By Patrick Roxas
THE Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) is one government agency hounded by problems in the past days.
The agency is so worried and apparently alarmed of the problem that no less than its Chair Felicito Payumo of SBMA was compelled to send a letter to Executive Secretary Alberto Romulo to consider the situation.
The reason for SBMA’s concern is the appointment of a member of the agency’s 15-member board has reportedly expired.
This poses a problem to Payumo since there are two recent Malacañang appointees recommended by his political rival (the Gordons, who else!) waiting on the wings to assume the posts.
The two, Jimmy Mendoza and Edralino Cajudo, were only prevented from assuming seats in the board because of an injunction issued by the Court of Appeals (CA) upon petition filed by members of the board who are being replaced.
One of these two appointees, however, may just find himself sitting as one of the directors if the CA suddenly lifts the injunction order.
I am talking here of Jimmy Mendoza, a high-profile spokesman and ally of the Gordons in their numerous confrontations with Payumo. Mendoza is also allegedly behind labor unrest among companies inside the Subic Bay Freeport Zone.
Payumo, in his letter to Secretary Romulo dated March 5, seeks among others, a withdrawal of the appointment of Mendoza and the other Gordon recommendee, Cajudo, the husband of Vice Mayor Cynthia Cajudo of Olongapo.
SBMA is particularly concerned with Mendoza as no less than Payumo’s labor manager described Mendoza as actively involved in organizing labor unions inside the Freeport and has ties with militant organization Kilusang Mayo Uno.
Payumo fears that should the court eventually lift the injunction and with the term of one or two members of the board expired, or expiring soon, he faces a scenario where the SBMA has a member of the board actively pushing for labor unrest.
Atty. Severo Pastor, Payumo’s man in the SBMA labor department,cited in a recent report Mendoza’s leading participation in the organizing of the union at the Malaysian-owned resort-casino operator Legend International Resorts, Ltd.
Pastor also alleged in his report to Payumo that Mayor Gordon, Mendoza and certain Roger Felarca and Joel Tabares, respective union presidents of Subic Apparel and Freeport Service Corp., met at the Marikit Park two weeks ago. At the meeting, Mendoza reportedly asked the permission of the city mayor to intensify union organizing inside the Freeport with the KMU.
Payumo’s concern appears legitimate considering the long-running feud between the two leaders, and serious enough and worth looking into especially as the reported intention was to disrupt the industrial peace prevailing in Subic.
At a time when most of our people are deeply engaged in divisive politics and Subic is among the few economic zones in the country contributing positively economic growth, labor unrest is the least we want to happen here as too often it results in a “lose-lose” situation.
It’s not that we would just allow our workers to be abused and exploited by foreign and local capitalists, but I believe there are more sensible and productive ways to achieve mutually advantageous labor and management relations and to settle labor disputes.
The establishment of Labor Management Councils (LMCs) in different companies located at the freeport zone is one such vehicle. SBMA should actively pursue this initiative—pushing the establishment of LMCs in other Subic-based companies so that workers’ grievances can be addressed without resorting to strikes.
The best way the SBMA can deal with its current worry, ensure Freeport workers have a forum to air their grievances and complaints, and initiate mediation with management of companies involved in labor dispute to keep industrial harmony here.
Also, SBMA’s fear may be unfounded as I heard the director whose term expired last week will be reappointed by Malacañang.
What the SBMA should immediately tackle are the actuations of one of its key officials, who are not only showing inconsistency in performing his job but as his recent acts manifest, appears to have a personal interest in the scrap-metal business inside the economic zone.
On February 22 this year, the SBMA Law Enforcement Department chief Col. Antonio de Guzman ordered his men to flag down and impound an Isuzu Elf truck with plate number AUS-277 as this vehicle was, according to him, engaged in illegal scrapping activities inside the zone.
A 59-year-old woman went to me two weeks ago asking if I could help her in getting back the truck which she said, was the family’s only source of income. Apparently, the SBMA wants them to pay P8,960 in fines before releasing the truck.
Rosa Dayag and her husband, I learned, are very active members of the Couple for Christ Movement in Olongapo, and lives a simple life from the earnings they get from the truck which she said, was bought from the savings they made when her husband worked abroad.
