POSTSCRIPT / January 11, 2007 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Pampanga showdown: Jueteng vs quarrying

CLARK FIELD — President Gloria Arroyo will have to come up fast with a Solomonic solution to forestall what could be a costly collision between her two cabalen: Senator Manuel “Lito” Lapid and alleged jueteng lord Rodolfo “Bong” Pineda.

The wife of Bong, provincial board member Lilia “Baby” Pineda, is in an advanced stage of preparation to run for governor in this home province of the President.

Trouble is incumbent Gov. Mark Lapid is girding for reelection to the post that his father Lito had left to become senator in 2004.

Action star-turned-senator Lapid is being groomed by Malacanang to run for mayor of Makati City, on the theory that his showbiz popularity can overcome the known political superiority of Mayor Jojo Binay.

To establish his new legal residence, somebody close to Malacanang reportedly has bought Lapid a P50-million house in Magallanes Village in Makati.

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WHERE’S GMA?: Baby Pineda, 55, is a comadre of Gloria Arroyo. Before she became a board member (now on her third term), she was mayor for three terms of Lubao, the hometown of Gloria’s father, former President Diosdado Macapagal.

When he confirmed in Lubao two Sundays ago his wife’s intention to run for governor, Pineda, 58, warned that if the Lapids raise the illegal numbers game of jueteng as a political issue, he would be forced to “talk.”

He did not elaborate on what dire things he could “talk” about. If he is not careful, Pineda’s disclosures might splatter on other personalities.

Where will this leave President Arroyo? It is interesting that the President’s son, Rep. Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo of Pampanga’s second district, attends Pineda gatherings. But Mikey has told the media that his presence does not reflect on his mother’s inclination.

Pampanga has 1.2 million voters. In 2004, Gloria Arroyo garnered some 85 percent of the votes for president.

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WHY BABY’S RUNNING: There are various theories why the wife of Bong Pineda suddenly decided to run for governor.

Her official line, however, is that Pampanga has been neglected under the Lapids, first under Lito Lapid when he was governor and now under his 27-year-old son who was a barangay captain before becoming governor with the help, ironically, of the Pinedas.

Baby Pineda’s decision to run came after the Lapids rejected the proposal for her son Dennis Pineda (who had succeeded his mother as Lubao mayor) to run as the vice-gubernatorial mate of Mark.

The Lapids have chosen businessman Paul Laus as Mark’s running mate. Bong Pineda’s followers have said that even if Laus is convinced by President Arroyo to withdraw in favor of Dennis, Baby Pineda’s candidacy will proceed.

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STUCK IN MAKATI: With the threatened entry of Bong Pineda’s wife into the gubernatorial derby, Lapid the senator has been reported saying he might decide to skip Makati and run again (instead of his son Mark) for governor just to stop Pineda.

But the prospects of a collision with the elder Lapid does not seem to bother the Pinedas. They have been doing their homework.

As of yesterday, they have completed “successful consultations” in 12 of the 21 voting towns of Pampanga. (Campaigning is not allowed yet, so they just “consult” voters.)

Besides, it seems too late for Lito Lapid to leave his new Makati legal residence to go back to Pampanga. A candidate must be a resident for at least one year in the place where he plans to run. Elections are already in May this year.

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PORAC FALLS : Of the 21 mayors in Pampanga (not counting Angeles, a chartered city whose residents do not vote for a governor), only four reportedly have not thrown their unqualified support for Baby Pineda.

The Lapid diehards left were identified as mayors Marino “Boking” Morales of Mabalacat, Peter Flores of Masantol and his brother Leonardo “Bobong” Flores of Macabebe, and Edgardo Flores (no relation) of Minalin.

Pineda scored a coup when he won over key officials and a great number of voters in Porac, the hometown of the Lapids.

Pineda has won the support of Porac Mayor Exequiel Gamboa (third termer), Vice Mayor Carling dela Cruz (who might run to replace Gamboa), eight councilors, and several barangay captains. Two weekends ago, more than 5,000 Porac residents went to Lubao with their local officials to pledge support for Baby Pineda.

