Shutdown

Pols’ bickering leads to gov’t inactivity in N. Vizcaya

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya–Officials here on Monday imposed a shutdown of provincial government operations here, after a local court ordered them to stop implementing an annual budget that has been the subject of a rift among the province’s political leaders.

Gov. Luisa Lloren Cuaresma ordered a stoppage of all activities by the province that entail the use of funds out of its P786 million budget for 2012, which was frozen by a 20-day temporary restraining order issued Friday by a regional trial court here.

During Monday’s flag-raising ceremonies, officials expressed concern that the court order would paralyze all activities and transactions by the provincial government, including non-payment of financial obligations and salaries of employees, stoppage of ongoing infrastructure projects, and even basic needs such as the use of electricity.

“What I am worried about are the hospitals. How are we supposed to provide food and medicines for our patients?” said Cuaresma, who is named as a respondent in a suit filed by nine of 13 members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP).

The petitioning board members, who comprise the majority bloc in the SP, have asked the court to nullify the province’s Appropriation Act of 2012, the passage of which allegedly violated the Local Government Code.

The petitioners include board members Epifanio Galima, Efren Quiben, Maybelle Blossom Dumlao, Pepito Balgos, Johnny Liban, Donior Tidang, Rogelio Salunat, Dolores Binwag and Emerlene Jane Galanta, who are identified with the camp of Rep. Carlos Padilla, Cuaresma’s estranged political ally.

In a three-page order, Judge Rogelio Corpuz on Friday granted the TRO that by the petitioners sought, ordering Cuaresma, Vice Governor Jose Gambito and two of the province’s top finance officers to “cease and desist from implementing the provisions” of the questioned 2012 budget ordinance.

The news of the TRO on Monday morning triggered confusion and anger among officials, employees and even scores of ordinary people who trooped to the provincial capitol for various transactions.

Cuaresma said the provincial government has no recourse but to comply with the court’s order; otherwise they will be sued for contempt of court.

As such, all payments will have to be suspended, vehicles cannot be fueled up, inmates at the provincial jail cannot be fed, and officials and employees cannot get their salaries, the governor said.

Then, more questions.

“If the salaries of our workers cannot be drawn from the questioned ordinance because of the TRO, we ask: shall we still report for work?” said Maria Carla Torralba, provincial human resources officer.

Workers heaped much of the blame on the nine SP members who filed the petition, whose suit was allegedly intended to pursue their political interests.

“We hope they are not taking us for a spin because we are also thinking people, even though considered rank-and-file employees only,” Cristina Gurat, president of the Nueva Vizcaya rank-and-file employees association, said in Filipino.

She appealed to her fellow workers to observe their spirit of volunteerism, and report for work despite the risks of not being paid in the event that the court voids the 2012 budget ordinance.

Since monthly payments for power and phone bills were being charged against the 2012 budget, Tomas Garra, provincial general services officer asked if the provincial offices must also stop using electricity and telephones.

Rhoda Moreno, acting provincial treasurer and a respondent in the petition, expressed concern that the impasse would also prevent her from releasing withheld tax payments to the Bureau of Internal Revenue, the delay of which, she said, would entail a penalty of about P1 million.

“Who will pay the penalty? Is it I or the employees? Or the petitioners?” she asked.

Moments after arriving at the capitol grounds, Gloria Pahinang, 37, was distraught to learn that her attempt to follow-up on a request for financial assistance to buy blood for her dengue-stricken daughter would be futile.

“How can I now pay the P100 which I spent for fare which I borrowed from my neighbor?” the mother from Bagabag town said in the dialect.

At the provincial board, which held its regular session Monday, power went off at the People’s Hall as board members were debating on the consequences of the petition and the TRO that followed it.

Board member Galima, the group’s counsel, expressed lament that they were being blamed for all the chaos that followed because of the TRO.

“We ask everybody not to over-stress the meaning of the TRO, because it was never meant to cause a total shutdown of the operations of the provincial government,” he said.

The province can operate under a “re-enacted 2011 budget”, he said.

Officials, however, said they can no longer revive the 2011 budget because the 2012 appropriations ordinance has already been made operational, from which salaries of officials and employees, including the petitioners, have drawn salaries.

“The provision of the law on (the province’s operation under a) re-enacted budget is only applicable where the SP failed to pass a budget. This is not the case that we have right now, because we have a budget that has already been approved by the Department of Budget and Management,” said Alejandra Dacumos, provincial budget officer, who was also named respondent.

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