LETTERS FROM DAVAO: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Jun Ledesma

In his State of the Nation Address, Pres. Rodrigo R. Duterte leafed through the pages of his performance report. Despite the magma of critical issues that were highlighted by organized coteries of critics that are out to discredit his administration, Duterte read through the pages among these were written in blood. He assured his domestic and foreign critics that there will be no let-up in his war against drugs. So Iceland and the rest of European countries that signed the UN Commission on Human Rights resolution to investigate what they claimed are human rights resolution in the Philippines can go fishing for evidence as they please. Not only has the angry Duterte said he will fight to the end of his term, among the first legislation he asked during the joint session of Congress is to pass a legislation that would revive capital punishment in the country. He made his message even simpler for the drug syndicates to understand and that if they escape the bullet for fighting it out with the law they will still end up in the gates of hell. That part of the SONA is for the Bad which in the context of Duterte’s message includes the drug lords and the 18 countries headed by Iceland that wants to conduct a probe the mythical 27,000 victims of extra-judicial killings in the country.

President Duterte did not mince words in describing the pervading corruption and inefficiency in the government bureaucracy. His words cut through the thick hides of those present in the halls of Congress. In the feat of frustration and disgust he wished for an earthquake with a magnitude strong enough to bring down the concrete walls of the Batasan to all those present in the SONA so that the nation can have a new beginning. Of course the hyperbole is characteristic of Duterte’s language but that gives us how the barnacles of corruption are still very much around not only in the government but in private enterprises. He specially made mention of the Bureau of Customs and the Department of Health. DOH? I thought it was only about the rip-off engineered by PhilHealth functionaries and Wellness! I got this persistent information the source refused to be identified for fear of reprisal from DOH. There is in fact another looming controversy involving anti-rabies vaccines. Twice DOH conducted a bidding for the supply of the vaccines but it comes as a surprise why no purchase had been made. Will DOH conduct another bid for a favored supplier to win, never mind if the anti-rabies campaign is a national program and who knows the supply had dwindled?

Talking of inefficiency, while President Duterte makes Davao his showpiece in terms of how government efficiently process documentations and how 999 quickly responds to emergencies, that, I concede is only true to functionaries under the City Government supervision. The national government agencies are another story. It can take eons for the Register of Deeds to transfer a simple land title of a 150 sqm-lot from the seller to the buyer.

These are among the Ugly residues of corruption and inefficiency that mar the image of our country.

President Duterte made special mention of PAGCOR which significantly delivered the biggest share of revenues to the government coffers. PAGCOR Pres. Andrea Domingo took a bow. I think the secret of Andrea is in the data monitoring. She must have finally found a way to track to the very last centavo how much revenues flow into the gaming enterprises especially off-shore gaming operators. It can be recalled that among the first order of the day issued by Duterte when he became President was to close the operation of online gaming following the scandal surrounding the Philweb operations. When she took control of the helms of PAGCOR Andrea moreover, put in place monitoring mechanisms that audit offshore gaming operations in a manner ATMs and food franchise operations work. What maybe excited the President is that the Philippine Off Shore Gaming Operations (POGO) which is played online cannot be accessed locally. “Magpasugal ka pa”, the President who hates gambling quipped during the SONA. I will not be surprised anymore if there will be a long line of POGO applicants lining up. If the Chinese haters thought that it is China who dominates POGO they better think again. They might just turn out to be a minority. In fact I can bet on that.

The National Bureau of Investigation under Dir. Dante Gierran also received an accolade during the SONA. There are matters of course that only the President and the NBI know so we should take the President’s statement at face value.

There are items in the President’s report that are still blank spaces simply because these would need legislation. Among these are the creation of the Department of OFW and the Department of Water. These are long overdue. DOFW because our foreign workers are the biggest contributors to the nation’s coffers. DOW because water is life and while we are visited by at least 20 typhoons that bring rains can cause devastating floods every year many parts of the country, particularly Metro Manila and Cebu are always on the brink of running out of water. In the preSONA forum in Davao City, I pointed out that while the participants were talking of disaster preparedness there is a louder prayer for natural disasters like typhoon and rains to avert shortage of water supply in our taps.

