By Teresita S. De Lima
BUHI, Camarines Sur --- One year into office of this first time mayor wasn’t easy but Margarita M. Aquinillo is determined to do her best and do what needs to be done, even with the 2017 budget that was emasculated by the Sanggunian Bayan (SB).
Already, Mayor Aquinillo’s administration is crippled owing to the “unfunding” of key position, namely: one rural doctor, two midwives, one sanitary inspector, one mechanic, one agricultural technologist and a security office for her. These positions have been in existence since the 1980’s and have been continuously funded. Until this year.
The town budget of ₱181,456,814, where 20% of which is mandatory allocated for development project (₱ 34,036,232) was submitted by her office to the SB for scrutiny and approval. She said her office was well within the period prescribed by the local Government Code since the executive budget was forwarded in October last year.
With 78,000 population and bursting year after year, the SB today presided by the Vice-mayor Rey Lacoste was able to convince the 10-member composition to shelve health service position. Two midwives who retires filled by the appointing authority, the obvious reason being that basic services should continuously reach the constituents, the taxpayers. No valid reason was offered by SB.
Kagawad Don Sibangan, chair on the committee on health, deemed it wise to scrap such continuing allocation, that’s why he did not defend his committee’s needs.
The rural doctor position was vacated by the optional retirement of Dr. Romualdo Claveria last year. Sibangan did not resist the unfunding of the position apparently because the national government has sent to the town a doctor to the barrios. The barrio doctor holds clinic at the San Jose Baybayon, a stone’s throw away from the poblacion where the municipal health office reports for work.
The motor pool mechanic, Noel Olea, also retired last year. The post has, likewise, been unfunded. And the SB offered no reason for it. Said vacuum rendered the LGU crippled too, given the aging of the equipment. The heavy equipment worth ₱35 million and purchased only in 2013 out of the loan from the hand Bank of the Philippines, also need repair from time to time. To put this equipment in the hands of a private repairman would be a little more costly that hiring one, she explained.
The security officer. All male mayors enjoyed the luxury of a security officer. No one questioned its necessity. Even Lacoste, a three-term mayor until he reached the compulsory limit, which forced him to slide down to become the running mate of Aquinillo had submitted his executive budget every year, which included that of a security officer. The lady mayor said she never doubted its necessity to the local chief executive. She said she supported all the way such endeavor even if submitted by a political opponent, “I never stood in the way for as long as they ultimately benefited the people”, she said.
Now that she is at the helm, and a woman at that, she had expected her SB allies to be as supportive. It turned out not to be so.
Even her choice of a private secretary or security officer, her very own prerogative, Lacoste would have none of it. He wanted his own pick --- for her.
Loreto Camasis, former municipal councilor, has her trust and confidence. Aquinillo said Camasis not only effectively served as her secretary and security man. He is political adviser, too. But she was forced to let go of the multitask Camasis in February if only ----- if only for SB to approve the budget got a full-blown scrutiny. The following month, the budget got a full-blown scrutiny. And the unfunding scheme done --- to her dismay.
Several attempts by the first woman-mayor to appear and appeal her case before the SB fell on deaf ears. Her written requests for an audience with SB in session got no answer prompting her to exclaim that inter agency courtesy was completely discarded. “It is completely lamentable”, she sighed
The three other councilors who ran and won against her political party are now drawn to Lacoste. Even the outspoken Councilor Agustin Villadares is deafeningly mum. Villadares used to be a lofty voice of the opposition during his term in 2013- 2016, who vowed to be a loyal critic, the fiercest if need be for the interest of the greater number.
Meanwhile, the 2017 executive budget with alterations introduced by the SB now lies on the lap of the Sanggunian Panlalawigan for review. The provincial sanggunian’s appropriations committee tasked to review all municipal budgets is chaired by Board Member Emmanuel Noble, of the 5th District of the province.
While waiting for the provincial sanggunian action, Aquinillo continues to be positive. She is undaunted, vowing to do the right thing. Recalling her first six months in office, she said she was very hopeful that her administration will have little opposition since she has the SB majority. “How sad”, she quipped.
“But I did my job”, said she: paid the collectibles of a contractor that had been archived for three- long years; purchased the stand-by generator which has been backed up by an SB resolution years before she took over the post. The generator was bought immediately after the typhoon in December last year. Salintubig, a potable water project and funded by the Department of the Interior and Local Government was finally executed during her term. Another one, is in the works, sourced in 2014 yet.
“Now I feel what baptism of fire means”, Aquinillo nods. Baptism of fire means when your allies of long ago block your visions for the people you promised to serve, she explained in pain.
But she was vibrant suddenly when she broke the good news that Mel Gaite, former Baao town mayor, made good his promise to donate ₱5 million worth of materials for the concreting of a 3-km farm to market road in Sitio Anao, which is between the mountain barangays of San Vicente and Gabas. Started last June 20, the project has a ₱700,000 labor counterpart from LGU-Buli and ₱100,000 from bgy Gabas headed by Rolando Micaller. It is expected to be completed before the Gabas fiesta in October.
Mayor Aquinillo is now grinning and believes she can do the tasks ahead “with clean hands”. That is a commitment, she vowed.