In a bid to clear himself from suspicions of irregularity in the CoViD meals issue, Councilor Edgar Lentorio finally explained his role in the transaction with Aladdin Restaurant, but only succeeded in causing outrage from his colleagues in the Dumaguete City Council.
Lentorio took the floor during the privilege hour of the 54th regular session on Wednesday, Aug. 19, and started by reminding his colleagues that the investigation being conducted by the City Council is about the procurement of food, and not about him.
“There’s no complaint, charge, nor any investigation against me,” he told them.
Lentorio declared that as a councilor, he did not commit anything that could be tagged as conflict-of-interest. “I am not an owner, co-owner, or partner of any of the suppliers. I have no financial interest in any of the contracts awarded to any of the suppliers. I have no investment in them. I have never influenced anyone, and I have never interfered.”
He said it was his friend, Patrick Henri George, who called him up to ask for his help, but only after Aladdin was awarded the contract to provide food.
He said that George told him that while the Aladdin Restaurant is along E.J. Blanco Road in Dumaguete City, his kitchen was in Agan-an, Sibulan, and that he was having problems with the food deliveries because they had to pass through a checkpoint in barangay Buñao in the northern entrance to Dumaguete.
“Mr. Henri asked if I could rent him the space beside my law office. I was not the one who offered Mr. Henri to rent my place…I never had any other thought or interest but that of the City, and that of our frontliners. I did not want that problem will arise in relation to the delivery of this food delivery.
“I thought that helping him would be helping the City as well. And I saw nothing wrong with that.
“After serving more than one week of serving food, Mr. Henri called me up, and raised the problem of food packages, saying the supplies from Cebu are delayed, owing to the restrictions of travel to and from Cebu.He asked me if I could extend help. I said ‘Yes, okay’.
“So I asked a local supplier to supply them with what they need. I never earned a single centavo from that transaction. I thought of it as a way of helping the City.
“I never thought I would be crucified for doing so. I never breached my position as a City Councilor to secure credit for this local supplier. The claim that I have breached my official capacity as City Councilor to secure credit is false,” he said.
Lentorio said the ensuing “trial by publicity without due process” is nothing but products of malicious minds.
“If I had a malicious mind, I would have thought that Councilor [Rosel] Erames used her position and influence to negotiate with the supplier of rice for the City government in my very presence. That supplier had a contract with the City. But I did not have that malicious mind.
“If I had a malicious mind, my colleague even asked for the number of a Department head to follow up the payment for another supplier. But I never thought of it to use this office and its influence to do the same.
“If I had a malicious mind, I would have even thought that Councilor Erames used her position and office when she solicited funds from the public for her personal program, and asked them to deposit in her BDO account. But I did not have a malicious mind. I thought everyone was just trying to help people in this pandemic.
“If I had a malicious mind, even the honorable Vice Mayor, who happens to be publicly-known to have an interest in a Kansi native restaurant…if I had a malicious mind, I would think the honorable Vice Mayor would use his influence to have that restaurant operate without a Mayor’s Permit. I never thought of it because I know that we were just helping each other.
Lentorio said he regretted not having come out earlier to address the issue.
“Up until now, I am considered a resource person in this investigation. Yet, some of my colleagues have already pre-judged me. I have even learned [that] some of my colleagues are soliciting support to pass a Resolution asking for my resignation.
“Is this what I deserve for doing extra effort for the City? Is this what I deserve for working as early as 6 a.m. during those times of [the] pandemic just to make sure the frontliners are being catered to?”
Lentorio said he could not participate in any City Council investigation which has already prejudged him.
He challenged anyone who thinks he committed a conduct unbecoming of a public official to file charges in the proper tribunal.
After delivering his speech, he stood up and left the Session hall, leaving his colleagues upset.
Vice Mayor Alan Gel Cordova then spoke to address an empty chair where Lentorio sat a few moments ago. “You talk of due process, and yet, here today, you publicly conclude that I used the power of my office regarding the acquisition of a business permit, and yet, you do not present any facts. And you claim to be the victim of due process. And here we are, without warning, [Lentorio] accused me in this very august forum, concluding already that I used the power of my office. How, may I know? And yet, no facts, documents are available; just a mere two sentences.”
The Vice Mayor said in contrast, the investigation where Lentorio’s name cropped up has dragged for more than two months.
Cordova said the accusations against Lentorio are corroborated by resource persons, and that there are documents contrary to his interests.
“What you said is unforgivable violence against my honor,” the Vice Mayor said, referring to Lentorio.
Other councilors spoke up in defense of Council Erames from Lentorio’s accusation about the rice contract.
