An ICC on a silver platter?

IloiloCenter1Is the Iloilo Convention Center going to be offered to Megaworld on a silver platter?
This question has occupied my mind since I received a letter from Atty. Joy M. Bulauitan, Assistant Chief Operating Officer of the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA), last week informing me that the agency conducted two biddings for the management of the ICC, and that both resulted in failed bids.
Yesterday, I wrote Atty. Bulauitan another letter asking whether TIEZA intends to conduct a negotiated bidding for the contract, which is the logical move after two failed biddings. There seems no hurry now on the part of TIEZA to find a private sector partner to operate the ICC.
Why is this a cause for worry?
That’s because the Deed of Donation between Megaworld and DOT stipulated that the management of the ICC shall be awarded to a private entity. If the TIEZA fails to find a management contractor, then DOT/TIEZA will be in violation of the contract of donation.
I am not a lawyer but I know enough law to understand that failure of one of the parties to perform any one of the conditions could be ground for rescission of the donation. If the contract is rescinded on this account, the entire ICC will go to Megaworld as donor.
Heaven forbid, but this is the sweetest sweetheart deal that could possibly happen between Senate President Franklin Drilon and Megaworld. Without working up a sweat, Megaworld will have a convention center on its laps, courtesy of the government.

Sweetheart deal

Anytime soon — if it hasn’t happened yet — the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) will award the management contract for the soon-to-be-finished Iloilo Convention Center at the Iloilo Business Park of Megaworld Corp. in Mandurriao, Iloilo City.

The management of the ICC, which is expected to be finished at a “reduced” budget of P679 million by late June this year, is one of the conditions set by Megaworld when it donated the 1.7-hectare lot to the Department of Tourism as site of the facility.

And guess who will be the ultimate contractor to manage the ICC?

No other than Megaworld Corporation.

It will be a classic case of Megaworld having its cake and getting to eat it, too. It donated land which it bought at P2,500 per sqm. between two of its five-star hotels, Richmonde Hotel and Marriot Inn. Its act of “generosity” will reap enormous returns because it will now have a convention center at no cost to the company.

This was made possible, of course, by its benefactor, Senate President Franklin Drilon, who packaged the transaction that would cost the national government a whooping P679 million! It is a scam that is not likely to be investigated in earnest until a new administration comes along. As it is, Drilon enjoys the full protection of the “matuwid na daan” President, Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III.

But no matter how Drilon tries to deodorize the transaction, it is so rotten that its stink could be smelled as far away as Boracay, where I am writing this piece. Quite a number of people I met here groaned in dismay when the conversation turned to the ICC. That’s because the construction boom in Boracay hasn’t abated, and businessmen here know what it costs to build huge hotels and resorts. One businessman told me, “With that amount, I could have built a convention center with a five-star hotel.”

Hence, Megaworld will get the better end of the bargain when the ICC is completed, one that will be the envy of other big developers like SM and Ayala. It gave DOT a design for the ICC and it is getting it at no cost. All it needs to do is making a semblance of giving government a share of the income. With the ICC, it can market its two five-star hotels as venue for large national and international conventions. It is being handed over by the DOT on a silver platter.

The graft cases I filed against Drilon et al are now in the final evaluation stage in the Ombudsman. Am I confident that the Ombudsman will hold the principal characters culpable for the litany of violations of the government procurement law and anti-graft and corrupt practices act? Ultimately, the Ombudsman will be compelled to charge them. But maybe not soon enough. The Ombudsman is pre-occupied with running after the Binays.

The facts, and the law, are on my side. That’s the reason I can confidently say the Ombudsman will ultimately indict the respondents. The violations of law and policy are so glaring, and the defenses put up by the respondents have been weak. Most of them attacked me for supposedly saying I had no evidence when I appeared before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee four months ago. Unfortunately for them, it’s not what I said that matters to the Ombudsman. It’s the evidence on the record.

In this case, I was able to turn the table around and used their own documentary evidence against them. This is the beauty of the law. Innocent-looking documents submitted by your opponents can prove more lethal to them. I take great pride in waging this battle because I was pitted against the best lawyers in the country. For a non-lawyer, it flatters me to be able to cause seasoned lawyers consternation and great labor.

