Mayor probes City Hall ‘loan sharks’

Who are these loan sharks that take advantage of hapless employees of the Iloilo City Hall? (Arnold Almacen file photo)

By Joseph B.A. Marzan

Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas said three City Hall officials are believed to be behind the lending business preying on employees.

Lending might be legal but in the case of City Hall, this operation has undermined job hires who are forced to put up their salaries as collateral apart from giving in to some extraordinary conditions.

In his regular press conference, the mayor said that the allegations are currently under investigation by lawyers Joseph Edward Areño and Llonil Vitterbo of the City Legal Office.

Treñas said the “pautang” or lending system had been existing since his stint as city councilor but noted that this had to stop in the soonest possible time as it took advantage of employees, particularly job hires and casual employees who are not tenured or regular workers.

“We don’t want one person’s position to be abused to squeeze employees who are contracting debts. Based on reports to us, there were three of them, and we are currently having them verified with [Areño] and [Vitterbo],” he said in his press conference.

“One of the reports was that they could not get their pay, or they could not borrow [money], or they cannot be renewed if they do not borrow from them. Another thing we want to look at is if it does exist, and how much is the interest rate,” he added.

But Treñas did not state what kind of charges would be filed against the alleged loan sharks, saying that they would “go through a process,” with the goal of protecting city government workers.

As to whether his initial statements referred to Beautification Program head Ninda Atinado, who had been identified by other media outlets as one of the alleged lenders, Treñas said that he has yet to talk to her.

Atinado had reportedly denied the allegations against her in off-the-record statements to other media outlets, but she had declined to speak further on the matter.

“I have not spoken to [Atinado] because I do not want to talk to her about it. As I have said, I am having it investigated. Two or three names, it’s not just her name coming up,” he added.

As to the names of the other two, he declined to disclose their names but only said that they were “not that high up”.

The issue stemmed from a statement issued by Treñas last week, where he alleged that there was one city government official who ran a lending scheme inside the city hall and targeted both lower-grade regular employees and contractual workers.

“I am also instructing [Areño] to investigate a report that there is an executive assistant requiring job hires to borrow money from her otherwise their services will be terminated,” the mayor said last Thursday, February 23.

The “loan sharks” allegation also came to fore following the reported delays in the payroll of job hires.

City Administrator Melchor Tan last week issued guidelines that set deadlines for processing of payrolls for both regular and contractual employees, among other internal regulations.

Treñas also mentioned that they are currently studying the move to scrap the requirement of National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) clearances and Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) registrations for job hires.

The tax agency’s Revenue Memorandum Circular (RMC) No. 69-2017, later amended by RMC No. 51-2018, requires persons employed under Job Order and Contract of Service agreements to register annually and pay a minimal annual registration fee.

Regular employees may also be expected to get new health insurance policies in addition to their existing state-run Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) policies, with companies already pitching proposals to his office.


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