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

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Ombudsman seeks COA help in graft probe on Drilon project

Ombudsman seeks COA help in graft probe on Drilon project

NEWS RELEASE

The Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas has asked the Commission on Audit (COA) in Region VI to undertake an audit of the P33.9-million contract to build the Esplanade II project along the Iloilo River which is alleged to be overpriced and the public bidding rigged.

In a 1st Indorsement dated May 6, 2014, Deputy Ombudsman Pelayo Apostol forwarded the complaint of Iloilo journalist Manuel “Boy” Mejorada against Senate President Franklin Drilon and key officials of the Department of Public Works over alleged violations of the government procurement reform law and the anti-graft and corrupt practices act.

Apostol addressed the request to COA VI regional director Evelyn P. Reyes. A copy of the transmittal letter was furnished Mejorada as the complainant.

In his complaint, Mejorada said the DPWH Bids and Awards Committee made a mockery of R.A. 9184 which established guidelines on the conduct of public biddings for government procurement.

Mejorada said that on the face of the information he obtained from the website of the Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System (PhilGEPS) on the contract, the bidding process was “rigged” with the winning contractor submitted an offer which is only 0.12% below the approved budget for the contract.

The DPWH had set an ABC of P33,950,000 for the development of a 700-meter long embankment on the Molo side of the Iloilo river.

Roprim Construction, which had also been awarded the contract for Esplanade I, submitted a bid of P33,908,791.50, which is just P41,208.50 lower than the ABC. Mejorada said this is an incredible winning bid, as it almost hit the ABC by a hairline difference.

Mejorada said the public bidding was apparently manipulated to favor Roprim Construction, which he described as a favored contractor of Drilon. This is the same contractor that cornered the overpriced Esplanade I two years ago at a total cost of P83.5 million.

On Sept. 10, 2013, Mejorada also filed a graft case against Drilon and the DPWH BAC before the Ombudsman for the apparent ghost implementation of a P13.5 million PDAF disbursement AFTER the project was already completed and inaugurated.

Moreover, the contract price for the project is overpriced by about P20 million, he said.

In addition to these “glaring anomalies”, Mejorada said the DPWH violated the revised implementing rules and regulations of R.A. 9184 with its failure to post the notices of award and to proceed to the contractor within the prescribed number of days.

He said this was done to hide the contract from other interested bidders.

Mejorada said Drilon is being implicated in this case because he is the prime mover for the development of the project. The project was funded from the controversial Development Acceleration Program (DAP) of the Aquino administration, he said.

The Ombudsman’s request for an audit is intended to establish the veracity of Mejorada’s claim that the contract is overpriced and that the bidding was rigged.

Aside from Drilon, Mejorada included DPWH regional director Edilberto Tayao and the entire Bids and Awards Committee of the DPWH Region VI as respondents.

The complaint was filed before the Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas Iloilo field office on March 27, 2014.

 

A heap of lies and deceit (Part I)

Coffeebreak

 

There is almost no doubt left in my mind that the construction of the new Iloilo City Hall project is an elaborate scheme to steal more than P300 million in public funds, and the architects are individuals our citizenry, the Ilonggos, had voted into office on the belief that they will bring about corruption-free governance to catapult our great city to economic prosperity.

And this sense of certainty is reinforced by the emergence during the weekend of a black propaganda machinery on Facebook and WordPress to discredit me and The News Today publisher Rommel S. Ynion before the local community. Instead of answering questions, the perpetrators of this plunder are throwing filth at us.

It’s not the first time I’ve encountered this kind of diversionary tactic, and rather than engage them in a tit-for-tat exchange of insults and lies, I have resolved to strengthen my sense of purpose in uncovering the entire truth. I know the path is filled with obstacles and booby-traps. This will not discourage me.

Personally, I was deeply anguished in choosing whether to stick to friendships or pursuing my journalistic ideals of exposing the truth, no matter who gets hurt. These are individuals I have known for a long time, and I feel bad that I had to be the one to discover the evidence of apparent wrongdoing in this project. Duty, however, must rise over friendships. That is a hard decision I had to make.

We have to look at this issue as objectively as possible.