There’s nothing I can do to stop the transaction. Drilon, in his speech during the Dinagyang, arrogantly boasted that no Ilonggo can derail his pet project. Of course, it wasn’t the project that I intended to stop. It was the wanton plunder that took place in the guise of implementing the project.

I am now just awaiting the Regional Trial Court of Pasay City to set my arraignment on the four counts of libel that Drilon filed against me. Facing Drilon’s libel charges against me is the greatest challenge ever to confront me. But I am not afraid. I know I am in the right. In the end, truth will triumph, and justice will be mine.

ICC a monumental fraud using DAP funds – Mejorada

Phase I ICC

PRESS RELEASE

The Supreme Court ruling upholding the unconstitutionality of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) sets the stage for the prosecution of Senate President Franklin Drilon for deliberately pushing for “augmentation” in the hundreds of millions of pesos for a project that wasn’t on the General Appropriations Act (GAA), former Iloilo provincial administrator Manuel Mejorada said.

In a statement following the announcement of the SC ruling, Mejorada said the Iloilo Convention Center was a project of the Department of Tourism (DOT) through the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) using the latter’s corporate funds.

Describing the ICC as “a monumental fraud”, Mejorada said Drilon used his clout and influence to secure the release of P300 million in DAP funds for phase I of the project despite his knowledge that there was no item in the GAA for 2012 and 2013 to augment in the first place.

Mejorada said the SC ruling strengthens his plunder case against Drilon for being the proponent of the release of P300 million in DAP funds for the ICC.

On January 26, Mejorada submitted to the Ombudsman his reply-affidavit to refute the “lame excuses” given by Drilon and his co-respondents in his complaint for plunder, malversation of public funds, perjury, dishonesty and grave misconduct.

“There’s no more dispute that Drilon is the proponent for the release of the DAP funds as he had admitted it during the Blue Ribbon Committee hearing on the issue last Nov. 13,” Mejorada said.

He expressed confidence that the Ombudsman will find probable cause and indict Drilon, DPWH secretary Rogelio Singson, DOT secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr., TIEZA chief Mark Lapid, DPWH Usecs Romeo Momo and Jaime Pacanan, DPWH regional director Edilberto Tayao and BAC chairman Marily Celiz.

Mejorada said the ICC is riddled with violations of RA 9184 and other laws, including RA 8974 that governs the acquisition of private property for right-of-way and sites for infrastructure projects.

“The number one violation is the Deed of Donation (between Megaworld and DOT) over the 1.7-hectare property on which the ICC is being constructed,” he said.

He said the implementing rules and regulations for RA 8974 stipulates that donations of land for ROW and sites for government infrastructure projects should be unconditional.

In the Deed of Donation, Megaworld required DOT to use the property as site for a convention center and allocate P200 million to build the same. It also imposed the condition that DOT use its proposed conceptual design for the project.

Mejorada insisted that the Deed of Donation set the funding parameters for the ICC.

“It is crystal clear that Megaworld had calculated it would cost DOT only P200 million to build the ICC based on the proposed conceptual design it provided,” Mejorada said.

Mejorada also pointed out that the architectural firm of William V. Coscolluela and Associates, did not have a contract to serve as consultant for the DOT. Because of this, it had no legal personality to prepare the building plans for the government and review the technical bid proposal of Hilmarc’s, he added.

One of the most serious breaches of the government procurement reform law was the admission of Coscolluela that he allowed Hilmarc’s to revise its value engineering proposal after it was submitted to DOT for review and approval, he said.

“This violates the pass/fail criteria in RA 9184 because proposals cannot be revised, altered or revised once these are submitted to the procuring entity for evaluation,” he said.

Mejorada reiterated his motion filed with the Ombudsman to place Singson, Jimenez and the other public respondents under preventive suspension while the preliminary investigation of the case is on-going. (30)

Ombudsman directs Mejorada, 2 Cabinet men and others to file position papers in ICC case

Preventive suspension in ICC case sought

PRESS RELEASE

Former Iloilo provincial administrator Manuel Mejorada has asked the Ombudsman to issue preventive suspensions against two Cabinet members and five other officials charged in the alleged anomalies in the Iloilo Convention Center project, saying the evidence against them is strong and their continued stay in office might prejudice the investigation.

