In the tradition of the great whistle-blowers of recent Philippine history like retired Lingayen Archbishop Oscar Cruz, whose on-going and unrelenting crusade against jueteng or the illegal numbers game in Luzon, has made him a household name, Mark has not only revealed instances of his alleged personal experiences and encounters with corrupt local government officials and functionaries but has even gone further by actually naming names and specifically identifying these individuals.
Mark, of course, for those new to this blog, is an American national who is married to a local girl and who has made the decision to live here and do whatever he can to help improve the poor living conditions and desperate economic situation in what has become his adopted community. He has been for some two years or so been trying to set up some business investments in Barangay St. Christine some 8 or so kilometers north of Lianga which he felt would not only generate much needed employment but could also provide the economic stimulus that could help jumpstart what remains largely a moribund local economy. He writes passionately about his experiences in his own blog (see Barangay St. Christine blog).
These investments include a mini-sawmill, a gasoline station and a mini-ice plant among other things. It was in the process of acquiring clear title for the land needed for a location for these enterprises that Mark began to describe his encounters with the bureaucratic red tape and government inefficiency that seems to be endemic in all levels of the government. Then he revealed that money was extorted from him primarily by officials from the local offices of Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in return for the swift and speedy processing of his documents.
He has implicated Romeo Luengas, the OIC-CENRO (Community Environment and Natural Resources Officer) for DENR-Lianga in the extortion scheme and Benilda Amoguis, the LMO (Land Management Officer) also for DENR-Lianga for issuing fake documents to a rival claimant to the property he is applying for final title. Henry Villarina, the local municipal assessor, has also been accused of being instrumental in the issuance of fake tax declaration certificates to the same rival claimant which had led to the stalling of the land titling process.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), of course, and its officials and personnel here are not exactly new to accusations of extortion and other forms of bureaucratic corruption. As the primary government agency tasked to regulate land use and the exploitation of the country's natural resources through commercial and industrial activities such as mineral mining and timber logging, it has not been spared criticism here of not only being remiss in its duties to safeguard this area's rich natural wealth and diverse mountain, forest and coastal environments but has been plagued by charges that its personnel have profited from kickbacks coming from unscrupulous individuals here engaged in illegal logging, illegal mining and the supposedly unlawful harvesting of a variety of protected species of animal, plant and marine life.
The recent controversy involving the alleged mis-declaration of timber shipments (supposedly under strict monitoring by the DENR) by the SAMMILIA community forest management cooperative in Barangay Diatagon and the obvious fact that illegal logging and the harvesting of banned tree and timber species continues in the Lianga area to this day merely highlights the credibility problems that this particular agency and its personnel have as far as convincing the local population here that it is doing its job the best that it can and in accordance with the highest standards of the public service.
I have talked personally with Mark and am convinced beyond doubt that he has literally been put through the wringer as far as his tussle with the DENR is concerned. He has lost a lot of money and have seen much of his plans delayed or set aside momentarily because of the land titling problem. The negative economic cost to the community which could have benefited from his projects had they come to fruition on schedule could not even be quantified. No one, especially a foreign national who seeks to invest his hard earned money in this country and its people should not be allowed to go through the same bitter and frustrating experience.
Nothing has been heard yet from the camp of Luengas and Amoguis regarding the accusations that have been thrown against them but I did have the opportunity to confer with Henry Villarina on the issues raised against him by Mark. He has categorically denied that he has ever issued fake tax declaration certificates in his present stint at the municipal hall and particularly in relation to the Borders land titling case. He said that he even tried to assist Mark and his wife, Merejen, in obtaining other much needed documentation for their application for land title but never extorted money from the couple, issued any fake documents or profited in any way from that transaction.
Mark, of course, stands by what he has alleged in the Facebook page and is unfazed by threats of possible legal action that may be taken against him by the very persons he has accused so publicly of abusing their public offices for personal profit. He has affirmed that he has the documentation that will prove his revelations and that he has no intention of giving up the fight to see his dreams for Lianga and St. Christine come true. The Facebook page for the Philippine Business Investor Protectorate, he said, was proof of his commitment and his willingness to "fight all the corrupt practices and crab mentality that is preventing the economic recovery that could exist here."
In order to resolve his differences with the DENR and the municipal hall before the situation rapidly deteriorates and results in costly litigation or legal action, I have suggested to Mark and Henry Villarina separately that a mediation meeting between the former and all of the other personalities involved in the controversy should be initiated through the auspices of any of the senior local municipal officials. Perhaps what is needed to clear the conflict is arbitration by a disinterested third party who can assist not only in clarifying all of the issues relevant to the case but, more importantly, one who determine if wrongdoing has been committed in this case and recommend the proper course of action that may be warranted.
Without passing judgement on the truth or veracity of Mark's accusations against Luengas, Amoguis or Villarina, I am still filled with disbelief and disgust at the ordeal Mark had to go through in the two years he spent trying to put up his businesses in St. Christine and the fact that to this day much of the enterprises he had envisioned to be up and running by this time remains, in actuality, still plans and dreams on paper. We cannot, as a people or as a community, treat individuals, foreigner or native Filipino he may be, who only seek to invest in our economic future with such indifference and expect to prosper and grow as a nation and country.
We should instead welcome them not only with gladness and open arms but do our utmost to insure that they given the proper assistance and guidance they may need to properly lay the foundations of whatever lawful livelihoods and business activities they wish to engage in while at the same time making sure that their assimilation into our society is made as painless and problem-free as possible. This does not mean special treatment but simply an extension of the same courtesy we extend to valued guests and friends who visit our homes or who desire to live in our own neighborhoods and communities.
We do not victimize them, extort money from them or abuse them in any way. To do so would be a rejection of the very qualities that make us special and unique as a people; our innate hospitality and concern for the welfare of others, our generosity towards those who need our help and friendship and our willingness to welcome to our fold those who seek only our friendship and camaraderie irregardless of their race, creed or politics as long as they abide by our laws and respect our culture and traditions.
The problems Mark has encountered here, in the ultimate sense, are not only a consequence of the culture of corruption that has permeated all levels of the government even at its lowest levels. It is also, from a broader perspective, an indictment of the attitude of indifference and abject apathy which we, as a people, have adopted over the years and decades in the face of the such moral perversion not only in our government but even more so in our very own society. Essentially, we have become a complacent, uncaring, selfish and indifferent people. Our civil servants, our government bureaucracy and our political leaders are, in truth, merely mirrors reflecting the monsters we have become.
It has been said before and I do not hesitate to say it again. In this particular sense, unless we take immediate action now to reexamine ourselves dispassionately and objectively and find the strength to move forward and change what needs to be changed in ourselves as a people and become the real engine of a healthy, vibrant and prosperous democracy, we remain our own worst and most formidable enemy.
The term "bantay salakay" is difficult to translate literally from Tagalog to English. It can be taken to refer to someone who attacks or steals something he is charged with guarding in the first place.