Probe on millions of lost city vendor fees underway

The Sangguniang Panlungsod (SP) is going full-blast in probing the potentially anomalous private collection of Tagbilaran City port vendors’ fees which may also implicate some city hall figures.

Initial SP inquiry discovered that the collection of space rentals from the vendors and stall owners within the city property at the port for years now has no authority, much less enabled by an ordinance.

At P10,000 for each vendor and stall owner, one councilors’ estimate has put the total monthly rentals since 2013 to have possibly already amounted to P10 million more or less.

But only the vendors and stall owners could confirm how much rentals have been collected from them every month without the fees being recorded at the City Treasurer’s Office (CTO).

The affected vendors complained to Jose Pamaong, urban poor coordinator in Bohol, against the alleged “forced collection” already by a “private collector” not authorized by the city government.

The vendors’ fees have allegedly been privately collected by a certain Erwin Lomotos, whom they further identified in their complaint to Pamaong as a barangay kagawad of Cogon in the city.

The city council has, again, invited to appear in its session tomorrow Lomotos, who did not turn up for two times already, and the vendors themselves or their group representatives.

The SP would also want to hear from Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) – Tagbilaran Manager James Gantalao and City Economic Enterprise Officer Bebiano Inting, a former city councilor, in the presence of Lomotos and the vendors.

When the issue started to brew, some at city hall sounded defensive, claiming that the city should not be faulted because it could not collect rental fees since the vendors’ area is still within PPA’s jurisdiction.

But a sudden city hall order to close the stalls and other vendors’ spaces days after the complaint reached to the SP admitted that the affected part of the port is “city-owned.”

On the other hand, Inting, according to a councilor, admitted during the initial SP inquiry the other week that there was one time that a sum from the vendors was remitted to his office.

Lomotos did not appear to the council in that inquiry.

During the SP session on Wednesday, Councilor Jonas Cacho recounted what Inting had previously admitted to the council.

Lomotos did not again appear to the council in that session.

Inting claimed the money he received only amounted to P10,000 and that he had it turned over to and duly receipted by the City Treasurer’s Office (CTO) thru the business permit-licensing unit.

However, no rental fees from the port vendors have ever been remitted to and received by the CTO, the council learned.

The issue was discussed on DYRD’s noontime program Silab sa Udtong Tuotok and Inting called the program anchor, Ven Arigo, and said the money could not be reflected on the CTO record as a rental.

It is because the amount was for “special permit fee,” Inting explained, adding that the vending business at the port is not under his economic enterprise office.

City hall has reportedly no jurisdiction over the portion of the port occupied by the vendors because the area still belongs to the PPA.

But according to a city council source, the said area used for vending was delineated already to the jurisdiction of the city government.

Another SP member presumed the area is within the city government jurisdiction because the vendors’ fee was received by the office of Inting, who claimed he had it duly receipted by the permit section.

CLOSURE ORDER

The city cannot pass the buck on the PPA as indicated by a closure order issued by the mayor’s office thru City Administrator Leonides Borja.

Besides, some councilors learned that the PPA has never authorized any private person to collect fees from vendors occupying the port portion belonging to the city government.

On Office Order No. 38, dated November 14, 2017, City Business Permit and Licensing Officer Samuel Belderol was directed to “immediately affect the closure of all stalls, vendors, and other business establishments” in the affected port area.

The order said the stalls, vendors and other establishments are “operating within the city-owned property at Pooc Pantalan.”

The closure took effect “pending the issuance of proper guidelines and procedures on the use” of the city government property, the order said.

The order was signed by the city administrator “by authority of the city mayor.”

The vendors and stallholders further complained since they instantly lost their livelihood means, and there was reportedly not even a prior notice that their spaces would be closed.

The closure was ordered days after the vendors’ complaint about the alleged forced collection caused the city council to call for an inquiry.

Vendors selling calamity to tourists and other visitors have been affected, too.

The Tagbilaran port has been declared a tourism port in the country.

Gonzaga said the issue must be resolved with dispatch because instead of the economic life and welfare of the vendors and their dependent families being protected, they are the ones deprived of livelihood for others’ fault. (Ven rebo Arigo)

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