The truck, I learned, was empty when intercepted by security officers at a crossing and was on its way out of the Freeport. It has been impounded since then.
I tried to contact Col. de Guzman after my conversation with Dayag and sought information about the violation slapped on the truck. He told me the truck was used to get scrap metal from a company in Cubi Point and brought and unloaded these scrap metals at the yard beside Magellan’s Landing, located near the El Paso pier, and more or less some five to ten minutes drive away from each other.
He said he personally saw this and that his car was even alongside the truck at one time as it traversed the Argonaut highway in the Freeport.
Col. de Guzman said there were two questions he wanted answered: why the truck was hauling scrap metal from Cubi and unloading it at Magellan’s and doing it without the required accreditation from SBMA.
I was wondering, if he is telling me the truth, why then didn’t he, the highest security official in SBMA, arrest the truck while it was loading the scrap metal, at the highway, and while unloading at the Magellan’s Landing area, or even just called his men at that time to apprehend the truck instead of detaining it without the load evidence of illegal scrapping in the freeport zone.
A memo issued by the SBMA Legal Department on March 1, 2004, said a certain Elena Belgira, the scrap hauler who rented Dayag’s truck, admitted she was using the truck in illegal scrapping activities.
When I talked to her, however, Belgira denied Col. de Guzman’s allegations, saying she indeed was a scrap hauler from Olongapo who bought scrap metals from the junk yard of a certain Jorge Escalona located at Magellan’s Landing. She insisted the transaction was legal because the sale of the scrap metal was done by a certain Liza Danan of Roland’s Junk Shop, an SBMA accredited scrap hauler.
Belgira said since she was not yet accredited to do business with SBMA, she asked the help of Roland Junk Shop, to facilitate the deal with Escalona. She said everything was in order and they have already paid the fees to the SBMA Seaport Department, the Bureau of Customs, and was in the process of paying the Procurement and Property Department of the SBMA when that office refuse. It told her Escalona owes the SBMA a huge amount in unpaid rentals and all his property is already forfeited in favor of the SBMA. This means, she was told, she cannot pull out the scrap metal she bought from Escalona’s yard worse she may not be able to get back the P120,000 she had paid Escalona.
When the transaction could not be consummated, according to Belgira, the truck of the Dayag’s meant to transport the scrap metal out of the Subic Freeport was told to go and leave. It was on its way out of the Freeport empty when apprehended by SBMA security officers, she added.
Again, while I’m trying my damnedest best to believe there is sincerity in telling that the SBMA cannot allow Belgira to get the scrap metal because she bought it from Escalona, who is no longer allowed to do business with his unpaid account, I am jolted by the fact that so many companies inside the Subic Freeport have accumulated huge arrears not only on their lease rentals but even on the use of electricity. However, they remain operational to this day.
Also, if the SBMA says there was a violation on the part of Belgira and the truck owner because they used the accreditation of another firm, why was the truck the only party asked to pay a fine as penalty? Why were Escalona, the seller of the scrap metal and Roland Junk Shop, the SBMA-accredited firm not fined?
The truth is, SBMA is moving at turtle’s pace in its effort to make these delinquent companies pay. As a result, accounts of these delinquent firms continue to pile up. I am aware of this fact because I have in my possession a document identifying these firms and how much they owe SBMA.
The question is, why is Col de Guzman so interested in stopping small time scrap haulers like Belgira that he’d be able to follow her truck loading alleged illegal cargo from far away Cubi Point, unload it in Magellan’s Landing,but is unable to monitor and apprehend those who took millions of pesos worth of bomb-proof metal doors of ammunition bunkers at the highly restricted Naval Magazine area or stop luxury car smugglers. These smugglers continue bringing out these vehicles out of the gates without paying taxes.
He is not even paying attention to the practice of some motor vehicle importers who are no longer using tow trucks to move imported right hand drives from the pier to their respective yards, and instead use drivers to actually transport these RHDs because it is much cheap.
Just reminding you Sir, this is not only irregular but is posing serious danger to other motorists inside the freeport zone.
If Col. de Guzman cannot accomplish more important tasks like those mentioned and focuses his effort on catching small fries and even frightens small businessmen from doing business in Subic, there is reason to worry.
Maybe it’s time again for Payumo to replace the head of his security force