Contractor says ‘mambunong’ inspired diggings

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TOURISTS still visit the Bell House and the Amphitheatre, oblivious to the drama unfolding there because of a mysterious tunnel. VINCENT CABREZA/INQUIRER NORTHERN LUZON

BAGUIO CITY—The former Camp John Hay officials, who were sacked for a suspected treasure-hunting operation, were questioned at the National Bureau of Investigation on Thursday, armed with a testimony from a contractor who owned up to the incident.

The services of Ken Aquilet, former vice president of the government-owned John Hay Management Corp. (JHMC), and former administrative manager Peter Garas, were terminated on March 25 by the JHMC board after a company probe confirmed that an unauthorized 15-foot tunnel had been dug under the historic Bell House in the tourism complex.

Jamie Agbayani, JHMC president, said the firm had asked the NBI to start an independent investigation, believing the tunneling operation involved people who were not authorized by the JHMC, based on evidence sent by an informant.

Lawyer Christopher Donaal, counsel of the two sacked officials, said his clients submitted themselves to the NBI inquiry.

But the two men also submitted an appeal to the JHMC board for a review of their case, in light of a notarized affidavit that exonerates them from the treasure-hunting allegations, he said.

JHMC contractor Danilo Lubendino, in his affidavit, said he dug the tunnel at the behest of a ritual priest and the JHMC officials were unaware of his project.

“I am solely responsible for the hole and the purpose for which it was dug … I sincerely apologize to the JHMC for the infraction … My conscience is being bothered, considering that innocent people are being blamed and will suffer the consequence of my action,” he said in the affidavit.

Lubendino described himself as the foreman of a work crew tasked with building an archival and file repository under the Bell House.

But work was stalled by a sewage leak, prompting Aquilet and other officials to commission them to build a new septic tank in December.

“While digging [a tunnel for a] septic tank, I noticed that a portion of the [basement] wall was ‘soft’ and I decided on my own to dig a tunnel to look for the main sewer line,” Lubendino said.

He said Aquilet ordered him to seal the tunnel, which was closed on Dec. 30, 2012, because he feared it endangered the wooden foundations of the building.

“On that day … I noticed that I had a hard time walking and my left leg started to bulge unnaturally. [I was also suffering] dizzy spells. As practiced in our culture, I immediately consulted our mambunong (ritual priest) who told me that I may have disturbed spirits while excavating the septic tank,” he said.

Lubendino said Aquilet, a fellow Cordilleran, allowed him to perform rituals to appease the spirits, but his condition remained unchanged, so the mambunong advised him that something else may be concealed beneath the Bell House. Vincent Cabreza, Inquirer Northern Luzon

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