There are of course solutions but Metro Manila Waterworks and Sewerage System had ran out of ideas on how to address the problem. The concessionaires leave it to MWSS and mother nature to solve the shortage of water supply. The irony is that when it comes to supply of potable water there are overlapping agencies mandated to insure the sustainability of water. What happens however is that they play different roles and read different script which result in paralysis. Let’s name them. Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) whose members of the board are from other government departments and regulators. They hardly meet because they cannot muster a quorum. We are not surprise if they have conflict of interest. Then there is this National Water Resources Board which has regulatory and quasi-judicial functions on how water will be allocated. And then MWSS which has regulatory power over the water concessionaires in Metro Manila but the members of the board, I heard, are actually being paid by the concessionaires. So how can you supervise, exact sanctions or order these firms which feed you?

All these agencies should be collapsed and all their regulatory and quasi-judicial powers should be placed under DOW. Government through DENR should delineate the protected area from the watersheds which are identified as recharge areas of aquifers, rivers and lakes where surface waters are sourced from and cede these vital protected areas to DOW. These suggestions for starters.

I was hoping the President would take up the plight of the rice farmers but I do not mind it for now as he focused more on the strict implementation of agrarian reforms. But I still hope that he will give impetus on increasing the rice productivity of our farmers. As I write this I have it from unimpeachable source that there are more than 150 silos all over the country that had been idled when the regime of Cory Aquino took over. Silos or dryers are one of the vital infrastructures that could double rice productivity. But that is another story.



LETTERS FROM DAVAO: Oh Iceland and Mexico how could you?

By Jun Ledesma

ICELAND authored a resolution to conduct a probe of (extra-judicial) killings related to the drug campaign waged by the Duterte Administration. This stemmed from the allegation that over 27,000 perished in the government’s war against drugs. I do not know where this figure came from but judging from what had been written and talks on the issue, I can only point at Rappler, an Omidyar-funded social media platform, Amnesty International, the politicized Human Rights Commission of the Philippines and the political opposition as the sources.

But let us look at Iceland. With a population of about 330,000 over 30 people die every year on account of drug addiction. Opioids, a prescription drug, is the main culprit but amphetamines have crept into this isolated country as well. For a country whose population is much lesser than a barangay (village) in the Philippines, the death toll to its populace is alarming.

Among the signatories in that United Nations resolution is Mexico, a veritable narco-state where murders on account of drug campaign, rivalry amongst drug cartel and murder of civilians caught in the mess are commonplace they have stopped taking notes of the daily tragedies. The United States which is the prime destination of Illegal drugs from the Mexican mafiosos had been up in arms the Trump administration is putting up a virtual “Berlin wall” in its borders with Mexico. Pres. Donald Trump himself has declared the drug menace as an emergency problem. In a statement, Trump warned of the horrible death toll from drug abuse. He also took note of the emergence of synthetic drugs which is similar to shabu that contributes to the toll.

Rappler, AI, CHR and of course the anti-Duterte cabal are one in extrapolating the figures they conjured to discredit the government all-out-war against drug syndicates. The government figures of those killed in its drug campaign are at 5,104. These include a couple of unfortunate victims who were caught in the crossfire.

The term “Extra-Judicial Killing” was first used in 2009 by a political rival of the Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte to refer to victims killed in a government campaign against drug syndicates. But much of the estimated 300 victims were attributed to the drug lords own liquidation operations to eliminate their own drug pushers that could lead to their identity. Then CHR Chair, Leila de Lima, ordered a four-month probe of the EJK issue in Davao but despite the long search her probe team failed to prove anything. Not even when she was appointed later as Secretary of Justice under Pres. Benigno Aquino III. Later as Senator, she pursued her quest to pin Duterte to EJK this time charged him as behind the creation of the Davao Death Squad which, she said carried out the execution of the suspects in drugs.

Senator de Lima, this time found an ally in her probe – Sen. Antonio Trillanes. Trillanes had earlier sought out Duterte, who was gaining popularity in the Presidential surveys, to draft him as his running mate. He was politely turned down. As fate intervened, Duterte won overwhelmingly in the Presidential race.

