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MANILA, Philippines -- As Sen Alan Peter Cayetano was raising hell in January over the injustice of unequal allocation of operating expenditures in the Senate, some Taguig City local officials were shaking their heads in disbelief.
Here was someone agitated over some P1.6 million in maintenance and other operating expenditures (MOOE) when his wife, Taguig Mayor Laarni “Lani” Cayetano, was using the same measuring stick against her political rivals. Cayetano should be the last person to talk about fairness and equity, they said.
Consider this: for 2013, the Office of the Vice Mayor and the Office of the Sangguniang Panlunsod (city council) both got a zero budget for their MOOE, the first time it happened, and during an election year at that.
In contrast, Lani's office has an MOOE budget of P266.2 million this year.
This year's zilch budget for MOOE of the local legislature dominated by the opposition was hardly surprising. A slashed budget was first prepared by the Office of the Mayor upon Lani's assumption of office in 2010. So for 2011, the vice mayor office's MOOE allocation was at P3.9 million, while the city council's was at P36.2 million.
In 2012, the allocation further went down to P200,000 for the Office of the Vice Mayor and P1 million for the city council. T
In contrast, the Office of the Mayor’s MOOE allocation in 2011 was at P280.1 million, and at P211.7 million in 2012.
'Look who’s talking'
When Taguig officials saw Cayetano criticizing Enrile for his selective MOOE allocation, they couldn’t agree more with Enrile’s chief of staff Gigi Reyes who described Cayetano as a “hypocrite.”
“Look who’s talking. He should look at his wife’s backyard,” said 2nd district councilor Michelle Gonzales, one of Lani’s vocal critics.
The issue cropped up after Enrile withheld from Cayetano – along with his sister Sen Pia Cayetano, Miriam Defensor Santiago, and Antonio Trillanes IV – an additional P1.6 million in MOOE given to other senators.
The selective appropriation drew the ire of Santiago, who accused Enrile of bribing senators and punishing those who were against him. Cayetano later joined the fray, saying that Enrile bears a personal grudge against him for his anti-Arroyo stance.
Cayetano also dragged Taguig politics into the issue, saying Reyes is closely identified with the Tingas, including one councilor who is Reyes’s sister-in-law – Gonzales. The Tingas were the political rivals of the Cayetanos in Taguig.
In a statement, Lani slammed her political foes for using the MOOE issue as a diversionary tactic “to deflect public attention from mounting evidence indicating their links to organized crime and illegal drug syndicates.” The statement referred to a drug syndicate operating in Taguig whose members are supposedly relatives of the Tingas.
The political landscape in Taguig City has never been as divided as after Lani assumed her post as mayor in 2010. A former Taguig-Pateros congresswoman, Lani, 31, barely edged out retired Supreme Court justice Dante Tinga in the mayoral race. She won by only 2,420 votes.
Her victory threatened the Tingas’ tight grip on Taguig politics. The ex-SC justice had sought to succeed his son, Sigfrido “Freddie” Tinga, who was no longer eligible for re-election, having completed a 3-term tenure as mayor. He is now Taguig City’s 2nd district representative. (In this year’s election, Lani is up against Rica Tinga, the former SC justice’s youngest daughter.)
Lani’s victory, however, was tenuous. Running under the Nacionalista Party (NP), Lani was the sole survivor in the skirmish. Her NP partymates lost in Taguig City’s two districts. Tinga’s Kilusang Diwa ng Taguig (KDT), which entered into an alliance with the Liberal Party (LP) and the National People’s Coalition (NPC), won all 16 seats in the council.
The elected vice mayor, George Elias, is also allied with the Tingas.
Clearly, the newly-elected mayor had the cards stacked against her. She faced the risk of failure, with a belligerent city council still loyal to the Tingas. An opposition-controlled council could frustrate all her programs and make life miserable for her.
But she had had some help from her senator husband.
Bribed with perks?
