The ICC revisited: Drilon’s monument of corruption and plunder

It’s been more than 14 months since the private company that won the bid for the lease, operation and management of the Iloilo Convention Center in Mandurriao, Iloilo City began its operations in running the business. But the project is not yet finished, making it hard to fully utilize the facility as a convention center and generate enough profits for the operator.Front view

For one thing, the “fits-out” for the sliding walls that can turn the main hall into three smaller venue rooms has not been installed. Secondly, the parking lot in the back of the ICC wasn’t cemented; the surface is gravel, making it an ugly appurtenance to other otherwise impressive structure. Third, there is no sound-proofing for enhanced audio quality.

 

 

With more than P750 million already spent for the project, the ICC is just an overdecorated box of a building, unworthy to be called a convention center that its sponsor, Senator Franklin Drilon, had described as “world class”. As a result, the ICC is hardly drawing the conventions, and tens of thousands of visitors as projected by Drilon, to Iloilo City.

That the ICC was overpriced becomes more pronounced because it sits between two five-star hotels in the Iloilo Business Park: The 12-story Richmonde Hotel cost P500 million to build, complete with all the furnishings and The Courtyard by Marriot, with 15 floors of upscale hotel accommodations that cost P1.5 billion. The ICC is only two floors, with 99% empty space. The sum of P750 million wasn’t enough to finish the facility.

Worse, the ICC was leased to Premier Islands Management Corp. on March 11, 2016 for a total of P74,054,267 over a twenty-five (25) year period, or roughly P2,962,170.68 per year. Computed on a monthly basis, the rental paid by the operator is only P246,847.55. In the Senate Blue Ribbon investigation into the ICC on November 13, 2014, then DPWH Secretary Rogelio Singson said the total floor area of the ICC was 11,693.79 square meters. That makes the rental rate a dirt-cheap P21.10 per square meter a month!

How could the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) least the ICC for so cheap a price?

According to TIEZA Assistant Chief Operating Officer (ACOO) Jetro Lozada, the agency was forced to review the cost paramaters of the ICC for purposes of establishing a feasible rental rate. Lozada admitted that TIEZA at first pegged the project valuation at the actual cost of P750 million, but several biddings resulted in failure. The minimum lease rental rate at that valuation put the ICC out of the ballpark in terms of feasibility among potential operators.

Then DOT Secretary Ramon Jimenez had a “eureka” idea to salvage the ICC’s marketability to lease and management operators: During a TIEZA board meeting on January 15, 2015, Jimenez said that his partner at the DPWH, Sec. Singson, had manifested that the agency was no longer interested in recovering its expenditures for the project. That’s a whooping P320 million that Singson, unilaterally, just wrote off without legal basis. That money came from the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) through the auspices of Drilon.

These circumstances are evidence that the Filipino taxpayers were defrauded not just once, but twice. The ICC was originally estimated to cost only P200 million. But Drilon succeeded in pumping air into the project cost until it would have reached P1 billion.  DPWH ultimately scrapped one or two more biddings for other components when it became hard-put to justify additional expenditures. This explains why the project is not 100% finished.

Indeed, DPWH could not justify more expenditures. In the Blue Ribbon hearing, Singson said DPWH was scrimping to be able to finish the project at below P750 million. He gave the figure of P747 million as the final project cost, 100% finished. But the cost had already become a run-away train, and TIEZA was forced to inaugurate the project in September 2015 in time for the APEC Ministerial Meeting.

These days, the ICC stands idly most of the time, empty. Events and conventions are far between, and the operator could only try to survive on the meager income it generates. Without the “fits-out” or the sliding divider and other missing components, the operator could not hope to book bigger conventions simultaneously in which the main hall could be turned into three separate venues.

And with no ceilings, no acoustics panels on the walls, the ICC is nothing more than an expensive warehouse. a concrete box that is already regarded as a monument of corruption.

 

 

Who set the drug convicts free in 1995?

I didn’t get to watch the entirety of yesterdays Senate inquiry into the killing of Kian de los Santos, but I read that Senator Franklin Drilon insinuated that Caloocan City Assistant City Prosecutor Darwin Cañete was involved in illegal drugs.
That was a below-the-belt blow that only a bully wearing the title “Senator” can deliver.
Perhaps it’s time the Senate also dug deep into the circumstances into the wholesale release from the National Bilibid Prisons of several dozens of drug convicts in the middle of 1995 by virtue of a writ of habeas corpus issued by a Muntinlupa City regional trial court judge.
There are many questions about the legality of that writ. For one thing, the petitions were filed in groups of tens or twenties, not individually. Second, they were already convicted, and the proper remedy to avail of the lower prison terms under the amended drug law wasn’t a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Third, the judge who issued the writs had been investigated and sanctioned in the past for ignorance of the law and inappropriate behavior.
Now, we should be enlightened.
Who was the justice secretary in the preceding months of June 1995 when the writ was issued that then set nearly a hundred drug convicts free?
The petitions were filed six to eight months before the elections of 1995. Surely, the Department of Justice was aware of it, but didn’t object. In fact, the DOJ most likely facilitated the petitions because these were granted without delay.
This singular act of freeing drug convicts set in motion the establishment of a nationwide distribution network for illegal drugs.

