“If vice and corruption prevail, liberty cannot subsist; but if virtue have the advantage, arbitrary power cannot be established.” ALGERNON SIDNEY
By Alex P. Vidal
When the furor over the “medicine scam” erupted in 2001, Janiuay, Iloilo Mayor Frankie Locsin, then president of the League of Municipalities–Iloilo Chapter, shrugged off the issue and insisted that his role was only “ministerial” even if he was the one who approved the contract of the P15-million worth of medicine purchases.
No less than former Iloilo Vice Governor Obet Armada, a former vice mayor of Janiuay, had expressed concern over the issue because it involved a gargantuan amount for the first-class municipality with a population of 63,031.
The vice governor did not say that Locsin was guilty, but he believed there was a need for Locsin and other parties concerned to address the issue squarely. “If everything is above board, they have nothing to fear,” hissed Armada, who has never been linked to any anomaly during his entire years in public service.
Many Janiuaynons found the issue embarrassing and wanted Locsin to put an exclamation point on it.
While media critics and political enemies ribbed Locsin over the issue in blocktime radio programs, the mayor maintained his cool and did not run away from the topic even in coffee shop discussions.
“The papers are there. They are always welcome to scrutinize them,” assured Locsin, one of the most loyal allies of Gov. Art Defensor Sr. in the third district of Iloilo.
Former mayor, Dr. Bienvenido Margarico, Locsin’s perennial rival in the mayoral contest, revived the issue on the controversial medicine purchase deal, which was funded by the countrywide development fund (CDF) of Sen. Vicente “Tito” Sotto, when he toppled Locsin during the 2007 elections.
The Commission on Audit (COA) disallowed the deal even if Janiuay served as conduit of the medicine purchases.
When the Office of the Ombudsman conducted an investigation, it found out that there was supposedly a bidding for the medicines on January 15, 2001 participanted by AM Europharma Corp., Mallix Drug Center and Philpharmawealth Corp.
The hullabaloo worsened when Philpharmawealth denied any participation in any bidding related to the deal.
The Ombudsman noticed an apparent haste in the process after a P1.7-million purchase contract was awarded to Mallix Drug Center while AM Europharma was awarded with a P13.1-million contract. Records showed Locsin approved the contracts and the medicines were immediately delivered the following day, January 16, 2001.
The Ombudsman noted that on January 17, 2001, the purchases were fully paid after inspection by Supply Officer II Gabriel Billena.
The heads of the AM Europharma Corp. and Mallix Drug Center were one and the same — Rod D. Villanueva, further raising questions on the propriety of the transaction, it was further discovered by the Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman confirmed that Villanueva was the sole proprietor of Mallix Drug Center and also the general manager and president of AM-Europharma.
The order of the Office of the Ombudsman in 2011 handing a six-month preventive suspension against Locsin and four officials of Janiuay: Executive Assistant Ricardo Minurtio, Municipal Budget Officer Ramon Tirador, Municipal Accountant Carlos Moreno Jr. and Municipal Treasurer Luzviminda Figueroa came 10 years after the complaint was filed against the respondents. Locsin was spared the ax under the Aguinaldo Doctrine, where a public official facing administrative raps gets a wipe-your-slate clean ledger if he gets re-elected, the same doctrine that saved Mandaue City Mayor Thadeo Ouano.
Thirteen years after the imbroglio, the Sandiganbayan 1st Division finally handed a 90-day preventive suspension order against Locsin.
Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Region 6 office Iloilo Provincial Director Teodora Sumagaysay confirmed that the order was served by her office on February 3. Vice Mayor Joseph Anthony Lutero immediately assumed as acting mayor.
Locsin deserves to be given his day in court despite the suspension order.