There is widespread perception that it is actually Sen Cayetano who’s calling the shots in Taguig. After all, he was thrice congressman there (when Taguig-Pateros then was a lone congressional district).
Before this, he was robbed of an election victory when he ran as vice mayor in 1995, with his rival, who was allied with the Tingas, practically serving out his 3-year term. Cayetano was proclaimed the duly elected vice mayor only 10 days before the term expired.
The Tingas and the Cayetanos have a long history of bitter political feuds. It began when the late Sen Renato Cayetano defeated Dante Tinga in the election for assemblyman in 1984.
Weeks after Lani assumed office, Sen Cayetano reportedly met with Taguig councilors one by one to convince them to shift allegiances. Councilors Milagros Valencia and Jeffrey Morales, both from the 2nd district, told Rappler that the senator separately met with them to secure support for his wife.
Based on her recollection, Valencia said she was offered money amounting to millions of pesos to be given yearly, plus P125,000 monthly from a garbage contract in exchange for her support for Lani. Valencia admitted she considered the offer, but rejected it eventually. “I must admit I was tempted, but I decided to stick it out with my party.”
She recalled Cayetano telling her: “Kung saan ka makikinabang, doon ka.”(Side with whoever will give you the most.)
Morales, for his part, met Cayetano in Dusit Hotel in Makati, the senator’s favorite hangout. The senator also offered perks but had a hard time convincing Morales.
When he rejected Cayetano’s offer, he was shocked when the senator told him, “Puwede nyo kaming saktan, puwede rin namin kayong saktan.” (You can hurt us, but we can also hurt you back.) Morales said he was at a loss as to what the senator meant.
Rappler sought to get Cayetano’s side during the launch of his PTK (Presyo, Trabaho, Kita) campaign in Taguig City University on March 13. Twice, he avoided being interviewed. On the third try, Cayetano rattled off complaints, crying foul over an opinion piece published earlier in Rappler. (Read: Money issues hound Cayetanos in the Senate)
The senator walked out, even before this journalist was able to ask a single question.
In a separate interview, Lani argued there was nothing wrong with her husband helping her politically. “What’s wrong with it? We are partners after all. We help out each other.”
The mayor said her political enemies have been trying to pull her down since she assumed office and is no longer surprised about the attacks on her governance. “I refused to be bothered by their issues. I am focused on my work.”
With her husband, Lani was able to secure the support of half the council. Still, the numbers were not enough to hold a majority in the council. With the Vice Mayor, who presides in the council, on her rival's side, the council was still under the control of the opposition. Lani needs at least 10 members of the council to have a majority and a quorum.
Was there a point when the two camps could have set aside politics for Taguig’s sake?
Valencia and Morales said Lani never honored any request from the council for a meeting. Nor did she seek one. “She never gave us the chance to cooperate with her.”
The situation turned for the worse when Lani ordered the closure of the session hall and “evicted” the councilors from their offices, supposedly for renovation purposes. When the councilors refused, the Office of Mayor padlocked the council's session hall.
They filed a case against Lani before the Ombudsman, but this was dismissed. Opposition councilors said they are now holding offices in cramped spaces, while those allied with Lani were able to get back their old offices.
Targeting the Sangguniang Kabataan
Out of the KDT winning bets, 4 has joined Lani in the 1st district and another 4 in the 2nd district. This raised the number of allies in the council to 9, including the newly recruited Taguig Liga ng Barangay president. But this was not enough for a comfortable majority in the council. The opposition also has 9 members in the council, including the Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) president.
(Sixteen councilors are elected, while 2 are ex-officio councilors: the city president of the Liga ng mga Barangay and the Sangguniang Kabataan. -- Ed.)
The solution was to oust Taguig’s SK Federation president Mae Mae Gonzales, daughter of KDT Councilor Michelle Gonzales, and to replace her with Ricardo Cruz, whose father is a former councilor.
Tinga’s KDT camp alleged that the recall election that supposedly ousted the young Gonzales was a sham, as further claimed by SK chairmen in the barangays who were not informed about the alleged recall election.
