Advertisements

OPEN LETTER TO SENATOR T.G. GUINGONA III

Sir:

“Reject all forms of corruption that diverts resources from the poor.”

Those words were heard all across the nation from Pope Francis during his visit to the Malacanang Palace last Friday and reported extensively in mainstream and social media in the days afterwards.

I believe these words become more relevant to the work of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee which you chair.

On November 13, 2014, the Blue Ribbon Committee opened its investigation in aid of legislation into the alleged overpricing and other anomalies in the construction of the Iloilo Convention Center.

I believe it is the supreme duty of the Blue Ribbon Committee to pursue this investigation with a deeper sense of purpose and objectivity. The hearing on November 13, 2o14 barely scratched the surface of the anomalous transaction. Partly, it’s because the evidence I possessed at the time were circumstantial in nature. Second, there was palpable maneuvering by certain Senators, including Senate President Franklin M. Drilon, to prevent its Honorable Members from being able to fathom its depth and magnitude through the questioning of resource persons.

I appeal to you, Mr. Chairman, to give justice to the Filipino people, especially the poor, by ignoring party loyalty and bring to light the full scale of what is perhaps the biggest single instance of corruption in Philippine government. The Iloilo Convention Center is a giant monument of greed and lies, an ugly icon of the worst corruption that mars the platform of “matuwid na daan” upon which this Administration stands on.

I will come before this Honorable Blue Ribbon Committee with concrete evidence of how the fraudulent scheme was carried out, much of which came from the major players in the project. The evidence will establish beyond doubt how the ICC was used as a tool to divert and embezzle public funds from the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). It will demonstrate how DAP was indeed prone to abuse and misuse, which was the primary reason it was struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional and illegal.

With more certainty, I will show how the Government Procurement Reform Act was violated not just once, nor twice, but even thrice or more just to bring this evil plot to fruition. I will expose the lies and deceptions peddled by high-ranking public officials to cover up their flagrant acts of breaking the law. And with the power of subpoena wielded by this Honorable Blue Ribbon Committee, more documents to complete the true picture can be unearthed.

The Filipino people deserve to know the truth, Mr. Chairman. Please do not allow the Honorable Blue Ribbon Committee to be used as shield for the corruption it is mandated to expose, denounce and prevent by strengthening our laws. It has a sacred duty to expose corruption in all fronts, and not just confine itself to those committed by enemies of this Administration. Corruption wears all sorts of color and labels, and Liberal Party is not spared from this handiwork of the devil.

The nation puts much faith in your shoulders, Mr. Chairman. Please do not shirk from this responsibility. The very survival of this nation is at stake. The liberation of the poor from the bondage of poverty rests upon you.

Very respectfully yours,

MANUEL P. MEJORADA

Advertisements

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.

Watchdog slams corruption in Dungon Bridge project

It was bad enough that the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) demolished the Dungon Bridge even though its structural condition was still good for the overpriced cost of P36 million. What made it worse was that the “matuwid na daan” government of President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III spent an additional P17 million to “widen” it into a four-lane bridge when modern technology could do the job at a cheaper cost.

Rick B. Ramos, executive director of the Citizens Infrastructure  Integrity Watchdog (InfraWatch), said there are several existing bridge projects in the country that utilized the metal plate connector technology to increase the vehicle handling capacity from two- to four-lanes. Among these is the Soro Soro Bridge in Binan, Laguna which was also implemented by the DPWH.

 

The Dungon Bridge was reopened to vehicular traffic two months ago after a public uproar over its delayed completion. When Ilonggos started using it again, they were aghast to discover that the four-lane design that cost them P53 million all in all had not been completed. The roadway on the bridge remained two lanes, with their money already down the drain.

The Dungon Bridge project was pushed by Iloilo City Representative Jerry P. Trenas with help from Senator Franklin Drilon, chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee. The money for the project came from “savings” of the DPWH, unexpended funds that were scooped from several completed projects to raise a total of P53 million. It was also Drilon who allocated the P65 million to buy the P7 million San Isidro relocation site for the urban poor.

Ramos said the P31.4 million, which later rose to P36 million, for the original contract of the Dungon Bridge project was excessive by itself. He reiterated that the bridge was still in good condition, and it would have been enough for DPWH to reinforce its columns, girders and abutments for more secure structure. But Ramos disclosed that a two-lane bridge project in Negros Occidental completed only last April cost only P21 million. Its length is almost the same as Dungon Bridge.

Ramos had written to DPWH secretary Rogelio Singson, who is always being praised as the paragon of transparency and honesty, about the Dungon Bridge last August 13. But his complaint has been ignored. Philippine Star columnist Boo Chanco wrote about the Dungon Bridge on Sept. 3 based on the Ramos letter. Singson never bothered to respond to him. In a Tweet on Wednesday, @boochanco said Singson has adopted a “deadma”, or indifference, stance towards criticism like this.