Is Bautista afraid leaving would open can of worms?

Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon has advised Andy Bautista to at least go on leave while he is agonizing over the decision on whether to fight it out or just resign from his position.
“I gave him that advise several times in the presence of other commissioners,” Guanzon said in an interview with Bombo Radyo Bacolod.
Guanzon admitted that the scandal has affected Bautista’s ability to perform as Comelec Chairman. Documents, including payrolls, that require his signature are often delayed, she said.
And as the crisis deepens, Comelec as an institution will be adversely affected.
Indeed, it is selfish for Bautista to put his ego over the interests of the Comelec as a whole. He should not have hesitated one second after the scandal broke out. He should have resigned right away.
What is stopping Bautista from leaving his position?
Is he afraid that his departure would open a can of worms and expose election cheating as most people already suspect?
Bautista is burying himself deeper in sh*t with each day that passes by with him still hanging on.

Bautista is a leech

Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista is still fighting immense pressure for him to just step down from his post and face the unexplained wealth case before the Ombudsman.

What could be holding him back? I read the blog of ABS-CBN House reporter RG Cruz two days ago and he quoted Commissioner Arthur Lim that something was likely to happen “in the next few days”. Lim hinted at resignation or going on leave.

Is Bautista still hoping that a miracle will suddenly extinguish the conflagration that is engulfing him? His brother, Dr. Martin Bautista, isn’t helping him deal with the crisis. On the contrary, Dr. Bautista only doused aviation fuel on the issue as more exposes about his medical practice in Oklahoma raised more questions than answered.

It’s more likely Bautista is waiting for cues from his Liberal Party bosses. His departure from Comelec might pave the way for the discovery of evidence that indeed, massive cheating occured in the May 2016 elections.

Stop being a leech, Andy. You should have resigned last week yet. But it’s not too late.

Investments and the PH electoral process

An investor puts his money where it will generate the best possible returns at the lowest possible risks. Investment is about making money grow. The world’s richest investors like Warren Buffet and Charles Munger carefully pick from an array of stocks, bonds, hedge funds, mutual funds and the like to make that happen.

But none of them, I am sure, will ever put their money in savings deposits in banks as investments. Savings deposits hardly earn interest income: almost all banks offer only 0.25% per annum interest on them, minus 20% withholding tax on interest earnngs. Bank of the Philippine Islands, Metrobank, Banco de Oro are among the banks I checked.

Because of this, the explanation of Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista that the several hundred million pesos in 32 savings accounts in a little known bank in Laguna are his family’s “investments” that he handles will simply crumble. It cannot be investments, for otherwise, he did his parents and siblings a grave disservice.

From the looks of it, that money is ill-gotten wealth. And the patterns revealed by his estranged wife — daily deposits of just a little less than P500,000 to keep within the threshold set by Central Bank and AMLA for red-flagging — would also indicate the element of money-laundering. It is prima facie evidence Bautista wanted to avoid detection for keeping huge bank deposits.

But the more serious implications of this explosive revelations by Mrs. Patricia Bautista is the possibility — more huge than slight — that the money came from bribes to the Comelec Chairman in exchange for manipulating the results of the May 9, 2016 elections.

This is the reason Senator Grace Poe supported the move initiated by Senate Majority Floor Leader Tito Sotto for a Blue Ribbon Committee investigation into Bautista’s bank deposits and properties not included in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN).

The results of the elections have already been put into question with the electoral protest filed by former Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos against the allegedly spurious victory of Vice President Leni Robredo. Robredo, who only won by a little more than 200,000 votes, could have been a recipient of vote-counting machine manipulation. Another reason to doubt the results was the 18.6 million votes obtained by Senator Franklin Drilon to bring him to the number one slot, edging out the highly-popular Tito Sotto and Manny Pacquiao.

The very core of our democracy is at stake here. The Filipino people have a right to know if the money in those bank deposits were bribes Bautista received from the Liberal Party. If the deposits as revealed by Mrs. Bautista indeed took place in the months preceding the elections, then that should be sufficient to establish prima facie evidence. Congress should now look at shielding the electoral process from human intervention, especially from Comelec Commissioners themselves. How to do it? I don’t know. But this is the direction reforms should take.

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!

 

SMEX Convention Center makes obvious overpricing of Iloilo Convention Center

I visited the SMX Convention Center for the first time yesterday to view the exhibits for the CONEX 2017 Trade Exhibition of the United Architects of the Philippines.
As soon as I entered its portals, I was overwhelmed by the enormity of the facility — with four floors and costing only P900 million.
I had long compared SMEX Convention Center with the Iloilo Convention Center, for which the government had spent a total of P740 million so far, and still only 85% completed.
The SMEX Convention Center has a total leasable space of 21,000 square meters. ICC has only around 6,400 square meters in leasable space. The difference is big, but ICC cost more to build. Of course, much of the construction cost didn’t go to the construction.
This makes the corruption in the ICC stand out like a sore thumb.
It’s time the Duterte administration reopens the investigation into the anomalous project.