What we have on the coroner’s table is a cadaver that is a half-finished New Iloilo City Hall that will cost the Ilonggo taxpayer a hefty P368 million. Its internal organs (electrical works, sanitary and plumbing works, data cabling, fire protection systems, pumps, generator, transformers, elevator, among others) are missing, which is the reason for its premature demise.

The original contract price translates to a construction cost of P26,000 per square meter.  By industry standards, I’ve been told a building can be constructed in a price range of P12,000-25,000 per square meter, depending on the kind of design and quality. What this means that at a high end of P25,000 per square meter, a contractor can deliver a finished building, complete with the basic facilities and amenities, and ready for occupancy.

This is where the problem starts. The cost of P26,000 per square meter encompasses only the shell structure. The building is stripped bare of electrical wires, plumbing and sanitary systems, data cabling, car ramp system, power generator and transformer. Instead of two elevators as specified in the approved plans, it has only one elevator. And the cafeteria on the roof deck is not included.

In other words, the City of Iloilo is being short-changed. We are paying for the cost of a finished building, but we will be getting only a half-finished shell. It is a building with no lights, water, communications, parking and emergency power facilities. It is a robbery in broad daylight, and it is being perpetrated by our own city officials, including the previous local chief executive.

How this happened is detailed in the in-depth reportage that The News Today has published these past several days. Right from the start, it appears that the City Hall project was a sacrificial lamb to be offered at the altar of corruption. And there was an effort to smokescreen the anomaly by making it look like we had the better end of the deal.

The lies began to fly soon after the original contract was awarded to the F.F. Cruz and Co. Inc./Freyssinet Filipinas Joint Venture, which submitted the lowest offer of P368 million.  On the surface, it really looked like we had a good bargain. What was estimated to cost P455 million was going to be built for only P368 million, or P87 million less. Then City Mayor, and now Congressman, Jerry P. Trenas gushed with pride: “we have a savings of P87 million!”

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. It was only made to look that way. But what the public didn’t know was that shortly before the public bidding, the Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) issued Bid Bulletin No. 1 amending the plans and specifications for the project, and in the process deleting major scopes of work that virtually mutilated the project. For reasons only he knows at this time, Trenas didn’t want a finished building.

This changes the perspective on the project dramatically. A diabolical motive emerges. The exclusion and/or deletion of the major scopes of work that could have finished the building and make it ready for occupancy was supposed to be a master-stroke to allow corruption to flourish from the transaction. Trenas can’t possibly escape culpability on this anomaly.

The Commission on Audit (COA) must now scrutinize the scopes of work for the original contract with an eye to uncovering evidence of overpricing or cost-padding. No engineer or architect in his/her right mind can justify a construction cost of P26,000 per square meter just for the shell structure. It is empty and bare. It is a skeleton wrapped in concrete, with vital organs to make it serve its purpose.

(To be continued)

Second look

Iloilo governor Arthur Defensor Sr. is a pitiable sight each time he faces the media. Much as he would like to put some punch into the way he talks, his voice sounds scrappy and thin, a far cry from the orator that he was in the 80s. It is apparent every word requires a Herculean effort for him, and he is like a toddler learning how to speak when he gropes for words and even connect them to each other.

But Defensor is even more pitiable when he tries to jump into the controversies surrounding the new Iloilo City Hall. A few days ago, Defensor was quoted by friendly media as wanting to seek another investigation into alleged overpricing of the Iloilo Capitol when it was built between 2001 and 2003. His basis? A reckless statement of Conrado Goco, president of the Pacific Orient Construction Management Co., that the construction cost for the Capitol was higher than the new City Hall.

Desperate to pin down his predecessor to perceived anomalies in government transactions, Defensor quickly grabbed the ball and signified his desire for a “second look”. The reader might ask: why second look? That’s because Defensor wasted millions of pesos in a witch hunt for supposed overpricing in the New Capitol construction when he was still a congressman and chairman of the House committee on good government. That investigation yielded nothing.

Now Defensor is hopeful Goco’s statement will score him some points in his efforts to link former Governor Niel Tupas Sr. to wrongdoing. Poor fellow. He had the power and resources to discover such anomalies in the Capitol construction if indeed there were. But after more than two years of probing, he failed in his mission. Will Goco’s statement change that? No.