In the intervening period, while Senators de Lima and Trillanes were conducting an investigation at the Upper Chamber, the House of Representative conducted its own probe. But a major twist happened. While investigating drug lords who were detained in the state penitentiary De Lima was dragged by the detainees for her alleged involvement in drug distribution network operated inside the state penitentiary while she was Secretary of DOJ. As if that was not enough her steamy dalliance with inmates and her driver surfaced. It was also later established that a drug distribution network was being operated inside the penitentiary during the watch of De Lima.

Before she was detained for her alleged involvement in drugs, Senators de Lima and Trillanes summoned as witness a self-confessed killer Edgar Matobato who claimed to be a member of DDS. In his testimony before the Senate investigation, he claimed to have personally killed over 200 victims and confessed to having buried 1,700 in a common grave in Lauds abandoned quarry. He lied through his teeth. His testimonies were flawed. The DDS he was talking about was a ghost force conceptualized by Police Gen. Dionisio Tan-gatue, Jr. sometime in 1984 at the height of the communist insurgency in Davao. Duterte just about graduated from a law school and was a new lawyer. Laud quarry is adjacent to many subdivisions and is just about 10 minutes drive from city hall. One can shoot an arrow into the air and if it falls into that quarry you can be certain with that many victims, as alleged by Matobato, De Lima and Trillanes, were buried there they could, for certain, exhume several skeletal remains.

Like the 27,000 victims that UNCHR Rapporteur Agnes Callamard, Maria Ressa of Rappler and the political anti-Duterte cabal conjured for their own respective agenda, the story of Matobato is farcical.

Callamard swallowed hook-line-and-sinker the statistics of Ma. Ressa and the pan-handling human rights non-government organizations, the political and left-leaning legal fronts are feeding her which she wantonly took as gospel truth. Callamard sneaked into the country not only as a rapporteur but as a quack doctor who proclaimed that shabu will not damage the mental health of a person taking it.

As for Maria Ressa, she gloats over her awards, rubbing elbows with American lawmakers and even actors for her bravery in raising the drug death statistics to 27,000. As a media person practicing her trade in the Philippines whose government she claimed is suppressing her freedom and her rights she deserves a golden trophy for her liberty to write as she pleases.

UNCHR or Callamard is irrelevant in the Philippines where its leader, the one who has a sustained campaign against drug and corruption, has an unprecedented satisfaction rating of 80%, an economy which catapulted to bbb+ or investment grade, which Oxford economics says is among the top 10 competitive countries in the world. If the political opposition is that popular as to offer a modicum of change in a country which frigid Iceland wants to be investigated for that nebulous 27,000 deaths, then think wisely why none of the senatorial bets assembled by the opposition won in the just concluded midterm elections.

As to Atty. Amal Clooney who offered to lawyer for Maria Ressa. You are most welcome. By the way, be prepared to defend her not because her rights are suppressed or curtailed for she has an overdose of it. Be ready to defend her as a tax dodger. We read not a few stories of respondents in tax evasion cases in the US who are either fined heavily or meted stiff prison terms or both. Am sure you have a way to wiggle Maria out of this bind.

SUNBURSTS: Tagum the epicenter of scams?

Jun Ledesma

In his inaugurals as re-elected City Mayor of Tagum, Allan Rellon looks to the future of this capital as the ‘City of People’. Hardly had the din of the applause ebbed another man was gunned down. The victim was the fifth person who was executed by still unknown gunman or gunmen.

It used to be that the victims were involved in drug trafficking, this time however, the loose talk is that the killing has something to do with the investment scams that had proliferated in Tagum City. I am not prepared to accept that rumor even as it is persistent because the authorities are still in the process of investigation. What is troubling moreover is that at the rate people are being summarily executed in broad daylight, the situation is definitely alarming.