In a two-page motion filed December 17, Mejorada said the respondents in the administrative case are facing charges of dishonesty and grave misconduct which warrant their preventive suspension as they occupy powerful positions in the Department of Tourism, Department of Public Works and Highways as well as the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA).

Mejorada made public the document only yesterday to give time for its delivery by the Philippine Postal Corp. after the Christmas holidays.

Mejorada cited Section 9, Rule III, of the Ombudsman Rules of Procedure which empowers the Ombudsman to issue preventive suspension orders against respondents in an administrative case for a period not exceeding six months while a preliminary investigation is being conducted.

Charged in the administrative case are DPWH Secretary Rogelio Singson, DOT Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr., TIEZA chief operating officer Mark Lapid, DPWH undersecretaries Jaime Pacanan and Romeo Momo, DPWH Region VI regional director Edilberto Tayao and BAC chairman Marilyn Celiz.

The project proponent, Senate President Franklin Drilon, is charged with them in the criminal case along with architect William V. Coscolluela and contractor Hilmarc’s Construction Corp.

Mejorada said he has received the counter affidavits of the respondents.

“After going through their voluminous counter affidavits and supporting documents, it becomes clear from their own testimonies that a giant fraud was committed in the ICC project,” Mejorada said.

In a statement, Mejorada said “the respondents themselves dug their own grave with their counter affidavits.”

He cited the admission of Coscolluela that the “value engineering” bid proposal submitted by Hilmarc’s did not meet his criteria and had to be revised with help from a structural design consultant he endorsed.

“That’s all I need to drive home the point that the award of the contract was illegal,” he said.

But he added that he found “an abundance of other evidence” from the counter affidavits of the other respondents who were forced to disclose records that were previously kept under wraps. (30)

Stealing APEC 2015

Jed Patrick E. Mabilog, Ph.D. (from a garage sale), spent one hour this morning attacking me for supposedly stealing from Iloilo City the glory of hosting the 2015 APEC Ministers Meeting.
He accused me (without mentioning my name, stupid coward that he is) of depriving taxi drivers, souvenir shop owners, restaurants, hotels and other businesses of the income he claims would shower upon them should the meetings push through as planned.
Well, okay Mr. Mayor, I plead guilty as charged.

IloiloCenter1
I stole another opportunity for your money-making schemes.
So what do you want to do? Send me to jail for it?
Mabilog thinks Ilonggos are as stupid as he is.
How can one man stop this entire activity with a national government, and a Big Man, behind it?
If everything is above-board, and there are no anomalies, there is no individual or group that could prevent its staging.
But everything about the Iloilo Convention Center is irregular, illegal.
That’s the reason Senate President Drilon is trying to muster all the support he can get to discredit me and camouflage his misdeeds.
This is indeed a funny situation.
I am a mere “batil” or wood-hulled boat, and he has deployed the entire Navy fleet against me.
Their own actions betray their corruption.

Don’t blame me, Mr. Senate President

I find it pathetic for Senate President Franklin Drilon to blame me for any delays in the completion of the Iloilo Convention Center.

I did nothing to stop the project. All I did was file a case before the Ombudsman. It’s not my fault that the procurement and implementation of this project is fraught with violations of the law. The bidding was rigged, and the project is overpriced. Am I to be blamed for these irregularities?
The Senate President should stop blaming anybody else. It’s his fault. He engineering everything.
And why must contractors be afraid to join the bidding? In his statement before the Blue Ribbon Committee, Efren Canlas of Hilmarcs Construction Corp. said he didn’t join the first bidding for Phase II because he found the approved budget for the contract too low. That is perhaps the reason why contractors aren’t taking part in the bidding.
Definitely, it’s not my fault that Canlas and other contractors look at it that way.

