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[ Davao City ] Councilors deny fleecing housing firms

Wednesday, April 15, 2009 [ sunstar.com.ph ]

DAVAO CITY -- Four city councilors here defended themselves against allegations of fleecing subdivision developers in exchange for the approval of subdivision permits.

Vice Mayor Sara Z. Duterte confirmed Monday that there are indeed some councilors who are fleecing property developers who have pending permit applications at the City Council.

The issue stemmed from a text message from the so-called "Anti-Graft League Davao" alleging that a group of four councilors in this city identified as "LBDM" are preying on subdivision developers.

While no other clues were given as to the identity of the councilors, four whose surnames start with "LBDM" stood up in Tuesday's council session to defend themselves: councilors Peter Laviña, Conrado Baluran, Danilo Dayanghirang and Diosdado Angelo Mahipus.

Mahipus and Dayanghirang took the rostrum and spewed denials, saying the accusations are politically motivated.

However, it was Laviña who appeared to be so perturbed by the events that he immediately resigned as member of the committee on housing, rural and urban development.

"I have been a member of the committee on housing, rural and urban development since 2001. Not once, and let me repeat that, not once did I mulct, ask, extort money or favor in consideration of my vote in the committee report, as well as in the approval of any subdivision permit by the City Council," Laviña said.

He added: "It is very easy to verify my claim as well as those of this shadowy group. Please ask housing and subdivision owners and developers in the city if I have been involved in this kind of activity."

Intrigues

Laviña also hit the Anti-Graft League Davao that has been circulating the text messages regarding the councilors.

"Shadowy groups as this self-styled Anti-Graft League Davao surface just before every election. Its aim is not really anti-graft and corruption. But rather, in this election season, its aims to sow intrigues, target individual politicians, engage in character assassinations, and create political chaos to hide its true intentions," Laviña said.

"Unfortunately, I am no longer running. So, I am sorry for those wishing to destroy me. They will find it hard to put a good man down. Let this be a signal to those who want to destroy me that they are actually destroying their own selves. In pointing a finger on me, they are actually directing the real dirty finger on themselves," he added.

Return to sender

Housing committee chair Arnolfo Ricardo Cabling, in his privilege speech, however, admitted to being handed P300,000 in an envelope but said he returned it to sender upon the instructions of Vice Mayor Duterte.

He did not say from whom the money came from and for what. He also did not say what property development his committee was working on when the money was given.

It was the vice mayor who confirmed that there are indeed councilors who are personally asking money from developers in exchange for favors but did not name them.

Councilor Conrado Baluran, who did not rise for a privilege speech, however, issued a statement through a text message.

"I am not a member of that committee. And assure you that no one in the developers sector has been seen or talked to me because I'm focused on the food sufficiency program of the city," Baluran said.

Probe sought

Councilor Teresita Mata-Marañon said despite the denials, it is better to conduct investigation on the matter.

"It is not only something that our leader, the vice mayor, has heard but it is something that she has confirmed," Marañon reminded her colleagues.

"It is very disheartening because it gave an impression that some councilors are 'mukhang pera'. That was a big insult to the City Council but to me, what is personally consoling is that our reputation precedes us. Even the investors and I guess the people of Davao already have an idea who among us is capable and vulnerable. To be fair to all, this should be investigated," Marañon said.

Revamp

Councilor Leonardo Avila III, on the other hand, called the event as a "tsunami" that hit the City Council but urged his colleagues to "look at it square in the eye" by facing the issue responsibly.

"A storm is coming. We had so many in the past and have survived it. But this is not just a simple storm. No amount of denial can correct a wrong but if you are right, no amount of destruction will affect you," Avila said.

With this, Avila moved to have all positions declared vacant and have a revamp.

Dayanghirang proposed to include his position as floor leader. This was accepted by the majority.

Avila said the move will give the vice mayor and the agencies, such as the office of the Ombudsman and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), a free hand to investigate the allegations.

Futile probe

However, Councilor Victorio Advincula said the exercise is futile, as investigations don't get anywhere.

"I have been in the City Council for almost 25 years and have been subjected to such investigations but there has been no result of any kind," Advincula said.

Vice Mayor Duterte earlier said that no legal action may be done against the councilors as nobody among the developers is willing to testify.

Dayanghirang, who attributes the text messages to persons he named only as "Roger B." and "Mark M.", moved to have these men included in the investigation. (Grace L. Plata/Sun.Star Davao/Sunnex)

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