Holiday mood on hold


By Ermin Garcia Jr.


LAST week my holiday mood was rudely interrupted by two totally unexpected news stories on my table: 1) The Dagupan City councilors deliberately shelved the proposed 2015 budget for the city and reportedly have no intention of passing it until Mayor Belen gives in to their demand – P1.8-M apiece as pork barrel and, 2) Provincial Administrator Raffy Baraan and Provincial Housing chief Alvin Bigay have been ordered to vacate their posts to be thrown to the dogs.

Consequently, I had to put my holiday mood on hold and quickly got back to the salt mines to get more facts to be shared with our readers. If there is anything that grates my and many PUNCH readers’ nerves, it is knowing that the system is being used against our unsuspecting people. Aren’t unabated corruption and travesty of justice our communities’ worst nightmares?

Having already written those initial pieces last week, I thought I didn’t have to dwell on them anymore this week since it’s not likely that the two issues will be resolved any time soon and I can resume happy thoughts about Christmas past. I miscalculated. There are updates to be shared still.

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SMILEY FACES. On the pending Dagupan City 2015 budget issue, one of my reliable moles saw Mayor Belen Fernandez entering Pedritos restaurant last Tuesday morning. She appeared anxious and apprehensive, obviously about having to meet someone. Lo and behold, there sat former Mayor Al Fernandez and he quickly ushered her to restaurant’s secluded area away, from the prying eyes of everyone. Naturally, nothing was overheard. The only telling evidence that something was resolved was the smiles on their faces when they parted. Those smiles spoke volumes.

My mole did not have an inkling what the meeting could have been about but he was certain it was not about the weather, nor was it about the way everyone danced the zumba during the fiesta parade. I wondered, too, what could have possibly brought the city’s two political giants together that early morning. Was it about the decision of the city councilors to hold the 2015 budget hostage? If it was, indeed, about the misguided attempt of the councilors to pull a fast one over the Commission on Audit and the Supreme Court in their demands for their evil pork barrel, then the smiles on the faces of the city’s past and present mayors, can be a good sign. I would not dare speculate further except that knowing the politics of both, they likely agreed to do something together worthwhile for the city. I do hope it’s about putting early end to the indefensible misadventures and uncontrollable greed of the Judas 6 and Brutus 2.

I have to call in my other moles for updates on this. I hope to have an update by next week. Stand by.

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RAW DEAL. Meanwhile, I had the rare chance to engage Mr. Raffy Baraan on a personal note, he who together with Housing chief Alvin Bigay, was summarily dismissed from his post without much ado by the Ombudsman.

As many will recall, he and I had our professional differences when he served as city administrator for then Mayor Benjie Lim for two terms. He had a job to do at the city hall, and I had mine here at The PUNCH. I was critical of his activities, and he was critical of my writing. But that’s all in the past.

Today, I cannot but commiserate with him. Given what I have learned so far about his case which probably isn’t much, I feel he got a raw deal. But neither am I ready to absolve him because that’s for the Sandignabayan trial to determine.

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FEELING HIS PAIN. Meanwhile, many of his friends expressed concern about how he’s taking in all these. To a layman reading the resolution of the Ombudsman, Mr. Baraan appeared to have been indicted and condemned in the same resolution even before the trial could start.  

Many feel his pain. Indeed, to forfeit your retirement benefits at a time you know you may already need them is certainly the most unkind cut. To be perpetually disqualified to hold public office or be reemployed in government is a violent blow to one’s integrity especially when you did not have the chance to explain yourself. (Ironically, his accusers before the Ombudsman recently gave him a clean bill of health but why that doesn’t seem to make a difference in his case, I don’t understand).

So how is Mr. Baraan taking all these? We talked on the phone and exchanged texts about his thoughts and sentiments. I sensed his disillusionment, despair and frustration particularly when he sent me this test message. Below are excerpts:

“The longer I think about it, the more I suffer in silent indignation over this oppressive and most unfair judicial system. The Ombudsman accused us of an offense quite different from the one presented by the complainants. Consequently, the Ombudsman is obliged to respect our basic constitutional right to due process, and should have given us the chance us to present our side/ defend ourselves, before passing judgment and releasing any resolution.

On the contrary, the Ombudsman… without even asking for our side on the totally new and alien offense for which it accused us, hastily produced the most sweeping, unilateral pronouncement of guilt for an imaginary/ baseless but extremely grave offense, crafted to justify the imposition of a very harsh and crippling lifetime penalty upon me and Engr. Alvin Bigay, as if we are the worst of criminals.

The consequent and already effective implementation of penalty: dismissal and perpetual ban from govt service; and, lifetime forfeiture of retirement and all other benefits (which is worse than a death sentence passed without due process) pending resolution of our motion for reconsideration, is double jeopardy and a clear travesty of justice.

Even then, we continue to respect the judicial process, and consequently filed our Urgent Motion to Lift the Implementing order last Dec 16. Otherwise, we have also appealed for Divine intervention and are leaving everything in God’s care.”

Meanwhile, I surmise that his worst enemy today is boredom while his motion remains pending to this day. Friends’ prayers will go a long way for him and Mr. Bigay.

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ABOUT OUR FRIENDS. As we end the year, most of us are inclined to make resolutions, more like wish-list actually to overcome personal regrets.

At this stage of my life and work as a journalist, I repeatedly make only one wish – that I make more friends each new year than enemies because of my views and writing. However, I never came to know how many more friends I made each year but I do have a faint idea how more friends I lost, and enemies I made. Frankly, I do feel some regrets there but I guess it’s inevitable in community journalism.

So to our faceless friends, we thank you most heartedly for believing in what The PUNCH stands for, what it fights for, and for whom through the weeks and months. Nothing can be lonelier than the thought that no one believes in what you fight for.

To our friends (and relatives) whose endearment we lost, we can only ask for their forgiveness because it is never our intention in The PUNCH to denigrate anyone simply for what a person believes in or what he/she supports. The news and views we write about in The PUNCH are as factual as these can get, our critical views are as knowledgeable as we can be about the truth the citizens speak of.

To those who still doubt where we stand on basic issues about truth and justice, keep reading us to realize that we are as predictable as our communities want us to be.

We look forward to 2015 as another milestone for doing what we think we do best. We only pray we will win more friends who will support our brand of community journalism, and have less friends standing in the way in our reports and views about the good and the bad.

We sincerely wish our readers, advertisers, supporters and friends, a joyous, prosperous year ahead.

To God be the Glory!

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