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Bacolod City, Philippines Tuesday, September 10, 2013
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OBO for ‘extortion’

BY CHRYSEE SAMILLANO

The newly-designated head of the Electrical Division of the Office of the Building Official and several other employees were accused by an electrical contractor of allegedly engaging in bribery and extortion activities, during a public hearing at the Bacolod Government Center yesterday.

The hearing was conducted by the Bacolod Sangguniang Panlungsod Committee on Laws, Ordinances and Good Government, headed by Councilor Caesar Distrito.

Antonio Jayme, proprietor of C5 General Services, presented an 18-minute video-taped conversation while they were having cofee with OBO employee Peter Plantillo and Electrical Division head Venancio Baja, who was assigned to the OBO only last month, during the committee hearing.

Jayme claimed that Baja first proposed to charge P200 per application for 30 amperes and P400 per 60 amperes. Since he found it too expensive, Baja agreed to trim the amount to P100 per 30 amperes and P200 per 60 amperes, he said.

Their professional services have been affected by this illegal transaction involving some OBO officials and personnel in connivance with other regular and casual employees and other fixers, Jayme said.

Baja denied the allegations of Jayme that he invited the contractors to a meeting to discuss the matter, saying it was the contractors instead who invited him to have coffee, and he was not aware that they had the hidden intention to video tape their conversation.

During an interview, Baja said that the contractors tried to bribe him to hasten their application with the OBO, but he refused to accept their offer.

“They do not want us to inspect but just approve their application which I cannot allow,” he claimed, adding that he really inspects the applications before he signs them.

Baja also said he is experienced and had been doing the job when he was still assigned to the City Engineer’s Office. But he said he was placed on floating status during the Leonardia administration and assigned to the Bacolod Traffic Authority Office. It was Mayor Monico Puentevella who restored him so he could perform his job again, he said.

He added that if fixers exists, it is because the contractors are tolerating them.

Jayme said he will not make an exposé only to destroy the name of Baja and others involved. They want the truth to come out since OBO is no longer functioning legitimately as mandated by law, he said.

“DEMONIC” OR “LEGIT”

Jayme said their clients have been asking how long will their application for an electrical permit be approved so he gives them two choices, which are, if they want the "demonic" or “legitimate” transaction.

He said a “demonic” transaction will take three days for an application to be approved but this will involve "grease money." A legitimate application will take three weeks, he said.

Jayme said the practice has been existing since 1995 when he started transacting with the OBO, but this time, it has become “unbearable.”

Acting OBO head Isidro Sun Jr., who was also only recently assigned by Puentevella to the position, admitted that OBO and other government offices are surrounded by people who engage in so-called "sidelines." He claimed he has already initiated “reforms” in the office.

He said fixers exist from the lobby of the Government center up to the offices concerned, and that since he
assumed office on July 10, he has given instruction that the office will no longer entertain electrical permit application without official receipt from the City Treasurer's Office.

Distrito said he told the complainant to reduce his complaint into an affidavit so the investigation will not only be in aid of legislation, but can proceed to appropriate legal action.

He said he does not want his committee to be a venue to prosecute or even subject OBO officials and personnel concerned to trial by publicity, especially because many have been implicated.

Jayme said he will consult his lawyer on the matter, but he hopes his expose' will lead to a positive result so those who will apply for a permit at the OBO will only have to pay the legal and legitimate fees and the electrical contractor can also preserve their professional services as they are supposed to be contracted by the applicant to sign their electrical permit.

But what happens now is that OBO is accepting the application and an electrical contractor is just paid P50 to P100 per application, he said.

Jayme said he is now worried about the pending applications they have with OBO, as to whether these will still be approved or not.

Distrito said the people mentioned by Jayme also have their rights that should be respected as the allegations against them are so serious that he believes they require a thorough investigation.

He said he will recommend measures that will lead to more transparent transaction at the OBO by posting anti-red tape measures such as a system flow chart and the activation of the closed circuit television (CCTV) at the OBO to monitor their day-to-day activities.

Present during the committee hearing were Councilor El Cid Familiaran, City Legal Officer Sarah Villamor, some department heads and officials of the OBO.*CGS

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