The core issues in the Iloilo Convention Center controversy

The issue on the Iloilo Convention Center boils down to just a few major points:
1. Were there violations of the Government Procurement Reform Act, or RA 9184?
2. Is the contract reasonably priced?
3. Did the public officials involved conduct themselves in a transparent manner and demonstrated accountability?
On the first point:
Right from the start, RA 9184 was transgressed. The services of the architect were procured without undergoing through a competitive bidding process. This is now admitted by no less than DPWH Secretary Rogelio Singson who told Sandra Aguinaldo of GMA News that Megaworld “donated” the services of W. V. Coscolluela and Associates for the design of the building. Why and how that came to be was not explained. But the fact is that the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) did advertise an Invitation to Bid for an architect for this project. This was later cancelled; Senate President Drilon had already picked Coscolluela as the architect.
The competitive public bidding for Phase I was rigged. The invitation to bid for the contract, for instance, did not conform to the requirement of the IRR for RA 9184 that it should provide a brief and concise description of the project. The protocols in the bidding were also ignored and violated. There was no “competition”. The rules of the game were tampered to favor Hilmarcs Construction Corp.
On the second point (reasonableness of the contract price):
When Senate President Drilon first announced he will push for the construction of a convention center, he said its cost will amount to P300 million. He pegged it at the “industry standard” of P30,000 per square meter for first class buildings like five-star hotels. Six months later, Drilon said the cost had gone up to P450 million without telling the people how it came to be. Then it rose to P700 million. During the Dinagyang 2014, he described it as a P1-billion project. Never did he explain why the cost kept going up and up and up. The building design never changed.
The building has a total floor area of 6,400 square meters. At P30,000 per square meter, that should run to only P192 million. Even at the original cost estimate of P300 million, the project was already overpriced. But Drilon kept inflating the cost figures as more DAP funds became available for him. I challenge him to explain how he reached the figure of P1 billion for the project.
Sec. Singson, in the same interview with Sandra Aguinaldo, admitted that indeed, the industry standard is P30,000 per square meter. He also acknowledged that the SMX in the Mall of Asia cost only P26,000 per square meter. But he argued that the pricing for government projects is different. We could not compare public contracts with private contracts, he said. He did not care to elaborate. Does he mean government contracts have to factor in the kickbacks?
On the third point:
There is a total lack of transparency and accountability. Not once did we hear Drilon or Singson explain why the cost went up from P300 million to P450 million to P700 million and, (luckily we exposed it before it could take off), P1 billion. It took me nearly 10 months before I could get my hands on official records of the project from DPWH (not to mention that I had to pay P5 per page for these documents). When there is no transparency, then you can bet there is hanky-panky business going on. And true enough, I discovered that my hunch was correct.

Putting safety on the line — the Iloilo Convention Center

Image

Can a famous architectural firm be engaged to do the design of a huge government infrastructure project without undergoing the procurement process prescribed by Republic Act No. 9184 and its Revised Implementing Rules and Regulations?

Apparently not.

That’s the reason the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) published an invitation for expressions of interest for the architectural and engineering designs of the Iloilo Convention Center last May 2013.

TIEZA had every right to initiate the procurement process. It was providing the funds for the project. It was the procuring entity.

However, Senate President Franklin M. Drilon had already engaged a well-known architectural firm to do the job. As early as November last year, Drilon had already announced that the firm of W. V. Coscolluela and Associates prepared the designs.

The TIEZA posted the invitation to submit expressions of interest on its website. However, somebody must have informed Drilon and called TIEZA he’s got somebody to do the job.

Today (Sept. 30), I called up the BAC of TIEZA and I was told the contract, which had an approved budget for the contract, was cancelled. The BAC secretariat didn’t know the reason for the cancellation.

And so now the DPWH is in the final stage of a negotiated procurement to work out a deal with one of the short-listed suppliers. It’s being made on the architectural and engineering designs of a company that didn’t undergo the bidding process.

To add to the mystery, the DPWH Region VI just only recently conducted a public bidding for geo-technical investigations and soil boring to determine the stability of the area where the Iloilo Convention Center will be put up.

When I revealed this over the weekend, I received information from architects and engineers that this is anomalous. It only goes to show that the structural design analysis for the plans and specifications was done without a geo-technical investigation being done first. The safety of the engineering design, especially that the superstructure will handle a heavy load of people, could not be guaranteed under the circumstances.

Will DPWH sacrifice safety just to meet the deadline for the APEC Ministers Summit in October 2015?