Under-the-table transactions within Cebu City Hall?
CEBU CITY, Philippines — A revelation shocked members of the Cebu City Council during their regular session on October 13, 2021, when developer, Ben Aratea, revealed possible corruption in the City Hall.
Aratea was invited to the Council after he wrote to Councilor Nestor Archival, the minority floor leader, lamenting how the city government turned his offer away of opening a more than 1-kilometer road from Barangay Pardo to Barangay Toong, which he had been working for some time now.
The developer had been issued a cease and desist order from the City Environment and Natural Resources (CENRO) for operating on the said road opening without a permit.
The city instead awarded the project to a private contractor for P149 million, an amount that Councilor Archival said was too much.
With Aratea’s claims that he was offering the city a free-of-charge road opening in the said area, Archival questioned the budget for the awarded contract and why the city has not considered Aratea’s offer to save a portion of the allocated budget.
Yet Aratea’s appearance became controversial when he admitted in the City Council that he had made under-the-table transactions with city officials in hopes of getting his project through.
“Wrote a letter wanting to build a road for free…Ako ang niduol sa ilaha (CENRO) kay gusto ko mangayo og disposal permit. Pag-adto nako sa CENRO, akong giuban akong pag-umangkon, girefer mi niya kang Jaypee Labella, the son of the mayor, and giignan ko ni Jaypee Labella nga adto ta sa balay ni (MCWD chairperson Lawyer Joey) Daluz, kay siyay in charge ani.”
“Didto mi sa ka Daluz. Niingon si Jaypee Labella nako nga, ‘tay, nagkinahanglan si City Administrator Floro Casas, Jr og P100,000.’ Niingon akong pag-umangkon nga di ba pwede P50,000 lang usa,” said Aratea.
Aratea further claimed that Daluz, who allegedly has properties in Toong, had asked for a payment of P500 per truckload for the road opening construction since it will affect a portion of his property.
The developer claimed that he has paid the CENRO heads a total of P250,000 in an under-the-table transaction, and even paid for the hospitalization of City Legal Officer Rey Gealon’s late mother.
Councilor Raymond Garcia, the majority floor leader, warned Aratea that his statements were libelous and could get him in trouble, but the developer said he is firm in his words.
Watch Aratea’s testimony to the City Council in the link below starting time stamp 03:32:00 onwards:
The council encouraged him to file a case against all individuals he mentioned or issue a sworn affidavit so his statements could be used in court.
City Administrator Floro Casas, Jr., denied the allegations that he made illegal transactions with Aratea as he told CDN Digital in a phone interview that he has never met this man.
“Wa gyod koy transaction aning Ben Aratea. I don’t even know him. As far as I remember, kami gani ang nagpasira ana iyang quarry diha sa Pardo,” said Casas.
The City Administrator said he has never asked for money from the city’s clients. He also assured that even CENRO does not undertake illegal transactions as well.
For him, the allegations of Aratea could only be a political device to undermine Barug- PDP Laban’s candidates as Gealon and Labella who are both running for a seat in the council.
“Coming from a person nga gipaclose namo ang illegal quarry, di gyod ka kaexpect og maayo gikan niya.”
“I think ba he was produced dinha sa council gikan sa among mga kaatbang sa pulitika to damage our candidates,” said Casas.
He questioned why Aratea did not file a case in court instead of declaring the allegations in the City Council.
Casas said he will be taking legal actions against Aratea for dragging his name and reputation over allegations without grounds.
City Lawyer Gealon said in an official statement that Aratea has disrespected the memory of his late mother.
“I swear on my mother’s grave, I did not do anything that would besmirch her good name. This smacks of dirty politics,” he said.
The city lawyer claims that the opposition councilor had allowed the allegations to be declared in the Council as a way to undermine his candidacy.
“Just allowing these hasty and sweeping allegations in the Sanggunian where I am vying for a seat, conveniently perpetrated by some of the opposition councilors through prejudicial, unfair, speculative, vague, argumentative, leading, and opinionated questions in the guise of “citizen’s hour”, is malicious enough,” said Gealon.
He notes that the City Legal Office has no hand in the issuance of a cease and desist order by CENRO.
“Clearly, what they wanted is for me to be tried, with hearsay and libelous statements, in the bar of public opinion where I cannot avail of my rudimentary right to due process.”
“I will definitely take legal action for I cannot allow our name, no matter how poor and lowly others perceived it to be, as mere collateral damage of political crossfire,” he added.
Daluz and Labella are yet to respond to queries made by CDN Digital.
CENRO heads were not available for comment as well.
Aratea said in the Council that he is not afraid to face the consequences of his statements as all his statements were true.
“I am ready to face the consequences,” said Aratea. /rcg
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