent of the respondents to cause the public wrong for their personal gain is very evident from the systematic and orchestrated issuance of an Executive Order to collect such fees,” he said.

“Yes, I agree that the mayor has the authority to issue executive orders within his executive and administrative powers since EOs are official directives or commands from the local chief executive to agencies in the executive branch. Meaning, these orders generally concern the implementation or enforcement of rules, policies and procedures which have the force of law, but let me emphasize here that Mayor Bautista’s exercise of his executive and administrative powers cannot impinge on the legislative powers of the Municipal Council, therefore, as the local chief executive, he may not usurp the legislative function by enacting policies not adopted by the legislative branch,” he stressed.

Cabobos also assailed the mayor’s order on watersports and sea-sports operators to enter into a contract with a private travel company, which manages the pontoons, as well as the latter’s order for them to collect the fees in behalf of the government even with the absence of a receipt.

“Again, this is a clear violation of the law since Section 130 paragraph (c) of the Local Government Code succinctly provides that the collection of local taxes, fees, charges and other impositions shall in no case be let to any private person,” he said.

Daily Guardian is still trying to reach the concerned officials for their comments.

Earlier, the Boracay Water Sports Association (BWSA), which is among the four associations that were ordered by Bautista to collect the fee in behalf of the local government of Malay, assailed the executive order through a board resolution and had asked him to stop the implementation of the user’s fee but to no avail.

Over the weekend, the Boracay Inter-Agency Rehabilitation Management Group (BIARMG) general manager Natividad Bernardino directed Bautista to stop the implementation citing complaints and oppositions from various stakeholders, sports enthusiasts, and visiting tourists on the island.

BIARMG is the implementing arm of the Boracay Inter-Agency Task Force (BIATF) headed by DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu.

BIATF, through President Rodrigo Duterte’s Executive Order No. 53, was tasked to formulate and implement the action plan for Boracay’s rehabilitation to reverse the degradation of this island paradise.