By Joseph B.A. Marzan
An investigation by one of the Iloilo City government’s lawyers into alleged loaning schemes targeting low-income and contractual workers revealed on Tuesday four officials involved in the scheme.
City Legal Office lawyer Joseph Edward Areño said they are set to finish the investigation on their level within this week.
So far, they have found that loan schemes in the city hall were not limited to one person even as more details were cropping up.
Areño also mentioned that they also called on several workers and employees to a certain undisclosed location within city hall, citing the discreet nature of their fact-finding activities.
“Based on our [investigation], there are about four within the city hall, and [others] within the vicinity of the city hall,” he said.
But Areño added that they could not reveal the names of those alleged to be involved, citing the recommendatory nature of their report, which would give Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas the chance to decide on his next steps.
The lawyer suggested that the mayor may order the filing of formal administrative charges against those who were named in their report.
“All investigation reports from any lawyer or anybody asked by [Treñas] to do the investigation, those are purely recommendatory. But of course, we have our legal bases and our factual bases, but it’s still the mayor who would have to decide on that,” Areño explained.
“There are sworn statements that can only come out to the mayor’s eyes only for the meantime, so we cannot divulge on that because those are factual, and later on the basis for possible administrative case[s],” he added.
Areño clarified, however, that contracting debts, even between employees and officials, were not automatically against the law when they aren’t excessive.
He alleged that the loan-contracting “culture” had been in place at the city government since the time of former mayor Mansueto Malabor, who had served from 1991 to 1992 and from 1992 to 2001.
“Ever since, loans have been part of city [hall] culture, but if it was exorbitant and if you were using your position, and if you are taking advantage of the difficult [positions] of the people, that’s another thing,” the lawyer stated.
“Even I loan [to others] (sic). We are helping others, but when it comes to [loans that are already] commercial in nature, that’s a different thing. If it affects your work, time in the office, and abusing your position, that’s a different thing,” he added.
The “loan shark” scheme issue at the city hall was bared by Treñas in late February, amid another concern that compensation for work by contractual workers coined as “job hires” were delayed because of their debts.
The mayor on February 27 announced that he had tasked Areño and another city government lawyer, Llonil Vitterbo, to spearhead their investigation into these allegations.
City Beautification Program head Ninda Atinado’s name was the first to have been dragged into the issue, but she has already previously denied this and has refused to speak to the media on the matter.