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The consequences of Baliligate

/ 10:34 AM July 23, 2012

Baliligate has finally caught up with Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia who is facing two counts of graft and one for technical malversation before the Sandiganbayan. The cases stemmed from the purchase by the provincial government of the 24.9-hectare Balili beachfront property in 2008 valued at more than P99 million. The timeline  the transaction can be traced to 2007 when then Provincial Board Member Juan Bolo presented to Garcia a proposal to purchase the lot in barangay Tinaan, Naga, owned by Romeo Balili and spouse.

The transaction invited public scrutiny not only because of the unseemly interest shown by Bolo in brokering the transaction, but also because of the noise created by environmentalist groups critical of the setting up of a coal-fired power plant in the area.  The Korean Electric Power Corp. (Kepco) had reportedly favored an area near the sea to serve the plant’s cooling system, but reports that coal ash would be dumped in the Balili property triggered public backlash and media attention.

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As expected, criticisms and suspicions rained over Capitol when it approved the purchase because a report by the Technical Working Group found that parts of the land turned out to be submerged.  Apparently, the Provincial Board didn’t want to cross the governor at that time because despite the lack of due diligence, the legislative body passed a resolution authorizing her to pay for the property.  The lack of available funds would have sacked the plan, but the province went ahead by using funds allocated for the provincial site development and housing program.

In 2009, Governor Garcia expressed a public apology over the “fiasco” but insisted that she was misled by certain Capitol officials including Juan Bolo.  For his part, Bolo said he merely facilitated the transaction on orders of the governor and in so far as the submerged parts of the property are concerned, merely relied on the report of the appraisal committee.

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In sum, danger was written all over the Balili lot purchase but government officials ignored the warning signs that in hindsight show that the venture was a case of “mounting the tiger.”

The phrase is said to have been originally lifted from a Chinese proverb translated as, “He who rides the tiger is afraid to dismount,” or plainly speaking, it is easy to get on the tiger but very difficult to get off without incurring danger to oneself.  Another rough interpretation of the proverb according to Internet resource says, “Once a dangerous or troublesome venture is begun, the safest course is to carry it through the end.”

The timing of the filing of graft charges against Governor Garcia dealt a blow to her final State of the Province Address last week. The Sopa ended with the formal announcement of her inclusion in the senatorial line-up of the United Nationalist Alliance, an offshoot of One Cebu’s alliance with the national opposition party. Governor Garcia is supposed to lead the charge for UNA in the province but with the graft charges hounding her, I’m not sure if she can rally the Cebuanos behind her Senate bid, let alone consolidate the Cebuano vote for UNA.

UNA leaders Vice President Jejomar Binay, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and former president Joseph Estrada all came to Garcia’s defense but in the ground level, the prospects are not at all encouraging.   Two weeks ago, the Liberal Party scored a major victory by getting the support of the family of Danao City Vice Mayor Ramonito Durano, acknowledged as the political boss in the fifth district.

A week later, 1st district Rep. Eduardo Gullas hinted that he brokered the alliance between LP and the Nacionalista Party, which is in alliance with the Gullas-led party, Alayon.  As we know, Gullas controls the first district. He and Durano supported Garcia in previous gubernatorial elections.

Last week, more One Cebu stalwarts from the sixth district decamped from the Garcia party to the LP, a sign that One Cebu is cracking up, or maybe even headed for collapse.

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TAGS: Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia, Graft
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