Senior Provincial Board Member Victor Balite remains to be the only provincial legislator who is vocally opposing the planned purchase of brand new vehicles for the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP), a move that has drawn strong criticism from the public for being insensitive to the plight of those affected by the persisting COVID-19 pandemic.
Balite, during the SP’s regular session on Tuesday, called on his colleagues in the legislative body to heed the public’s call to defer the procurement of the 14 vehicles for the lawmakers and Vice Governor Rene Relampagos while the number of COVID-19 cases in Bohol continued to surge.
“Many are against our acquisition of the vehicles which is for the use of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan. Their clamors are so touching and worth to be listened and adhere to their sad emotions because we in the government made an oath to serve them and care for them,” Balite said in his privilege speech.
According to Balite, there are more issues that need the SP’s attention and resources especially with the virus spreading even inside the provincial Capitol.
“These days, I would like to ask again all who are in this august hall. Are we not havig a bigger problem for COVID-19? To date, many offices in the capitol are on lockdown yet we are still deaf on this matter,” he said.
As of Friday morning, 92 employees of the provincial government were confirmed to have contracted COVID-19.
Balite however remained outnumbered as Board Members Aldner Damalerio, Elpidio Bonita and Ricky Masamayor also aired their opinion on the issue favoring the purchase of the vehicles.
Damalerio defended the procurement saying that the province has not neglected the COVID-19 situation in the province and has allocated enough budget for battling the pandemic.
He also aired his concern for his safety as he noted that their current vehicles provided by the provincial government were already accident-prone due to their condition.
The Mitsubishi Strada being used by the lawmakers were purchased in 2012.
“I have two young children, a 12-year-old and a seven-year-old, twice in the performance of my duty I was almost in an accident—once in Catigbian, and once in Balilihan,” he said.
Masamayor meanwhile in an apparent swipe at Balite called on colleagues not to engage in “grandstanding.”
“We are called honorables. If we have this interview to media or wherever, just tell the truth. Don’t be a grandstanding. All of us will be running for our last term or for higher position or whatever position, just tell the truth. We are all one family here,” said Masamayor.
Except for Balite, all 12 other members of the SP have expressed support for the purchase of the vehicles for themselves and Relampagos.
Relampagos had also earlier defended the purchase as he noted that the vehicles were no longer road worthy and need to be replaced so as not to compromise the safety of the lawmakers.
The vice governor in a press briefing noted that the vehicles were costing the province more to maintain than to purchase new ones.
In a separate radio interview, however, he has also noted that the vehicles may still be used by other government agencies and were still “serviceable.”
“Kaning tanan na sakyanan under the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, categorized pa ni siya ug classified ni na serviceable pa ni meaning to say magamit pa. Only every now and then dili nato makalikayan na mo bog down tungod sa wear and tear niini ug kakaraan niini. Ang ubang mga buhatan mo ingon na ‘kami nay bahala ana magamit og mapahimuslan pa na namo’,” Relampagos said in a live radio interview.
The first-term vice governor also downplayed the public’s criticisms against the planned purchase of the vehicles.
He has repeatedly noted that the uproar against the pending procurement is politically motivated.
“Laktod pagka storya, politika ra ni tanan. Makita nimo sa thread ani nilang mga nang react sa social media, makita man nato na halos pare-pareho ra mang mga tawhana,” he added. (R. Tutas)