You see it everywhere on the Internet—critics calling Filipino voters lazy, stupid and ignorant about many of the issues at stake in the last elections. Hence, they say, this person gets elected or reelected despite his or her being this or that.
We get it. But not all voters are entirely clueless. In certain towns, people have actually paid attention to the performance or track record of their candidates.
The people of Pantabangan town in Nueva Ecija, for instance, have paid attention to their politics and they did not like what they saw. In fact, they saw that politics—the wrong kind—was at the heart of all their problems, from the intermittent electricity supply to the town’s bankrupt coffers.
They elected the father-son tandem of Romeo Borja Sr. and Romeo Borja Jr., in the 2010 elections and they grievously paid for their wrong choices.
There are limits to a people’s political ignorance, and very much so to their patience as well.
Their town has been without electricity since March due to debts of the local government-owned Pantabangan Municipal Electric System (Pames), which was under the Borjas’ management. It was the third time electricity was cut off in less than a year. They wondered how this could be so when they have been dutifully paying their power bills. Where did their payments go?
The municipality’s employees are complaining, particularly, about their unremitted contributions to the Government Service Insurance System, Pag-Ibig Fund, and the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. Barangay officials also wonder where do the tax shares of their villages go.
The Commission on Audit has issued report detailing the Borjas’ fiscal mismanagement.
In 2010, COA scored the Pantabangan municipal government for spending more than P51 Million pesos for the payment of wages of ghost employees.
In 2011, COA stated Pantabangan owed unremitted trust liabilities totaling almost P100 million, a clear indication that the collections and remittances from the GSIS, Pag-Ibig Fund, PhilHealth and other mandatory obligations had been misused and/or diverted for other purposes.
The report cited unliquidated cash advances of over P40 million, more than half of which were spent without specific purposes.
All in all, Pantabangan has outstanding liabilities of almost P400 million. Among accounts payable, worth more than P74 million, were debts by the local government-run Pames to First Gen Hydro Power Corp., National Transmission Corp. and National Power Corp.
“What is going on?” the townspeople asked. How can Pantabangan be in such dire straits when it is a first-class municipality with an average net income of at least P55 million a year, which for a municipality with only about 26,000 people should be more than sufficient?
The corruption went beyond merely economic and financial.
Both Mayor Borja and Vice Mayor Borja Jr. have been accused of raping a former teenage beauty contestant in Pantabangan.
Before the latest rape complaint, Borja Jr. already had two rape complaints filed against him last year at the DOJ, one of them also by a pageant winner in the town, and another by a former maid in their household.
Both Borjas have also been spotted frequenting casinos in Manila and have been seen driving around in fancy cars, including a Hummer, which allegedly killed a 13-year-old boy in a roadside accident in Tarlac shortly before the election.
The Borjas live in the Heritage Hotel when they are in Manila, comped by the hotel’s casino for being high rollers. It doesn’t take a genius to guess whose money they’re gambling with.
What happened to the tuwid na daan of President Aquino, the townspeople asked. How can the Borjas be running under the President’s ticket?
Enough is enough, they said. Last elections, the people of Pantabangan booted the Borjas out of power and out of the town they treated as their personal fiefdom and milking cow.
The Pantabangan voters elected Lucio Uera as mayor and Ruben Huerta as vice mayor. Both former mayors, Uera belongs to the Nationalist People’s Coalition while Huerta is a member of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA).
The people of Pantabangan are surely hoping that this time around their local officials would live up to the trust given to them as public servants.
They are hoping that with the Borjas out of power, Pantabangan would also see an end to the corruption, abuses and shenanigans, particularly in the use of public funds.
But the Borjas must still face the music.
Mayor Borja is facing charges before the Ombudsman for possible violations against Republic Act 6713 (the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officers and Employees) and RA 9485 (the Anti-Red Tape Act of 2007).
The Ombudsman should continue its investigation of the Borjas’ various wrongdoings.
The Department of Justice should also pursue the rape complaints filed against the Borjas.
Let this be a lesson to those who are a disgrace to public service, to the antitheses of the President’s matuwid na daan style of governance.
And let the Pantabangan people’s example last election also serve a lesson: yes, we are doomed to get the government we deserve, that is, until we learn to vote better.