The occurence of summary liquidations in Tagum came on the heels of the recent midterm elections. There was sudden bonanza in the city. It is no secret that election spending in this vote-rich city was unprecedented. By some estimates, over a billion pesos was splurged in the 1st district alone for the simple reason that the number of registered voters is said to be greater than those of the combined voters of other towns. of moreover ushered in a new dimension of criminality in the capital of Davao del Norte which, like Davao City, is known for peace, tranquikity and deveopment during the time of no nonsense Mayor Rey Uy. This time however, the police authorities are as confused and still has to point out who are the perpetrators and why are people being killed.

One thing is certain however, Tagum has become the epicenter of pyramiding scams and not a few had fallen victims to the get-rich-quick investment Ponzi-styled scheme. President Duterte had issued a direct order to the National Bureau of Investigation, Crime Investigation and Detection Group of the Philippine National Police following the declaration of the Securities and Exchange Commision that the likes of Kabus Padatoon (KAPA) is a fraud. Roughly translated, it means or it promises that the poor will get rich.

The tentacles of KAPA spread so quickly with stories from radio personalities spreading the opiating stories of “donors” getting back not less than 30% each month for whatever they amount the place in the KAPA Ministry founded by a former disc jockey from Bislig, Surigao. His name is Pastor Joel Apolinario. No one from among his disciples in the broadcast medium explained how he became a pastor for unlike other religious denominations KAPA does not even have a modicum of a house of worship.

In fact majority of those who donate huge amount of money are Catholics and a few members of the indigenous people in South Cotabato and agusan.

Apolinario started his caper in the isolated town of Bislig. But the pyramiding scheme in that laid back town collapsed as there were not enough recruits to sustain its operation. He faced a number of estafa complaints but somehow got away with the cases by way of amicable settlements. The story had it that he and his family later relocated to General Santos City and resumed his “ministry” this time with a registered name KAPA.

By the time Pres. Rodrigo Duterte ascertained the extent of KAPA’s operations, Apolinario himself boasted that he has no less than 5-million members. It was in the segment of Pastor Apollo C. Quiboloy’s televised program “Give Us This Day” where the President ordered the SEC, NBI and CIDG to shut down the operations of KAPA and to arrest those involved in what he termed as grandscale estafa. By some conservative estimates at an average of P10,000 per donor, Apolinario could easily be the country’s uncontested business genius with ₱50-billion or more percolating in his bank vaults. In less than a year, the man rides in luxury vehicles and a helicopter. So step aside Manny Pangilinan and Ayala brothers.

When Duterte issued the order, Apolinario had the gall to call for a massive rally in Davao City to cripple city traffic and then later in General Santos City where the President was scheduled to distribute certificates of land titles to agrariran reform beneficiaries. The Davao demonstration never materialized while in General Santos KAPA was able to muster a few hundred which later fizzled out. The later issued a veiled threat that the Dutertes will lose their support in 2022.

KAPA skirted Davao City for obvious reasons. It’s the hometown of the President and you do not try that adventurism in the city. Still not a few who are lured into the scheme would quietly scoot to either Digos in Davao del Sur or Tagum City to donate their hard earned money, procceds of loans, sale or mrtgage of their lands. Jun Digamon, a hard hitting radio commentator who consistently warned of the fraudulent investment received threats instead. Meantime in Tagum KAPA reared several clones among these are Regin Marketing, Ever Arm. Forex Marketing Willness 2.1 Titan 29 Marketing and Hermie Marketing. The owners, managers, recruiters and collectors behind these firms were reported to have gone into hiding afraid of reprisals from the donors.

The government crackdown resulted in the stoppage of operations and thus far over a hundred million in cash had been confiscated by raiding teams. These had also discourage would-be donors from placing their money in the shady Ponzi-style money placements. The anticipated ‘pay outs’ of those who had already donated their money fizzled in thin air. Many attempted to withdraw their investments, but since they acceded in the deal that their placements are to be acknowledged as donations their is nothing much to hope for in terms of recovery.

As I write this piece, i received fresh information that those involved in the operations of pyramiding scheme and had collected millions from donors had gone into hiding. What is worrisome is that the victims are not seeking government intervention and the possibility that they will take the law into their hands is not remote.

