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Court orders arrest of newly appointed NIA board director, 30 others for libel charge

LEGAZPI CITY—Accused of libel, Silvestre “Ka Silver” Bonto, the newly appointed member of the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) board of directors, and 30 high-profile employees of the agency are facing arrest ordered by the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC).
“We are posting bail anytime next week or as soon as we are able to get an official copy of the warrant of arrest issued by RTC Branch 224 presiding Judge Tita Marilyn Payoyo-Villordon,” NIA regional spokesman for Bicol Eduardo Yu based in Naga City, who is among those charged, told PNA over the phone on Sunday.
Yu said they learned from the court last Friday that the arrest warrant issued as early as Nov. 6 will be officially released on Feb. 10, even as five of his co-accused based at the NIA Central Office in Quezon City have already been arrested by the police.
The five, whom Yu begged off from identifying, are now out of jail after posting PhP10,000 bail for their temporary liberty.
The libel complaint was filed by former NIA deputy administrator for engineering and operation Modesto Membreve based on an open letter published as a paid insert in the Philippine Daily Inquirer early last year which called the attention of President Benigno Aquino III 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’ Associations (NCIA), and the 30 heads of the NIA Employees Association of the Philippines, Association of Regional Directors and Operations Managers and National Federation of Employees of the Department of Agriculture.
“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 the President in January last year had not been acted upon because we have information that it was ‘hijacked’ by somebody in Malacañang,” Yu said.
The publication, Yu said, prompted the President into ordering the creation of a special probe team composed, among others, of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) of the Philippine National Police which looked into the alleged anomalous transactions.
In the investigations, the fact-finding body was able to initially discover irregularities surrounding the implementation of some largely-funded irrigation projects in the Caraga Region allegedly involving Membreve and over 50 other highly-placed NIA officials, including members of the agency’s Bid Awards Committee, according to Yu.
So far, as of last August, the investigating team led by the CIDG had already filed with the Office of the Ombudsman six counts of criminal and administrative charges for violation of Republic Act No. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and R.A. 9184 or the Procurement Law against Membreve and all those found involved.
Following these findings, NIA Administrator Florencio Padernal, on orders from President Aquino last July, stripped Membreve of his position as deputy administrator and placed him on “floating” status.
Apparently 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 who last January was appointed by President Aquino into the six-member NIA board of directors representing the Rice and Corn Sector.
The board is headed as chairman by Secretary Francis Pangilinan, the Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agricultural Modernization.
Other directors of the board are Padernal, sitting as vice-chairman, and Department of Public Works and Highways Secretary Rogelio Singson, National Power Corp. (NPC) president Maria Gladys Cruz-Sta. Rita, and National Economic and Development Authority Director General Arsenio Balisacan as members.
In the appointment letter dated last Jan. 22, the President told Bonto that “Pursuant to the provisions of existing laws, you are hereby appointed as Member representing the Rice and Corn Sector, Board of Directors, National Irrigation Administration, to serve the unexpired Term of Office that began on 01 July 2014 and will end on 30 June 2015, vice Ismael Tabije.”
It is said that Tabije, who was recommended into the board by Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary Proceso Alcala, was removed from the post following the transfer of the supervision of NIA from the DA to the Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agricultural Modernization under Pangilinan.
Apart from being president of the NCIA, Bonto is also head of the Angat Ahon Magsasaka, a non-government organization, with millions of the country’s farmers as members.
As a farmer leader, Bonto, a native of Camarines Sur, has been working for the welfare of his sector, especially the rice farming communities and consumers by way, among others, of his being very vocal against rice smuggling and the irregularities surrounding the operations of rice cartels in the country.
He is also an advocate of agricultural modernization towards the government campaign for food security and greater income for farmers and a staunch critic of anomalies involving the implementation of projects in agriculture. —by Danny O. Calleja (PNA) SCS/FGS/DOC/CBD/PJN

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