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JUETENG VS QUARRYING: Many Capampangans, who have been reduced to watching Cebuanos draw more presidential attention and favors than them, are already concocting promotions titles for the looming battle royal.

One is “Jueteng vs Quarrying.” Another is “Balas vs Bolitos.”

Readers of mainstream newspapers are more aware of Bong Pineda’s identification with jueteng, the illegal numbers game that rakes in millions in daily draws not only in Pampanga but also in many other places.

But not that many are aware that senator Lapid was once the subject of investigation into reports that as governor he was regularly getting a cut from the roadside tong collection of some mayors allied with him from haulers of sand and lahar being quarried in the province.

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TONG TALK: There have been allegations that Lapid’s fortune was built not only from his moviemaking activities, but also from alleged quarrying tong. In fairness to him, he has been cleared of the charges. But talk persists.

On the other hand, “balas” is the Pampango word for sand, again referring to the quarrying of aggregates and the reported tong collection from hundreds of trucks hauling sand and lahar every day.

“Bolitos” is the term for the small balls, each with the numbers 1 to 36, used in jueteng draws. Two balls are usually drawn from a wicker container to decide the winning combination.

However, to simplify and to minimize risks of being caught by the police (who occasionally pretend to go after the operators), those doing the draw now usually pull out two numbers from thin air and announce them by cellphone as the winning combination.

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PASAY GARBAGE: Over in Pasay City, acting Mayor Allan Panaligan has done something that the suspended city officials have failed to do. From one jumbo deal, he cut into several contracts the waste disposal system in the city that seems to have been left behind by progress.

By this scheme, Panaligan has demonstrated that there is a cheaper way to dispose of garbage than the one that suspended Mayor Wenceslao “Peewee” Trinidad had in place.

Panaligan signed three contracts for waste disposal in the first week of January. They cost the city P177 million, which is cheaper than the P464.6-million awards made by Trinidad in 2004 and 2005.

As a result of the alleged anomalies that attended the award of the garbage contracts, Trinidad, Vice Mayor Antonio “Tony” Calixto and 10 councilors were suspended for six months by the Department of Interior and Local Governments last Sept. 1, 2006.

The suspension led to Panaligan being appointed acting mayor.

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HALF THE OLD PRICE: Under the new garbage contracts, the city’s 201 barangays would be served by four contractors chosen through public bidding. All the contracts have the same provisions, with added stringent requirements on cleanliness in Areas 1 to 4 of the city.

The three winning bidders are Halrey Construction, Greenline Onyx Envirotech Phils. Inc., and RM Maintenance Services.

Halrey’s contract covers Area 4 (60 barangays) costs the city P62,243,250.20 for one year. Another contract for the 32 barangays of Area 1 is worth P25 million. Greenline’s contract for Area 3 (74 barangays) costs P62,248,548. R. M. Maintenance Services’ deal for the 35 barangays of Area 2 is valued at P28,468,528.50 for a year.

Panaligan said that the financial burden is not even half of the P464.6 million that the Trinidad administration spent from 2004 to 2005 for waste disposal.

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COMPARISON: Together with Trinidad and the vice mayor, councilors Richard Advincula, Noel Bayona, Ma. Antonia Cuneta, Generoso Cuneta, Lexter Ibay, Greg Paolo Alcera, Editha Vergel de Dios, Jose Antonio Roxas, Arnel Regino Arceo and Marie Irish Pineda are still in the doghouse.

Their supposed mistake was that they approved the assailed garbage disposal contracts of Trinidad.

Will Panaligan’s cheaper garbage disposal contracts be enough proof that Trinidad’s contract was grossly disadvantageous to the government? Is there sufficient basis for comparing the two waste disposal schemes?

Studies by the Commission on Audit and the Japan International Cooperation Agency reportedly have shown that Trinidad’s waste disposal deals were overpriced and detrimental to government and taxpayers.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 11, 2007)

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