Monday, January 25, 2021

Beware of crooked contractors, especially this one


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IN the Philippines they are legion.

We are all too familiar with crooked contractors who connive with corrupt politicians to falsely inflate the costs of public works projects so they can line their pockets and get huge kickbacks.

But there are also plenty of crooked contractors who will swindle homeowners and customers of their hard-earned savings, make a mess of their dream homes and their home-improvement projects by doing substandard and overpriced work or by disappearing altogether and not doing anything. And their hapless victims often have very little recourse.

This is the problem with this country. We have so many laws and so many lawyers. Laws are just words on paper if left unimplemented. Swindlers, thieves and cheats in this country know this all too well, and they are emboldened by the slow justice system and the poor implementation of laws and take advantage of the rotten system.

When somebody runs away with your money in one kind of scam or another it is very hard to recover it. The government offers no guaranteed protection. There are no assurances that the law will halt these scams and rip-offs, much more give your investments or hard-earned savings back.

Even Janet Lim Napoles, the brains behind the so-called “pork barrel scam,” was not jailed for plunder or theft or anything to do with her multibillion peso ghost projects scam, but for serious illegal detention charges.

So customers have to be doubly vigilant, and heed the lessons of cautionary tales and mistakes, like this one, which just shows that—just like in pyramid scams—sometimes it is your own friend or relative who will cash in on your misplaced trust or naivete.

This couple inherited a nice townhouse in Quezon City. Instead of selling it, a supposedly good friend of theirs strongly urged that they renovate the townhouse and customize it according to their family’s needs, so they can live in it. She recommended another “friend” who is supposedly a topnotch interior and exterior contractor who can transform the house much like what happens in those TV reality shows like “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”

This contractor “friend” was a certain Josie Bernabe, who together with her husband, Rosauro Bernabe, run an outfit called Muebles de Casa Del Ross. The couple signed a contract for the renovation of their townhouse with this Bernabe for P1.5 million. The deal was just like in the TV shows. They will leave everything in the hands of Bernabe and will be shown their transformed house after two months. The couple paid Bernabe P800,000 up front as downpayment. This was back in 2013.

Remember this contractor. Remember their names. Stay away from them if you don’t want what happened to this couple to happen to you.

What supposedly was a two-month project dragged on for two years, with every kind of excuse thrown at the couple for the shoddy workmanship and unexplained delays—after two years the house had not even been repainted and there was not one worker there when the couple made a surprise visit!

Filled with frustration and anger, the couple had tried to get hold of Josie Bernabe and recover their money. Bernabe conveniently disappeared, supposedly busy with one out-of-town project after another (the couple was told she was in Davao, then Surigao, then some other province doing very high profile projects that no one seemed to have heard of).

The “friend” who assured the couple of the contractor’s honesty and competence was suddenly busy with her own businesses to bother helping them recover their money. Gone with the wind was this friend’s promise and assurance to the couple.

In a nutshell, the supposed renovation or transformation of this couple’s inherited townhouse into their dream home turned into a total disaster, their savings gone.

Like I said, it is never easy when things go seriously wrong and you lose your money. Oh no, not in this country.

All crooked contractors like Bernabe and her cohorts know this. You can sue for breach of contract but good luck getting your money back. Even an honest contractor would probably not refund the money you already paid and would try to work out some kind of deal to make up for your complaint.

A crooked contractor like Bernabe though would just say “catch me if you can”–knowing all too well that the poor hapless customer who she suckered into whatever deal would spend more money on lawyers’ fees in a case that could easily be tied up in courts for years with no hope of a favorable resolution.

This is the reality in this country called the Philippines. Like I said, this is why the crooked and corrupt here are legion. Why every kind of scam and rip-off can exist and why con artists have perfected their game here. We are powerless against these bad people. Government agencies can hardly protect us from them.

The opportunities to steal and cheat in the construction industry are so huge and corruption is so endemic that it has eroded ordinary people’s confidence in a legitimate industry that I am sure has many honest and decent practitioners.

If the government can’t do it, I urge the honest and decent homebuilders and contractors out there to help protect the people. Please help protect your customers and their hard earned savings by ridding your ranks of these rotten rip-off artists.



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