THROWING AWAY PUBLIC FUNDS


Can a Cabinet Secretary just wave away hundreds of millions of pesos in public funds sunk into a government project in computing its asset valuation for purposes of ascertaining its rental rate, and say his Department is not interested in recovery of the money for ROI purposes?
This is now an issue I am pursuing with the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) after I discovered how it fixed the asset valuation for the Iloilo Convention Center (ICC) at only P330 million when it set the minimum bid more than a year ago.
From records I have in hand, no less than P750 million in public funds, with nearly half of it coming from the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), were disbursed for the construction of this project initiated by Senator Franklin Drilon.
I have exposed this project as grossly overpriced, and the procurement for the contract was apparently rigged. The memorandum of agreement between the land donor, Megaworld, and the Department of Tourism, set the cost of the ICC at only P200 million. Drilon had planned to jack up the price to P1 billion; the exposes stopped him 3/4 of the way. The ICC is not finished after P750 million.
For over a year, TIEZA peddled the management contract for the ICC using P750 million as the asset value for over a year. Each bidding for the contract ended in failure. That’s not surprising. Because the cost is much too high, and the rental rate will be based on it. Even just set at 10% of the asset value, the rental would be an astronomical P75 million a year.

Ultimately, the TIEZA Board revised the terms of reference for the contract. During a meeting in January 2015, then DOT Secretary Ramon Jimenez reportedly told the Board that the DPWH through then Secretary Rogelio Singson had manifested it was no longer interested in recovering its share in the project of P320,000,000! That paved the way for the TIEZA Board to reduce the asset value at P330 million representing the corporate funds disbursed for the project.

The TIEZA Board set the minimum, or floor, bid for the contract at 1% of the asset value, which would translate to P3.3 million annually.

Even then, the winning bid amounted to only P1.9 million annually! It’s a “bagsak-presyo” bargain. At that rental rate, the government cannot even recover 10% of the supposed P330 million asset value in 100 years! What kind of business decision is that?

This is now concrete evidence that the whole ICC project was just intended to be a conduit for the DAP pork barrel funds for Drilon! It was never intended to be the showcase of Ilonggo culture and history that would serve as magnet for conventions and visitors to Iloilo City!

I have asked TIEZA Assistant Chief Operating Officer Jetro Francis Lozada for the minutes of the meeting in January 2015 in which Secretary Singson reportedly told the Board the DPWH was no longer interested in recovering its investments. Singson had no right to throw away public funds just like that!

After more than a month, TIEZA hasn’t furnished me the documents I requested. Is this a cover-up in the making? I am sure the Duterte administration will strongly object to that kind of official behavior.

This time, Drilon will have to give an accounting to the people of the Philippines!

 

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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