The problem here is that despite the crackdown and confiscations of cash and assets, i still have to hear formal complaints filed by government authorities. In the case of Joel Apolinario, he had been granting interviews to big networks and it serms suspiciously funny that government operatives cannot “invite” him too. This, despite the President’s order.

Back in Tagum City while Mayor Rellon exudes confidence that investors will come to this capital, for now not even Ponzi, if he is alive today, would set foot in that city. Not while the mysterious deaths remains mysterious.


LETTERS FROM DAVAO: Igniting fire in the WP Sea

By: Jun Ledesma

WE are not running out of provocateurs, deceivers and willing victims of deceptions and bystanders who ejaculate in fanning embers of intrigue and divisiveness. Am talking of the recent accident involving Filipino and Chinese fishermen, Bikoy’s expose’ of the opposition black propaganda against the Duterte family and what the President described as a grand estafa perpetuated by KAPA.

Let us, however, focus on the burning maritime issue.

A Chinese fishing vessel figured in an accident with a Filipino fishing vessel and there are quarters quick to deliver incendiary comments prodding the government to take a more drastic action than just lodging a diplomatic protest. A so-called analyst did not lose time in elevating the issue to a “konfrontasi” complete with fake pictures of a shipwreck. The usual agents of discord in the political opposition and the cabal of foreign-funded media organizations did not lose time to get onboard and quickly assail President Rodrigo Duterte for not issuing any statement of condemnation and some even suggesting to cut ties with China.

Situations like this one enrage some quarters and cannot help but hate the equanimity of Duterte as a leader. He waited for some time to gather pieces of evidence, evaluate these and come up with a statement. When he did, he tells the provocateurs that the mishap is between two fishing boats. While he demanded that the Chinese authorities must investigate and own to the fault of the Chinese fishermen, he stressed that the accident must not be an issue of dispute and confrontation between the Philippines and China. We observe here the difference between Duterte and the other politicians in the manner of how to deal with the controversy and their proffered actions. Sen. Peng Lacson says he is deeply frustrated by Duterte’s statement declaring the incident as just a maritime accident. Peng ride on some emotional sentiments and suggested that the mutual defense treaty should have been invoked.

From hibernation, a juvenile senator Joel Villanueva joined the fray to say that the Malacanang Palace is confused. The rest of the opposition aired their piece and sing their old refrain “China is a bully” while Duterte maintained his coolness. Later the US Embassy issued a terse statement that the maritime incident was an accident. So there go the blazing tirades of the warmongers.

The President’s remarks hardly made it to the press when we saw the reasons why Duterte refused to be dragged into knee-jerk reactions of some senators to include that of Vice Pres. Leni Robredo. Gem-Vir, the Filipino-owned fishing vessel was actually afloat. The boat shown by analyst Richard Heydarian and the one shown by Rappler are like two different vessels than Gem-Vir. The skipper of Gem-Vir insists it sank when it was rammed and they clung to the shipwreck for five hours! But again the pictures shown on Facebook would tell a different story. The outriggers of the boat are intact and so are the cabin and hull. Only a small portion at the stern (the back portion of the boat) was missing moreover it looked like it was detached clean with nary a jagged part of the wooden boat can be seen. The hull of the boat is intact and therefore it is afloat. This is borne by the fact that the fishermen were able to bring home their catch. Am just describing what everyone sees on Facebook.

Expect China to come up with results of its probe, the fact that they identified the fishing vessels involved in the incident without any attempt at denial proves that there will be punitive actions to follow. Those who are crying for blood will have their satiety.

Sanity and realpolitik dictate that neither China nor the Philippines would ignite fire over the recklessness of some Chinese fishermen in the West Philippine Sea and the wishy-washy story of a ship captain who has the gall to snub the President but is scared of his wife. To invite even a small flotilla of America’s naval force as Senator Peng suggests is a veritable formula to cut the flourishing trade between the Philippines and China. That should also result in the repatriations of over 400,000 documented and undocumented OFWs in China and some scores of theirs in the Philippines. Then maybe we can kiss the ambitious Build, Build, Build program of the Duterte government goodbye. With a potential flashpoint right in our doorsteps, we might as well be prepared for the worst. For a country where some idiots in the opposition oppose the restoration of ROTC we will be the world laughing stock for having an angry population who wants to go to war but cannot even fire a gun. But then again, even the United States refused to be dragged into a problem which civic clubs or the boy scouts can solve.

