The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in Central Visayas has arrested a Cebu City government employee for alleged extortion of vendors at the Carbon Public Market.
NBI Central Visayas said in a statement that Kara Marie Bargamento, an Administrative Aide III and the person in charge in the Market Operation Division of the Carbon Freedom Park Market, allegedly “sold and demanded” at least P100,000 each from vendors in exchange for securing a slot at the redeveloped Carbon Market.
She was arrested on Friday, November 26.
The NBI said Bargamento told Carbon Market vendors that the payments would guarantee them a space in a prime location in the redeveloped and modernized market.
Cebu City’s Restoration, Order, Beautification, and Enhancement (PROBE) had already initiated a separate investigation into the illegal activities even before a complaint reached the regional NBI.
PROBE Officer-in-Charge Raquel Arce and market supervisor Marigen Diano said in their sworn statement that at least 50 vendors had made transactions with Bargamento.
“Bargamento has facilitated and continues to facilitate the issuance of the Certificate of Award which gives stall rights and the right of occupancy to the would-be displaced vendors in exchange for the exorbitant fee,” NBI Central Visayas said.
NBI Central Visayasagents said they were able to obtain video footage of Bargamento asking a vendor for the said amount.
“In the said clip, the vendor can be heard pitifully negotiating to bring down the amount to P80,000 but Bargamento was adamant in declaring that the sum to be paid is P100,000,” NBI Central Visayas said.
Aside from the video, NBI Central Visayas said that they established that Bargamento used her position in the city government for the scheme.
“(She) used her office to request, receive and benefit from a transaction entered between her (in her official capacity as Officer in Charge of the Market Operation Division) and the vendors of Carbon Freedom Park market and Warwick Barracks market,” NBI Central Visayas said.
Asked about the incident, City Market Administrator Irvin Cabales, whose name and signature appeared on the certificates issued by Bargamento to the vendors, told Rappler: “I understand that the case is filed in court, let the legal experts do their job on the merits of this case.”
He added, “And besides, I have not formally talked with the accused regarding this matter.”
Megawide: No reservation fees charged for stalls
On the developer’s side, Cebu2World Development Inc. (C2W) Director Cristina Angan told Rappler that they could not comment on the case since Bargamento is not their employee.
C2W is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Megawide Construction Corporation.
Angan said, however, that they couldn’t verify the authenticity of the certificates that bore the companny’s name that were issued by Bargamento because they have not seen the documents and they were “not signed by the company’s representative.”
“We emphasize that C2W does not ask for any reservation fees from vendors to secure their stalls in Carbon and we will continue to comply with the City’s clear direction to accommodate all registered vendors as of the 2020 master list,” Angan told Rappler.
The Cebu City Council passed a resolution on Thursday, November 25, asking Megawide to furnish a master list of vendors who would be affected by the construction of the new Carbon Market because they were unable to get this list from the market administrator.
“[It is] to make sure that if the project will materialize, regardless of whoever will be in the city (government) or the elected officials, these vendors will be assured of their livelihood,” Councilor Nestor Archival, the sponsor of the resolution, said during the session.
In response, Angan told Rappler that the list is the city government’s responsibility and not Megawide’s.
Archival said that the list should have come directly from Cabales, but the council has been unable to get the information from him since September.
“This is a clear indication that they have something to hide,” Archival said.
Cabales denied his agency is hiding anything.
“There’s nothing to hide because the list originally came from the vendors’ organization,” Cabales said.
“We need to check with the barangay and Cebu City United Vendors Association to verify if they are legitimate vendors,” Cabales added, saying that it would take more time to check the thousands of vendors individually.
The NBI is urging vendors who may have been extorted by the suspect to come forward and file a complaint.
The scam was uncovered as multiple vendors organizations continue to oppose the redevelopment project, worried that they could be displaced and lose their livelihood.
According to activists and opponents of the project, 5,000 to 6,000 vendors could be displaced. – Rappler.com
Art Lubiano is a Visayas-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship.