With all the fuss stirred up by the recent backfilling of the 24.7-hectare Balili property in Naga City, Cebu, which is the subject of a Sandiganbayan case, where’s the contract for the work?
The Provincial Board (PB) yesterday agreed on mass motion to ask for a copy of the contract from the administration of Gov. Gwen Garcia.
A P27 million contract was approved for the earth-moving based on information from Capitol engineer Adolfo Quiroga earlier.
Whether the work is “reclamation” or “restoration” of submerged land, Provincial Board Member Arleigh Sitoy said the legislature is in the dark about who authorized it and what it’s for.
In a privilege speech yesterday, Sitoy compared the controversial property which was purchased in 2008 to the vampire movie “Breaking Dawn” because it “is full of possibilities”.
“It could be a fishpond now becoming a farm or a port becoming a desert or a disposal center for coal ash becoming a subdivision or an airport. Who knows? Your guess is as good as mine,” Sitoy told colleagues.
“Unlike the movie, we the viewers to that picture of the so-called Balili ’restoration or reclamation’ are blind about the plot. We’re not briefed about it… it has the makings of a bad movie,” he said.
Sitoy made a motion to ask the Provincial Administrator’s Office to provide a copy of the contract.
After some debate, the board passed it on mass motion.
The coastal land bought for P98.9 million five years ago from the Balili family has been gradually filled up with limestone and soil.
Last July, the Ombudsman filed graft charges against Governor Garcia and seven others over the land purchase which was found to be irregular as most of the property was under water.
Governor Garcia over the weekend said the project was above board and that she would call a forum soon to explain what’s going on in the Naga lot, which is off-limits to all visitors unless they show an entry permit from the governor’s office.
Sitoy also questioned how the backfilling would afftect a civil case filed by the Capitol against the Balili heirs to recover part of the P98.9 million payment.
“What will happen to it, when the Capitol is supposed to resolve the possible return of the money paid? How can the province (address this when) it is developing the area it rejected in the case?,” he asked in his speech.
“The Provincial Board should have been warned of the horrendous repercussions of the project,” he said.
Before his privilege speech, Sitoy showed Powerpoint slides of photos of the Balili property that he and Vice Gov. Agnes Magpale visited last week, a visit the governor had criticized as “trespassing.”
Sitoy noted that Capitol department heads have ignored invitations of the PB four times to appear in budget deliberations to answer questions about the Balili development plans.
The governor earlier said she is allowing department heads to attend on condition that the topic was the 2013 budget deliberations.
“Even the public, the Cebuanos are not spared from the gag rule. We were advised that during budget hearings, department heads will only appear in closed-door sessions? Just like closed-restoration work or secret goat-raising,” said Sitoy.
He was referring to the governor’s accusation that Sitoy and Vice Governor Magpale’s surprise visit to the are was an act of “trespassing” in a project site that had fruit-bearing trees, bangus and hybrid goats.
“I have a simple and average mind who is just man enough to ask the question- what is the filling for? Is it not a step closer to jail? Maybe Congressman Pablo John Garcia can answer this because he has been answering questions about the Balili issue,” he said (see related story).
Some PB members aligned with Governor Garcia tried to object.
PB Member Julian Daan said what Sitoy raised in his privilege speech was already answered by Rep. Pablo John Garcia of Cebu’s 3rd district in last Saturday’s press conference.
But Sitoy said the answers “were not complete and full of sarcasm… Is he an employee, a spokesman of the Capitol? What is his interest in the project? Is that the official position of the province?” he asked. /Carmel Loise Matus, Correspondent