Mayor's son, Cebu City execs accused of taking under-the-table payments

·3 min read

A QUARRY operator has accused some Cebu City Government officials of receiving money from him so he would be allowed to proceed with his offer to build for free a diversion road from Barangay Pardo to Barangay Toong in Cebu City.

Benito Aratea revealed this after he was invited by Councilor Nestor Archival, a member of the local political party Bando Osmeña Pundok Kauswagan (BOPK), to speak during a session on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021, to explain to the council the circumstances behind the halting of construction on a road opening in the mountain of Pardo.

The Cebu City Environment and Natural Resources Office (Cenro) had issued a cease and desist order (CDO) in the last week of August 2020 against the road opening after the owners of the adjacent lands complained that the operation already resembled a quarry operation considering the size of the area already torn from the mountain.

Aratea alleged that officials of the Cenro, City Administrator Floro Casas Jr., Metropolitan Cebu Water District (MCWD) Chairman Jose Daluz III, former City legal officer Rey Gealon and Jaypee Labella, son of Mayor Edgardo Labella, had received under-the-table payments from him worth P100,000 to P250,000 intended to allow him to conduct work on the road and secure a waste disposal permit related to the road construction.

Aratea had begun work on the road in June 2020 without a contract from the City Government, using only a City Council resolution from 2013 authorizing the building of a road to connect Barangays Pardo and Toong, as basis for the road construction.

The Council passed a resolution in 2014 authorizing then mayor Michael Rama, now acting mayor, for and in behalf of Cebu City, to enter into and sign a memorandum of agreement with Froilan D. Rigor Sr. for the use of one backhoe to be used for the road opening from Barangay Poblacion Pardo to Badiang, Barangay Toong without cost to the Cebu City Government.

Since it was Rigor who was named in the resolution, this means that Aratea had no business opening that road.

Speaking to reporters, Casas denied the allegation, saying he had never even met Aratea.

“I don’t know him. I never had a transaction with Ben Aratea. I don’t remember meeting him. I don’t even know him. As far as I remember, the City closed his quarry in Pardo,” said the city administrator.

Mayor Labella’s alter-ego put Aratea’s statement at the council down to the actions taken by the City Government against him.

“Coming from a person whose illegal quarry we closed, we can’t expect a good story from him. Categorically, it’s not true that there were under-the-table transactions for his approval. We even had the operation stopped,” Casas said.

Gealon, who will run for councilor in the south district, vehemently denied Aratea’s allegation, saying politics was likely behind the accusation.

“Just allowing these hasty and sweeping allegations in the Sanggunian where I am vying for a seat, conveniently perpetrated by some of the opposition councilors through prejudicial, unfair, speculative, vague, argumentative, leading, and opinionated questions in the guise of ‘Citizen’s Hour’ is malicious enough,” Gealon said.

The former City legal officer and the city administrator, who are both lawyers, said they would take legal action against Aratea for his statements.

“I will definitely take legal action for I cannot allow our name, no matter how poor and lowly others perceive it to be, (to be) mere collateral damage of political crossfire,” Gealon said.

Gealon added that his office had not been involved in issuing the CDO.

Sought for comment, Daluz and Labella said Aratea’s allegations were untrue.

Daluz added that he would respond to the allegation if the matter was brought to court, to prove his innocence.

The Cebu City Government has continued with the construction of the road opening.

After a public bidding, the winner was Docast Construction, which is now tasked to resume work on the six-kilometer road worth P149 million, including the cementing of the road. (PAC)

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