Summing up the issues

IN DEFERENCE to this last week of the election campaign, I moved some of the series in our discussions to give way to a brief summation of the issues mainly in Bacolod City to remind the voters here of the stakes in this election, that there is no dead end but a chance to clean up the mess in this city. This election will show the kind of citizens we have.

The challenger, lawyer Jocelle Batapa-Sigue, against incumbent mayor Evelio Leonardia raised the battle flag of “Change” against the Grupo Progreso slogan, “15-0.” There is a great deal of difference in the two battle cries, revealing in fact, the objective of each group. Batapa outlines the sins of commission and omissions of the Leonardia government that justify the need for change; Leonardia wants consolidation of power that are hallmarks and tools of corruption.

The voter has a clear choice – continue the corruption by voting for Leonardia and his cabal; or by voting for Batapa-Sigue and a slate of honest and competent councilors to change the system and with an honest and efficient government clean up the city of the fruits of endemic corruption perfected by Leonardia in his many years of politics and governance.

I had for over a year cited many instances of corruption and abuses of power by Leonardia and his Grupo Progeso and their cabalistic methods of government. This cabal or clique includes the non-elected inner circle that controls and manipulates the city government, especially in the hiring of job order casuals, operation of an in-house usurious lending system, making life difficult for the retirement of regular personnel who do not don the red shirt, the allocation of projects, the creation of ghost projects – all these, and some more, siphon public funds for the private use of Leonardia and Grupo Progreso.

On their own, leading members of the cabal negotiate for “cash advances” in government contracts that Leonardia approves post haste.

In a dinner hosted by friends of Batapa, she revealed that a non-elected member of the cabal is a close, long-time friend of Leonardia. He is well-known to the city employees as well as to Grupo Progreso as Top Gun to whom everyone must defer on matters involving money. He is known as Leonardia’s “bag man.” With his assistant, they control the payroll where salary deductions are made.

This is the reason, Batapa said, Bacolod is among the few cities where the salaries and allowances of city employees are still done by old payroll system to insure that the “deductions” for the cabal is collected. She said that if elected, this unreasonable and usurious practice will stop and salaries paid through the ATM card.

The cabal does not only take the larger share of the salaries, but also delays the payroll to force the employees to borrow from the cabal at usurious rates. The payroll system insures them payment for the “advances”. This practice is immoral, a theft against the most vulnerable of the city’s workers – the lowest paid. In the Bible, this is a sin that cries to heaven for vengeance. This too must change.

One example says that Leonardia and Grupo Progreso had “allocated” for 80 job order casuals for the Bacolod Boys’ Home but only eight reported there. You can bet the rest collected their share (not the full amount, surely and if they really existed) and are expected to vote for Leonardia again to continue sharing in the loot of the city treasury.

Many JOs are aggrieved by the “deductions.” While they worked hard, they received only P2,500 out of the P9,000 they signed in the payroll, the system perpetrated by the direct payment at the Treasurer’s Office. Batapa said she will put an end to these unjust deductions and hire those who are willing to work and get a just wage.

There are reportedly 10,000 job order casuals assigned to many offices but how come there are shortages, for example of traffic enforcers on weekends and barangay workers? The reason –most are ghosts except in the payroll where the salary is collected by the Top Gun through his relative.

I recall Councilor Ricardo Tan telling me that he advised Leonardia to put an end to the “color” identification, the so-called Tribu Pula. It is a colorful mechanism for discrimination.

I’ll continue tomorrow.