As US Ambassador Sung Kim said, the accident is for China and the Philippines to address.

Indeed, the KAPA scam has a more veritable potential of creating chaos than the Gem-Vir boat’s missing stern. So we better attend to our internal problem and send those behind the fraud behind bars.

PUNTO DABAWENYO: The other side of the fence on investment scam issue

There are always two sides of a coin.

In the hottest issue on investment schemes, the government has already stated its side invoking the principle of parens patriae or its responsibility to protect its citizens.

True indeed, the state is merely protecting the citizens who we know are being victimized by the Ponzi scheme which is known internationally as a form of fraud that lures investors and pays profits to earlier investors with funds from more recent investors.

So this scam is not new, and the state knows the ending even before it started thus its decision to invoke the parens patriae principle. That is the side of the government. Now let’s look at the other side of the fence – the “willing victims”.

Most, if not all, of the investors in the investment scheme companies or religious group know beforehand that there is no 100% assurance that their investments would be fully returned to them. As the advertisement of most questionable investment companies say, “for risk-takers only”.

That alone, is enough for me to think twice on putting in my money to these companies. But the lure of X4, X5, and even X6 return of investment in such a short time is simply too strong to resist.

I know a friend who invested a total of P175,000 in almost all of the investment companies in the Davao Region. This friend of mine is merely an employee who earns less than P20,000 a month and yet was able to come up with such a huge amount of money to invest.

For what? For the promise of a huge return and his ardent desire to buy a car for himself. That, my friends, is why so many are becoming “willing victims” in this trade.

My friend already received a payout of P100,000 and instead of keeping it, he again invested the whole amount for it to “grow” even bigger. When the order of President Rodrigo Duterte to close all illegal investment schemes operating in the country came, all of my friend’s contact in various investment companies have told him that they are temporarily suspending their operations.

This friend of mine is a well-educated man who dabbles as a journalist and a teacher at the same time. He knows the intricacies of a Ponzi scheme and yet he became a “willing victim” all because of the lure of huge returns.

They said it is because of “greed” that many fell victim to the scam. But I chanced upon one Facebook post that says, it actually is not because of greed. It is because of “relief”, especially to the poorest of the poor.

Allow me to re-post this statement of one John Vianne Bauya Murcia:
“You may call it greed. But for the poorest of the poor, they call it relief.
They rely on it as their only way to bring delicious meal they haven’t tasted for years. They use it to bring their apos in Jollibee after a long travel from the uplands. They used it to pay for their medicines on a monthly basis. They used it to send their kids to school because their income from a small sari-sari store and labada couldn’t meet both ends.
It’s not greed. It’s a glimmer of hope. It’s light at the end of the long, dark tunnel.
Don’t be insensitive. Don’t be callous. Because you never experienced to be in their place.”

Many willing victims of these investment scams, especially those from the so-called religious group KAPA (Kabus Padatuon), are now appealing to President Duterte to allow the operation of their group considering that they have been in operation for the past 3 years now and that not a single member is complaining, allegedly.

Members credit KAPA for somehow uplifting their economic status with the 30% return of investment they continually receive since they joined the group. KAPA boasts of 5 million members all over the Philippines and abroad courtesy of the OFWs.

Now this 5 million members are threatening to pull out their support to the Dutertes come 2022. If they make good of their promise, this could be a huge swing vote. No wonder, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte is very calculating in her statement when asked about the sentiments of the people affected by her father’s order.

“Dili ko magcomment about sa feeling sa tao because there is no right or wrong sa feeling sa usa ka individual, so I cannot comment on that,” Sara was quoted as saying.

This goes to show that there is more to the issue than simply protecting the welfare of its citizens. This goes deeper down to the core of the perennial problem of poverty.

As the English poet William Cowper once said, “No man can be a patriot on an empty stomach”.