The deafening silence of Drilon

Rick B. Ramos, executive director of InfraWatch, found it puzzling that Senator Franklin M. Drilon did not show interest in the privilege speech of Senator Serge Osmena on the alleged P111-billion anomaly of the mega-bridges projects, two of which projects are situated in Iloilo City. Four other Senators stood to interpellate Osmena after his speech and express support for the Senate Probe.

As everybody knows, Drilon is one of the “big guns” of the Aquino administration against corruption. Or so he would like people to believe. Drilon has been vocal about alleged anomalies in various government agencies. In the past, he exposed rice smuggling in Iloilo City. Hence, people expected him to pick up the cudgels for the people of Iloilo City. The anomalies took place in his own backyard.

Drilon, however, left the chamber before Osmena could finish his speech and never came back, according to Ramos. Since then, he has hardly uttered a word about the expose.

Why did Drilon not join the fray against the mega-bridges? Why didn’t he condemn the glaring overprice? Well, as it turns out, Drilon is a close friend of Rep. Ted Haresco, the man who profited vastly from the anomalous projects. Drilon cut the ceremonial ribbon when the second fly-over was inaugurated in August 2010.

But this isn’t the first anomaly that Drilon has refused to discuss. The most glaring, of course, is the Hall of Justice in Iloilo City. This 21 year-old edifice was built in 1991 when Drilon was Secretary of Justice. According to insiders, the project was undertaken by a very close friend of Drilon, using the contractor’s license of Kanlaon Builders.

This Drilon bosom buddy used substandard materials in putting up the building. The architect for the project complained about the irregularities and brought this to the attention of Drilon’s office. He was ignored. In frustration, the architect resigned from the project and issued a waiver to dissociate himself from any defects arising from the substandard construction.

Last February 6, 2012, a magnitude 6.7 earthquake with epicenter in Negros Oriental shook Iloilo City. The force of the earthquake in Iloilo City was estimated at 5.4 magnitude. While it was strong enough to cause evacuation in many buildings, it did not cause significant damage. Except for one building: the Hall of Justice.

Judges, lawyers and court employees found big cracks in the structure right after the earthquake and evacuated the building. When engineers of the DPWH inspected the building, they validated the worst fears of the judicial officials. The building had become unsafe. The complaints about substandard construction made by the architect of the building 21 years ago were proven right.

But Drilon refused to acknowledge the issue about the substandard construction. He promised to look for funds to “retrofit” the building and make it safe for occupancy once more. Judges and lawyers, however, refuse to accept this approach of just “retrofitting”. They want the building demolished and a new one put up. An expert structural engineer, Nilo Jardeleza, agreed. The Hall of Justice has to be condemned.

Against this backdrop, it is not surprising that Drilon should be keeping quiet about the list of mega-anomalies that have taken place in Iloilo City. He can’t claim to be immaculately clean, and officials involved in the later anomalies might just throw the Hall of Justice issue back at him. It was also Drilon who funded the P62 million purchase of the San Isidro property in Jaro that was used as relocation site. The original cost of the property was P2.6 million!

Drilon is now in the thick of undertaking several huge infrastructure projects in Iloilo City costing more than a billion pesos. It is possible, observers say, that he is cavorting with local officials who are mired in corruption issues to protect his interests in these projects. He can’t dwell on the corruption involved in the mega-bridges so as not to call attention to himself with the flurry of construction activities being undertaken under his patronage.

About Manuel "Boy" Mejorada
Manuel "Boy" Mejorada is a journalist and social media activist. A former Iloilo provincial administrator, he is now waging a crusade against corruption and narco-politics.

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