Traders in P24-M N. Vizcaya ‘cement scam’ missing
BAGABAG, Nueva Vizcaya–The owners of a company linked to the controversial P23-million “cement scam” here have gone missing and have shut down their multi-million businesses, raising panic among their creditors from all over northern Luzon.
Spouses Herminio and Norma Dela Cruz, who own Norma’s Hardware and General Merchandise, are now the subject of a search by creditors after the couple could no longer be found at their residence in Barangay San Geronimo here while their business ventures, which include a hardware store, a supermarket and a palay and corn trading station, have already been closed down since last week.
The company has been linked to the controversial purchase of more than 100,000 bags of cement by the provincial government in 2007, which the Commission on Audit declared as anomalous for not having been subjected to public biddings.
“A lot of people are looking for them, many of them with debts to collect, while others carried issued by them which subsequently bounced. Unfortunately, nobody knows where they are,” Bagabag Mayor Nestor Sevillena, declining to elaborate.
Their son Carl, who has been running the family’s grains and corn business, could no longer be located as well, he said.
Records showed that the province resorted to “direct contracting” as an “alternative mode of procurement” with Dela Cruz as sole supplier, although this did not conform to any of the conditions set forth by Section 50 of the law.
This writer tried to seek the couple’s family members at their residence here but to no avail. Lawyer Carina Castro, counsel for the Dela Cruzes’ business partner, Johnny Sevillena, asked for time to consult with her client.
Reports were rife here that the couple could have been trying to run away from their creditors, or were trying to escape prosecution over their alleged involvement in the P23-million “cement scam”.
In its 2007 annual audit report, the COA questioned the 26 purchases made by the provincial government with Norma’s General Merchandize for lack of competitive bidding.
Manuel Tabora, acting provincial administrator, had defended the purchases, saying the lack of bidding was borne out of necessity due to the urgency of the projects to be constructed.
Since Thursday, creditors, mostly rice and corn traders from as far as the provinces of Cagayan, Isabela and Quirino and Santiago City have been trooping to the hardware store and the Caringal Supermart, both located at this town’s commercial district. Carrying court orders and accompanied by court sheriffs, the traders have engaged in a frantic free-for-all to seize goods in stock there.
Neighbors said the buildings have almost been emptied of their contents.
“The creditors were merely exercising their right to attach the property so that these will not be disposed of and they can have a way of recovering the debts owed to them by the Dela Cruzes. Unfortunately, the procedure quite got out of hand in some instances and there were also cases of looting,” the mayor said, quoting police reports.