Councilor Agustin Miguel Perdices said many Councilors were present at the office of the Mayor where the rice procurement was discussed. “All that Councilor Erames did was to inform the Mayor that one of our suppliers’ boats arrived, and [that] he was ready to supply the City with 1,000 bags at P2,000 per sack.”
Perdices lamented that Lentorio did not, however, explain how the first-ever contact with Aladdin Restaurant was made, that could show how Aladdin was selected as supplier.
“What I didn’t like was the end game. As we say in basketball, the best offense is a good defense. What just happened was his best defense was offense; if you cannot defend yourself, attack others?! I don’t like that kind of explanation. You don’t blame others and their actions for your actions. You are liable for your actions,” Perdices said.
Councilor Joe Kenneth Arbas said it’s not proper for Lentorio to say that he just wanted to help the City.
“Who did not wake up early in the morning? [But] is that the issue? In fairness to Vice Mayor Cordova, he was offered by a City official to serve food for the frontliners but he refused.”
Arbas also defended Councilor Erames’ project to raise funds to buy rice for Dumaguete residents at the start of the ECQ.
He reminded the Council that during an official proceeding, Patrick George had said that Lentorio is “not involved” in the 143 Houseware deal.
“George said he was just introduced to 143 [Houseware]. It was a lie but Lentorio was repeatedly nodding while the lie was being told. This was [also]denied by the manager of 143 [Houseware] who said it was Lentorio who was dealing with 143 all along.
“That has to be explained. I had long been texting and calling Councilor Lentorio to tell the Council the truth because someone else might say the truth, and he will be caught in a situation where he has to defend himself.”
Arbas also questioned how it was possible for Aladdin Restaurant to have cornered the food deal with a P12 million contract, while Rice Box and Boy Kanin got a P3 million contract.
“Why? Who is Aladdin that he had to get the business? That has to be explained. No one is explaining why we did not patronize other [qualified] restaurants, and [instead] gave the business to an unregistered business.”
Arbas admonished Lentorio “not to insult everybody here for some mistake that you started.Come here, be a man, sit with the Council, and answer the questions of the Council!”
For his part, Councilor Michael Bandal said Lentorio would not have been asked to explain his side if there was already a conclusion that what he did was wrong. “We did that because we wanted to hear his side.” He also said Lentorio’s accusation against some members of the Council was unfair.
Councilor Manuel “Chaco” Sagarbarria said the City could have given the food contracts to the Negros Oriental Hotels, Resorts & Restaurants Association. “They said if the City gave that [contract] to the Association, it would have been very easy. Ten or 15 restaurants could have handled it. All the restaurants were just waiting.”
Sagarbarria said the cause of the issue is getting clearer and that it’s all pointing to Lentorio. “We are not crucifying Councilor Lentorio but what can we do? It’s not our fault; it’s just the facts. I think he was already scared so he attacked the others.”
Councilor Bernice Ann Elmaco, who was involved in the private donation drive initiated by Councilor Erames, said they would be happy to show Lentorio all the books of account because all the receipts and donors are accounted for. “[What we did] was a private initiative but what Councilor Lentorio did is a totally different thing.”
Councilor Karissa Tolentino-Maxino questioned Lentorio’s absence. “If he has nothing to hide, why did he leave the room?”
She said that when Lentorio allowed Aladdin to use his space for a kitchen, that’s conflict of interest already. “When you offer to get items on credit in favor of Aladdin, you don’t need to be a lawyer to know that that’s conflict of interest.”
“Edgar, don’t play victim here with the circumstances that you created. You said you wake up at 6 a.m. to help but why help only Aladdin?”
Councilor Lani Ramon also protested against Lentorio’s statement. “I would have wanted to ask him about the delivery receipts, and why his checques were used to pay 143 [Houseware] for the goods intended for Aladdin. He should have chosen to answer the issues against him. That was supposed to be his day in court.”
Councilor Erames said she was shocked that she and the Vice Mayor were dragged into the mess, as she also denied any irregularity in suggesting the name of a rice supplier.
Answering allegations about his wife’s restaurant operating without a Mayor’s Permit, Vice Mayor Cordova said someone had been calling the Mayor’s office asking why the Vice Mayor’s wife did not have a permit. “That restaurant is not even in my wife’s name, but in someone else’s. I was not expecting that. That’s cowardly. Councilor Lentorio is a coward.”
Cordova also questioned why Aladdin was able to get a Mayor’s Permit on June 23.
“This is a big test for us. And whatever result of the inquiry may be, there is already that damage to our institution. People who may not have a good handle on the facts already suspect us. It is incumbent upon us to prove suspicious minds otherwise,” Cordova exhorted his fellow lawmakers.