Bicol NIA whistleblowers post bail for libel charge
LEGAZPI CITY, Feb. 17 -– Whistleblowers get no adulation and respect for telling the truth, they are charged for libel?
Accused of libel for bringing to the attention of President Benigno S. Aquino III the alleged irregularities in the implementation of irrigation projects in some parts of the country, two Bicol-based officials of the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) surrendered to the court ahead of their arrest.
Silverio “Ka Silver” Bonto and Eduardo Yu surrendered last Thursday to the Office of the Executive Judge of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Naga City and on the same day posted cash bonds of P10,000 each, bail for their temporarily liberty.
Earlier, a warrant was issued Nov. 6 by Presiding Judge Tita Marilyn Payoyo-Villordon of the Quezon City RTC Branch 224 where the case was filed but its official release was made only last week, according to Yu.
Bonto is the newly appointed member of the Board of Directors of the NIA while Yu is the agency’s Bicol region Public Information Officer and national spokesman of the NIA Employees Association of the Philippines (NIAEASP).
Yu said his cash bond was shouldered by the association even as NIA Regional Director Vicente Vicmudo offered him the amount while Bonto said he used his personal funds.
“Officially, I am now out on bail….. If this is the prize for making NIA cleaner, better and stronger, then I am willing to face a thousand more of similar cases in the future. I am sure my 30 co-accused in this case share this position,” he said.
The libel complaint was filed October last year by former NIA deputy administrator for engineering and operation Modesto Membreve based on an open letter published paid insert in a national daily early last year which called the attention of the President on certain irregularities involving the implementation of multimillion-peso irrigation projects in some parts of the country.
Signatories of the letter were Bonto, representing the National Confederation of Irrigators’ Association (NCIA) and the 30 officials of the NIAEASP, Association of (NIA) Regional Directors and Operations Managers (ARDOMA) and National Federation of Employees of the Department of Agriculture (NAFEDA).
“We were compelled into causing the publication of the open letter addressed to President Aquino since the official letter bearing the same signatories we earlier sent to Malacañang in January last year has not been acted upon because we have information that it did not reach the President,” Yu said.
The publication, Yu said, prompted President Aquino into ordering the creation of a special probe team composed among others of the National Bureau of Investigation and the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group of the Philippine National Police which looked into the alleged anomalous transactions.
The fact-finding body was able to initially discover irregularities surrounding the implementation of some largely-funded irrigation projects in the Caraga Region involving Membreve and over 50 other highly-placed NIA officials, including members of the agency’s Bid Awards Committee, according to Yu.
Last August, the investigating team led by the CIDG filed with the Office of the Ombudsman six counts of criminal charges for violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and the Procurement Law against Membreve and all those found involved.
NIA Administrator Florencio Padernal, on orders from Pres. Aquino last July, stripped Membreve of his position as deputy administrator and placed on “floating” status.
Directing his ire on the authors of the published open letter which opened the “can of worms”, Yu said, Membreve filed the libel suit against the group, including Bonto. (PNA)