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One small step, a giant leap for justice

The Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas is set to conduct the preliminary investigation into my complaint that a P13.5-million contract funded from the pork barrel of Senate President Franklin M. Drilon for the development of the Iloilo Esplanade was anomalous.
On Wednesday, I received a letter from the just-retired Deputy Ombudsman for the Visayas Pelayo Apostol informing me that a fact-finding investigation done by Ombudsman graft investigators in Iloilo City has been upgraded into a formal charge for criminal and administrative offenses.
The cases, docketed as OMB-V-C-14-0489 and OMB-V-A-14-0347, primarily involves Edilberto Tayao, regional director of the Department of Public Works and Highways, and the chairman and members of the Bids and Awards Committee (BAC).
Apostol’s letter did not mention Senate President Drilon who was listed in my complaint.
A check with the Office of the Ombudsman elicited information that the cases are entitled, “OMB-RO6 and Manuel Mejorada versus Edilberto Tayao, et al.”
For me, the upgrading of my complaint into a formal charge is a giant leap for justice.
I wish to highlight that the Office of the Ombudsman, Region VI, has filed this as co-complainant.
What does this mean? It demolishes the defense of the Senate President who said that the anomalies were just “a figment of my imagination”.
After I filed this complaint on September 10, 2013, no less than Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales ordered the anti-graft body’s investigators to determine whether it had legal and factual basis.
I was told that Ombudsman Morales gave this instruction in a hand-written note on my complaint.
The report of the fact-finding team validated my charges that the items of work stated in the project’s contract were “ghost” or non-existent.
This is enough vindication for me. The complaint is based on facts. The award of the contract was anomalous. Public funds were squandered.

Now, it’s not just me talking, but the Ombudsman Region VI as well.
But it will not, and must not, end there. It should proceed to the next step, which is an indictment of the public officials involved in this corruption.

For a background on this case, you can read this previous post:

https://manuelboymejorada.wordpress.com/2013/08/31/down-the-drain/

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A QUESTION OF PRIORITIES

In 2013, as Senate President Franklin Drilon poured more than P2 billion into roads and bridges for Iloilo City, he set aside a measly P50 million for the retrofitting of the Ramon Avancena Hall of Justice after it was damaged by the February 6, 2012 earthquake.
Drilon ignored the pleas of judges, prosecutors, lawyers and the general public to demolish the building because it was condemned as structurally weak, and posed a danger to its occupants, and build a new one.
Drilon said there was no money.
But only 3 kilometers away, Drilon was pouring P153 million per kilometer on a road widening project which most Ilonggos felt wasn’t even necessary.
He didn’t find it important enough that lives are at stake.
Anyway, the retrofitting was completed early this year. Is the building now safe?
Judges, prosecutors, lawyers, court personnel and litigants who have to work under its roofs are not convinced.
They are complaining that the same swaying motions of the floor that was observed before the February 6, 2012 earthquake could still be felt. Cracks have started to be noticed in critical parts of the building.
Drilon should pray that Iloilo City won’t be hit by a strong earthquake.

Ultimate greed

The Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) was the largest robbery in broad daylight this country has ever seen. Hundreds of billions of pesos were hurriedly spent for projects that didn’t undergo rigid planning. Most skipped the processes for procurement like transparent public biddings. The result is that tens of billions of pesos were stolen under the auspices of “matuwid na daan”.

There is no better illustration for this grand plunder than the more than two billion pesos in infrastructure projects implemented in Iloilo City by the Department of Public Works and Highways. It only takes a brief glance at the program of works for the projects to reach a conclusion that this was a criminal operation.

On top of the list is the 1.9 kilometer stretch of the Diversion Road, officially known as the Benigno Aquino Jr. Ave., between the Iloilo River and El 98 in Jaro. The contract price for that short length is P298 million. It involved road widening by one lane on each side, with pavement-tiled bike lanes and service road for the north-bound lane.  At that price, each kilometer of this “beautiful” road cost the taxpayer P156.8 million.

If this fails to shock readers, I don’t know what will. But that is a scandalous overprice by any standards. How its sponsor, Senate President Franklin Drilon, allowed the DPWH to pad the costs to this stratospheric level is difficult to understand. When a kilometer of concrete road by DPWH standards costs only P15 million, this figure demonstrates that the person behind the project possessed the ultimate greed.

But it doesn’t end there. The man behind the Diversion Road must have liked it so much he decided to extend the reach of the ultimate greed machine. Three months ago, DPWH parceled out contracts for more road widening activities on the Diversion Road. One section of the widening project commences at station 6+740 and ends at station 6+940. Its length is just 200 lineal meters. The budget is P22,964,074.44. Two hundred lineal meters! That’s equivalent to P11,482,037.22 per 100 meters.

For this batch of road widening projects for the Diversion Road, the total DPWH appropriation was P167,326,488.54, covering only a total distance of 2.2 kilometers of actual new road surface with pedestrian and bike lanes. That makes the unit cost of the additional road widening a staggering P74,953,921 per kilometer. “Susmaryosep” is a tame expression for the shock it brings to decent people.

There are more contracts like this for the road widening of the Diversion Road, and I could hazard a guess that by the time it reaches Sambag, the expenditures could reach P1 billion. Offhand, the kickbacks from the overpricing for this Diversion Road road widening can’t possibly be less than half a billion pesos. Easy money, at the expense of the people.

Only a man with black soul could orchestrate such a great robbery of public funds. This man used the disguise of accelerated development knowing fully well that only his bank deposits will swell like the Pasig River overflowing its banks. The indecency of this man cannot possibly be matched. What’s worse, he invoked the name of the poor to justify his thundering plunder.

Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago noticed these construction activities when she arrived in Iloilo City to deliver the commencement address for the West Visayas State University in March this year. Unable to contain her frustration, Senator Miriam took a swipe at the people behind the projects. She said: “More projects, more kickbacks.”

Is the road widening of the Diversion Road a justified way of spending public funds? Perhaps if the overpricing were kept to the minimum, I would join those who applaud this project of the Senate President. But there is clearly no rhyme or reason in the way it was pursued and implemented. It’s not as if the Senate President was struck by a lightning bolt of inspiration, and he conceived of a beautiful eight-lane highway. The real intention was different.

Like most other DAP projects, the road widening was picked out of thin air just to have a reason to squander billions of pesos in public funds. It wasn’t included in the long-term plan of the DPWH. Just two years ago, DPWH spend more than P60 million for a road widening project along the Diversion Road. Hardly had the concrete dried on the first project when it was demolished to make way for Drilon’s pet project. That P60 million was pulverized and wasted before the public could start to enjoy its use. Why? Because it stood in the way of this great highway robbery!

With this in mind, it’s easy to see that its only reason for being was to accelerate the fattening of somebody’s bank accounts, and not to accelerate the development of Iloilo City. A greedy stomach that is larger than a Hippopotamus won’t settle for only a few millions from DAP. This greed had to be fed with overpriced projects to satisfy it.

No matter how they present it, there’s no way the character of DAP could be sweetened or lightened. It is soaking with evil purposes. And I am confident it won’t be too long before the people behind this great highway robbery are indicted by the Ombudsman and sent to prison to share space with Tanda, Pogi and Sexy. It won’t be too long before the detention facilities of Camp Crame will become one giant piggery farm, with so much pork getting into its cells.