It doesn’t take a math genius to make a comparison. The Capitol is six floors with about 15,000 sqm. in floor area. The City Hall is 14,000 with seven floors. The Capitol has a wide parking area with cobble-stone surface and lamp posts. The City Hall doesn’t have a single parking slot. The Capitol is surrounded by a steel fence. The City Hall isn’t. The Capitol’s total cost of development was P428 million. The City Hall, as projected, is P720 million.

So how can Defensor hope to prove his theory that the Capitol is overpriced?

Anyway, the stench is now so overpowering in the Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) in the Iloilo provincial government that several members have even resigned. The purchase orders (P.O.) for several big transactions have not been issued six months after the bidding. Is this the result of “failure to clinch the SOP?” The Commission on Audit (COA) should look into this. Because of this, much-need medicines and supplies have not been delivered. Services have suffered.

Suppliers are also complaining that payments are unreasonably delayed. The officials involved in the procurement process are busy facilitating the transactions whose suppliers were quick to come across. It is a shameless display of greed and corruption that many employees at the Iloilo Capitol can only frown upon.

The corruption that Defensor is searching is happening right under his nose! But he is being kept blind by a cordon sanitaire that’s exploiting his weak health condition. Those who have read Peter Jimenea’s columns are familiar with this story. And Peter Jimenea used to be an ardent admirer of Defensor and believer in his “Reporma kag Pagbag-o” campaign promise. Like Peter Jimenea, so many Ilonggos are disgusted at what is happening at the Capitol.

More trouble brewing at the Iloilo Capitol (2nd of a series)

On the first working day of 2011, Iloilo Gov. Arthur Defensor Sr. was fuming mad. “He was literally spewing fire,” a Capitol employee who witnessed the eruption of guvernatorial temper said. Defensor’s voice, weak as it is, roared with expletives. He got angry because no janitorial personnel was operating the elevator. The ROMAC Manpower Services Inc. which had faithfully and diligently provided janitorial services for the Capitol for six years decided to pull out its people.

It wasn’t an act of sabotage. It was the result of the Capitol’s new procurement system in which officials close to Defensor tried to outdo each other in pushing for their own business interests in awarding contracts for services and supplies. The corrupt system exploded right on their faces, and Defensor didn’t know he had stepped on his own landmine. Sources said ROMAC had participated in the bidding for janitorial services for 2011 last December. However, a member of the Bids and Awards Committee known to be an ass-kisser of Defensor told the management ROMAC “was certain to lose” because it was identified with the previous administration.

The BAC deliberately disqualified ROMAC on account of a minor technicality to enable a favored supplier to win the contract. ROMAC isn’t a patsy janitorial company. It has a number of satisified customers in Iloilo City that includes big malls and government agencies. It took pride in excellence in its services, and wasn’t about to beg for the contract from a corrupt administration. So on Jan. 3, 2011, it pulled out its people from the Capitol. This is what made Defensor very, very, very angry.

Sources said the provincial administrator has his own supplier. A town mayor from the 4th district also wants to push her own pet supplier. An executive assistant with “exclusive jurisdiction” over suppliers was not about to be outdone. The governor’s own people were jockeying to corner this juicy contract, and they ignored the fact that ROMAC’s services were due to expire on Dec. 31, 2010.

Defensor ordered ROMAC to bring its people back. “Our contract provides that we need to extend our services for one month should the provincial government fail to pick a new provider,” an executive of the company told me. The company relented, and the Capitol was swankingly clean and orderly again when its personnel went back to work. But the company is determined to stand on its principles. By Feb. 1, it will leave the Capitol for good. “We can’t stomach the corruption of the new dispensation,” said another executive. “We don’t want to appear as if we are being replaced because we are not doing a good job,” she added.

Defensor will have to rush the selection of a new janitorial services firm. He has only until Monday to do that. On Tuesday, Feb. 1, ROMAC will get out for good. It has fulfilled its obligation to extend for one month. It’s not going to stay a minute longer, said the first company official I spoke with.