BUTUAN CITY, Agusan del Norte, Philippines — Supporters of Mayor Ferdinand Amante (Liberal Party) held a motorcade Sunday to decry allegations by his challenger in the May elections that the city government declared a heavy equipment still in good running condition as “unserviceable” and sold it scrap.
Amante’s supporters went to rival Jose Aquino’s headquarters, carrying tarpaulins bearing pictures of what they said was the fake bulldozer Aquino had been using in his smear campaign. They also had pictures of the original bulldozer that was auctioned off in 2011.
Aquino is challenging the reelectionist Amante in next month’s elections, and the mayor’s supporters said the bulldozer controversy was a product of Aquino’s “mudslinging, dirty tactics, and black propaganda against Amante.”
Carrying portable speakers, Amante’s supporters also took turns in lambasting Buenavista town mayoralty candidate Norberto Pagaspas for “conniving with Aquino in displaying the said bulldozer, which they passed off as the original dozer.”
Norberto Pagaspas is the one who bought the piece of heavy equipment from Emmanuel Vacalares, whose ESV Trading Co. won the local government auction for its “unserviceable” heavy equipment and service vehicles in 2011.
Pagaspas is also an LP member like Amante.
Pagaspas claimed he was totally unaware of the circumstances surrounding the equipment, and had refused to use the machine when he discovered that it was “fraudulently” obtained by ESV Trading.
He has used a vacant lot beside his radio station as a display area for the controversial Caterpillar bulldozer along J.C. Aquino Avenue.
According to government records seen by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the auction yielded an estimated 874,000 kilograms of scrap iron, sold at P2 per kilogram. Pagaspas pointed out that the average price of scrap iron at the time was P18.
At P2 per kilo, the local government earned around P1.7 million. It would have earned some P15.7 million had the average buying price of P11 per kilo been applied.
The auction was a subject of a 2011 graft case at the Ombudsman, which accused Butuan City’s chief of general services, Gemma M. Reserva, of maliciously declaring as “unserviceable” the auctioned heavy equipment and service vehicles.
But Amante, in a press release sent to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, pointed to documents from the Motorpool Division of the City Engineer’s Office dating back to the late 1980s, showing that the original bulldozer auctioned off was donated to the Butuan City government in 1976, and was already four years old at the time of donation.
Pagaspas countered that the bulldozer that he had bought could not have been fake, and challenged Amante’s camp to produce the original equipment, “instead of pictures that can easily be doctored.”
He noted that the D6C Caterpillar bulldozer was only one of the 80 equipment and service vehicles disposed of during the 2011 auction.
But Amante’s camp argued that “prior to the sale of scrap items by the city government, the items were first inspected and assessed by the General Services Office (GSO).”
“All unserviceable items, which included the Caterpillar D6C Bulldozer with serial number 69J268 were declared as unserviceable, as indicated in the Inventory and Inspection Report of Unserviceable Property,” it added.
This report, it said, was then to be submitted to the Office of the Supervising Auditor of the COA for inspection, verification, and endorsement.
Documents obtained by the Inquirer show the public auction was favorably endorsed by COA, as per their Second Endorsement dated March 30, 2011.
The endorsement signed by Andrew Roble, State Auditor IV, stated the total appraisal value of all scrap items was P1.73 Million, and that they have “conducted inspection on each and every property listed therein and recommended disposition thereof in accordance with Section 79 of Presidential Decree No. 1445.”
Amante said his rival should focus on platforms and not resort to black propaganda.
“We want Butuan to move forward, to develop as a highly urbanized city. Thus, the debate should be on our platforms to achieve this. We should not resort to political distortions and black propaganda to sway voters,” Amante said in a statement.