By Luz Rimban, VERA Files
Two prominent members of a powerful political family in Abra are facing plunder charges for allegedly embezzling more than P130 million in municipal funds, in what a whistleblower has called “big-time corruption in a small town.”
Named in a complaint-affidavit are former Abra congresswoman Cecilia Seares-Luna and her eldest son Jendricks. Cecilia served as mayor of Lagayan town from 1998 to 2007, when she ran for Abra’s lone congressional seat.
Jendricks succeeded her as mayor in 2007, ran for barangay captain in October 2010 and is now president of Lagayan’s Association of Barangay Captains.
Jendricks allegedly continues to control the town, whose current mayor, Cecilia’s 82-year-old aunt Purificacion Paingan, was likewise accused of dereliction of duty purportedly for allowing him “to take over the helm of the municipality and continue his plunder of the town coffers” as ABC president.
The complainant is Bernadine Joson, the Lunas’ erstwhile trusted lieutenant who served as Lagayan’s municipal planning and development officer from 1998 until a few months ago.
In her complaint-affidavit, Joson described Lagayan as “a story of how key members of a political family in a small far-flung, underdeveloped town in Abra, over a period of a little more than a decade, in the absence of a viable system of checks and balances, has been raiding and plundering the town’s coffers.”
She said Lagayan’s experience reflects in varying degrees what is happening in many small and remote towns where local government officials act as overlords who do whatever they want to constituents living in fear and ignorance.
Contacted by phone, Jendricks said, “Pabayaan mo siyang mag-file (Let her file the case).” He challenged Joson to prove her allegations or he will file his own charges against her.
Jendricks described Joson as “sour grapes” who was dragging him into her rift with the municipal treasurer. He added that he is now “just a barangay captain” busy focusing on his businesses in Manila.”
Also accused of graft and corruption are Lara Haya Luna, Lagayan vice mayor and youngest daughter of Cecilia, a nursing student who spends most of her time in Manila.
Joson’s complaint said Lara never presided over a meeting of the Sangguniang Bayan, which is part of her duties as vice mayor and sanggunian chair. The Lagayan council met only four times since it was constituted in July 2010.
Also named “conspirators” of the Lunas are municipal engineer Osborne Dolaoen, municipal accountant Meno Dickensonand municipal treasurer Marissa Donato, Cecilia’s second cousin.
Lagayan is a fifth-class town with a population of just over 4,000 spread out in only five barangays located in northwestern Abra bordering Ilocos Norte. Yet its huge land area of 215 square kilometers entitles it to substantial Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) from the national government.
The province’s records show that Lagayan received P32 million in IRA in 2009, ranking eighth out of Abra’s 27 towns.
Joson said she decided to come out because she “cannot keep on hearing no evil