“It is sad when our politicians politicize the SK. This is a bad example for young people like us who are training to become public servants in the future,” the young Gonzales said. In the meantime, Gonzales is still the one recognized by the SK National Federation and the National Youth Commission.
No reconciliation in sight
For the past 3 years, the legislative branch of Taguig has been one for the books: two divided councils passing ordinances and resolutions with each camp not knowing what the other is doing. “We do not receive copies of their ordinances and resolutions and neither do they [receive copies of ours],” Gonzales said.
The set-up has only given the mayor unbridled power over the purse, backed up by the faction that she controls in the city council, critics say. This also explains the zero MOOE budget for the Vice Mayor and the city council’s office, which hurt the opposition camp most.
In a statement sent to Rappler, city treasurer and legal officer Mar Miranda denied there was a political motive for the zero MOOE budget for the Vice Mayor’s office and the city council. He said “this move was done to address the unbridled and wanton spending of the past administration.”
Miranda said the MOOE has been centralized to key departments “for a thorough house cleaning” and to rationalize the release and monitoring of money. He pointed out that other offices -- like the Business Permits and Licensing Office, Assessor’s Office, Public Information Office, and others -- were also given zero MOOE.
Interviewed at the launch of her husband’s PTK campaign, Lani explained she centralized the system to plug loopholes and possible misuse of public funds. Before the system, there was so much wastage without accountability. For instance, she found out that the Offce of the Vice Mayor had a monthly gas allowance amounting to P500,000.
In a separate interview, Councilor Gami San Pedro, an ally of the Cayetanos, said the centralized system makes sense in the wake of profligate spending under the past administration. “In a way, you control purchase of office supplies and avoid wastage. Can you fault the mayor for having style in appropriating the budget?”
Lani’s political foes say the centralized system only worsened the delivery of basic services, such as health and education. It also allowed Lani to window-dress the city government’s revenues, which dropped since she took office.
In 2012, the approved budget was P4.5 billion. However, critics say the government was only able to collect less than P3 billion for that year. For 2013, the approved budget was P5.3 billion.
Saddled with decreasing income, the city government is actually operating on a deficit, said the local opposition. The approved budget based on higher revenues “was only for PR purposes, just to show the public that there is money when there are none.”
They cited as example the mayor’s move to remove the free lunch that students of Taguig City University (TCU) used to enjoy during Tinga’s time and the sorry state of the Taguig-Pateros District Hospital.
Other signs that the city’s coffers are in dire need include the closure of Serenity Park, a public cemetery which catered to the poor. Established during Tinga’s time, it provided free interment services to the city’s poor. Under Lani, City Hall ordered its closure.
Disputing the allegations, Lani said the city government’s fiscal situation has never been as healthy. “Our collection almost doubled,” she said.
The city government has enough cash to launch its own health and educational programs without resorting to borrowings, she boasted. Right now, the city government plans to put up a new Taguig City hospital using its own funds. Construction too is ongoing for a new building at the Taguig City University (TCU), to be fully funded by the city government.
In comparison, the Tingas left behind an outstanding debt of P320 million for the construction of the TCU. Lani says the city under her administration continues to pay for this debt incurred by her predecessor.
Clearly, the issues raised against the mayor only downplay her achievements, in particular the peace and order situation in the city, Darwin Icay, NP spokesman in Taguig, said.
“Mayor Lani’s hard stance against illegal drugs in the city seems to have provoked an offensive from those who have links with notorious drug syndicates,” Icay said.
Icay was referring to the intensive campaign against alleged drug pushers in the city with alleged ties with the Tingas. Last February, 8 more members of the alleged Tinga drug syndicate were busted during a police raid in a 3-storey apartment in Barangay Sta Ana.
Councilor San Pedro said the councilors allied with the Tingas had wanted the mayor to fail from Day One by obstructing her policies and actions. “That would be a disservice to the people of Taguig. We’d all be losers here. This is why I left them and joined the mayor.” – Rappler.com
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