The ugly truth
By Ermin Garcia Jr.
THE damning silence in the local media about the biggest scandal in local politics that broke out was, and is, ominous for the local media and, unwittingly, for Dagupan Mayor Benjie Lim.
The filing of the certificate of candidacy for mayor and the subsequent withdrawal of one Belen Tamondong Fernandez, a namesake of Vice Mayor Belen T. Fernandez who filed her certificate for the mayoralty race in Dagupan City, was definitely a front-page material in news reporting as Journalism 101 teaches. The confession of the 66-year old Fernandez describing how she was lured into filing her candidacy was definitely headline material!
But believe it or not, except for The PUNCH, not a soul in the local print media that number about 15 even allotted space for it. To those who didn’t experience the worst of martial law, take the absence of that story in the pages of local papers as reminiscent of the martial law days when no “bad” news would be published unless government expressly allowed it. In this case, however, it was far worse. There was no formal government directive banning the news but simply a dictate made possible by monthly retainers.
It was clearly a case of self-censorship to cover up an ugly truth at the expense of the right of people to know. Nothing can be wrong with publishing all unedited press releases from the city hall but to do a news blackout on the bidding of city hall is a great disservice to the people by those who claim to be dyed-in-the-wool journalists.
While, I concede it was a fantastic display of canine loyalty by paid hacks to their patron, still they missed out an opportunity to be “fearless” when they didn’t even print Mayor Benjie Lim’s avowed denial of involvement in the scandal. But being one always ready to give friends and foes the benefit of the doubt, I wonder if their reason for not publishing Mr. Lim’s denial was because they knew Mr. Lim was lying through his teeth and the editors didn’t want to be a part of the conspiracy. Or was it simply a case of “Yes sir!” and to hell with public trust? Tsk-tsk. I like the first possibility for their sake.
It’s truly sad that editors and publishers would unabashedly lend their newspapers in a shameless cover-up of a foiled disgusting devilish, criminal plot by a public official.
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ME AND MR. LIM. In Mr. Benjie Lim’s and his lapdogs’ desperate attempts to discredit PUNCH reports about corruption at the Dagupan City hall, they continue to peddle the lie that my present critical view of his administration is a direct result of my having lost the election to him in 2001. Nothing can be farthest from the truth! But that’s still par the course. I take no offense.
However, if only to help set the records straight, allow me to retell here (again!) the true account of that 2001 election which unfortunately is known only to him and a few others. Perhaps it is this fact that emboldens Mr. Lim to lie with a straight face knowing it’s his word against mine. So here’s mine.
It was in the last quarter of 2000 when I sought him out to convince him to gun for the mayoralty post in 2001 instead of seeking reelection as congressman. He said he was bent on staying on as a congressman and before I knew it, he was egging me instead to run for the post. Failing to convince him and aided by my political naivety, I made the mistake of giving his suggestion a chance – to be an alternative candidate.
Fast forward to the day before the filing of COC, Mr. Lim told me he decided not to contest Mr. Joe de V’s bid in congress, and would run for the mayoralty instead. We talked briefly on the phone and told him I could no longer back out because I had given my word to people who willingly contributed funds to enable me to launch a credible campaign. “Just make sure you win the election!” I told him. He was after all my first choice as candidate. I knew I was out of contention so I psyched myself to take the opportunity to learn more about the city and its people via an active campaign, and I did! So when my campaign manager, my relative Robert Erfe-Mejia (yes, he was!), asked to be relieved two weeks before the election in order to join Mr. Lim’s camp, I didn’t lose sleep over it. He had my blessings. Surely Robert cannot deny this.
And when Mr. Lim was already leading comfortably with 90% of the ballots counted, and I was trailing behind all three candidates, I quickly conceded defeat! So simply put, I lost in an election with no rancor in my heart and I was only too happy to see that that the city elected my first choice as mayor.
And shortly after he took his oath, I personally assured Mr. Lim that he could rely on the PUNCH as his ally to help him launch his promised reforms. I assured him “180 days of honeymoon.” Alas, it was in those 180 days when he cooked up the scandalous sanitary landfill-Brgy Awai deal! From thereon all bets were off!
And when the Awai deal was followed shortly by the overpriced streetlights deal, the surprise P50 M loan deal for the MC Adore, P280 M bank loan for an ill-planned Malimgas Market, overpriced dredging machine with wrong specifications, the behest lease project for the Metro Plaza, etc., I knew then that a Lim administration had to be watched closely…and be exposed.
So why am I critical of Mr. Lim’s administration? Simple. It’s what journalists do as watchdogs but of course, it’d be too much to expect him to understand this.
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POLITICAL ARROGANCE. What’s with BM Ranjit Shahani?
When he first became vice governor to the late Gov. Aguedo Agbayani, I thought he was the young man to watch in Pangasinan politics initially and soon in the national scene. He was articulate to a fault, certainly pr savvy. I saw in him what I thought would be the continuing legacy of the highly respected Ramos political family.
His series of political mishaps that followed brought about by his brash attitude, shooting off with his mouth before he can process his thoughts made his followers take a second close look at him.
His latest caper, junking his own cousin and endorsing Guv Spines obviously out of spite, only served to confirm that he is one who cannot be trusted. If he felt disgust over the decision of cousin Nani to select Art Lomibao as vice guv candidate, he could have simply said so and stopped there. By praising Guv Spines after all that he had said about him showed he is devoid of basic principles in life.
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MAKING HISTORY. News about the series of unopposed candidacies of members of the Villar clan in Sto. Tomas town over the past decades is certainly unprecedented in the province. Yet the town marked another first, this time the whole slate of the NPC/ Biskeg na Pangasinan is unopposed! I guess the only contest left lies in the ranking of the councilors. That should be worth watching in the town as well!