Gerry Ortega must be turning in his graveBy Malou Guanzon-Apalisok
Cebu Daily News
The case of murdered Palawan broadcaster and environment activist Gerardo “Doc Gerry” Ortega took an intriguing turn yesterday when Bishop Pedro Arigo of Puerto Princesa pointed to the royalties in the Malampaya gas project as the real reason Ortega was killed.
I have always been baffled by the murder of Doc Gerry because while hard hitting commentators can be a king size headache to politicians in general, they are not helpless. They can hit back where it hurts media practitioners the most—by slapping them with libel charges or have them kicked out of their jobs.
To cite an example, whether she was maliciously maligned, as claimed by Cebu Gov. Gwen Garcia in the case for libel filed against The Freeman columnist Leo Lastimosa, or not, as Leo pleads, the bottomline is, politicians are not exactly defenseless if what they seek is redress of grievances.
The murder of Doc Gerry on Jan. 24, 2011 or less than eights months after the 2010 elections is number 119 in the list of media men killed since the restoration of democracy in 1986. The culture of impunity is factored in the violent media killings where investigations point only to the triggerman who has no motive at all to kill but ends up in prison while the mastermind goes scot free.
Doc Gerry’s murder invites attention because the alleged masterminds have been identified by the triggerman and by the organizer of the crime. As we know, former governor Joel T. Reyes and his brother, Coron Mayor Mario Reyes are tagged as the brains behind the killing after they were fingered by the gunman and by the slay coordinator, a former marine soldier and bodyguard of the former governor. The Reyes brothers are at large and are said to be hiding in Vietnam.
The other day, Bishop Arigo accused former president and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Arroyo and other Palawan officials of misusing P2.3 billion in profits from the Malampaya gas project. The accusation is based on a report by the Commission on Audit and, from where I sit, the COA report appears to provide the explanation why Doc Gerry had to be silenced.
The Malampaya gas project, according to Web resources compiled by the No To Mining in Palawan refers to the Camago-Malampaya underwater pipeline which is estimated to have 2 to 4 trillion cubic ft. of natural gas and some 85 million barrels of oil and condensates. It stretches from northern Palawan, through the Mindoro coasts and ends up in Tabangao, Batangas province where it powers three electric power plants. The combined power of the plants run by Malampaya produces natural gas at a maximum of 2,700 megawatts, enough to supply 10 percent of the Luzon power grid.
Shell Philippines Exploration B.V. leads the consortium of energy developers in running the project, together with Occidental Philippines Inc. (Oxy) which signed Service Contract 38 in 1998. Chevron and the erstwhile state-owned Philippine National Oil Co. – Exploration Corporation (PNOC-EC) are also part of the consortium. Together they are referred to as SC 38, in reference to the consortium’s signing of Service Contract 38 in 1998.
Palawan’s claim to 40 percent of royalties is being blocked by the issue of territory because the Camago-Malampaya gas field is beyond 15 kilometers (purportedly the operative definition of a local government unit’s territorial boundary). The issue has been raised before the Supreme Court which is set to rule on who owns Malampaya, but instead of waiting for the SC decision, some politicians opted to negotiate with Malacañang in 2008.
The negotiation resulted in the issuance Executive Order 683, the basis of an interim sharing agreement wherein the province of Palawan and Malacañang “will split half of PGP’s 40-percent share while the rest remains in escrow until SC decides with finality.”
The Web resource said not all of the money was released to Palawan, but by the end of 2008, a whopping P2.572 billion was released and was placed under the control of then Gov. Joel T. Reyes and two congressmen, one of them Baham Mitra. The interim agreement as worded in EO 683, turned the Malampaya royalties into pork barrel, or even better since Congress did not have oversight powers over the use of the funds because the Executive issuance that produced the Interim agreement shielded it from scrutiny.
The agreement, according to Bishop Arigo was done secretly but Gerry Ortega learned about it because he was then sitting in the Provincial Board. His attacks against Joel T. Reyes resulted in his defeat in the 2010 congressional elections.
Bishop Arigo presented to the media two reports by the COA which listed numerous infrastructure projects funded by Malampaya royalties amounting to P520 million in the second congressional district of Palawan. The audit body noted that over 100 projects worth P493 million were not posted in the Government Electronic Procurement System site as required by law.
COA also pointed to 36 other projects that were awarded to contractors who were “previously awarded contracts with more or less the same, if not overlapping, periods of execution.”
The most significant part of Bishop Arigo’s presentation is not COA’s listing of anomalous projects, but its recommendation to file administrative charges against erring public officials. The cleric scored COA and urged the Ombudsman to file plunder cases against the former president and concerned Palawan officials.
Indeed, filing administrative charges against those responsible for the misuse of P2.57 billion amounts to a mere slap in the wrist.
Doc Gerry must be turning in his grave.
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- P Noy as chief campaigner
- Race to Cebu City Hall
- Hot weather, hot races
- Dilaab’s quixotic campaign
- David and Goliath in Talisay City