BY JP LOPEZ
SEN. Miriam Defensor Santiago yesterday called for the impeachment of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez and the dismissal of Public Works Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane and Finance Secretary Margarito Teves for “gross negligence” on the “road contract cartel.”
Santiago, chair of the committee on economic affairs investigating the alleged cartel, said that as early as November 2007, the World Bank had informed the DPWH, DOF and Office of the Ombudsman that it was looking into possible collusion of three local construction firms on the bidding for the first phase of the National Road Improvement and Management Program, but the three officials failed to act on it with dispatch.
“Sa report ng aking committee ay imumungkahi ko na irekomenda kay President Arroyo na tanggalin si Teves, i-impeach ang Ombudsman at tanggalin ang public works secretary para madisiplina sila,” Santiago said after the hearing.
“If you make heads roll, that will certainly serve as a deterrent… it sends a very clear message that (the) President will not countenance corruption in her administration,” Santiago said.
Ebdane was present during the hearing but Teves and Gutierrez did not show up.
Santiago said Teves, in a letter, said he had a prior commitment. She said the reason given was “unacceptable.”
“He didn’t even bother to send an undersecretary with a proper document when he already knows that it is about the blacklisting of three Filipino companies,” Santiago said.
Gutierrez, in a letter, said a preliminary investigation on the issue is ongoing and there is an Ombudsman rule banning disclosure of the personalities or the events that are under investigation.
“Is she claiming that the Ombudsman is higher than the Philippine Senate? Is that her claim?” Santiago asked.
Santiago argued the preliminary investigation by the Ombudsman is already past the prescribed period required by the Department of Justice.
“The Justice department requires prosecutors to finish the preliminary investigation in three months time. The report was given to the Ombudsman in November 2007. Until now she is still investigating?” Santiago said.
The World Bank last week disqualified and blacklisted Cavite Ideal International Construction and Development Corp. and CM Pancho Construction Inc. (both for four years), and E.C. de Luna Construction Corp. (barred permanently) and four other Chinese construction firms from engaging in projects being funded by the agency for acting as a cartel to rig the biddings on the road project.
The WB also suspended the release of some $33 million for road projects in the Philippines.
During the hearing, Sen. Panfilo Lacson dragged First Gentleman into the controversy, saying Juan Miguel Arroyo met with Eduardo de Luna, owner of the EC de Luna Construction, at least 20 times in 2002 alone.
Lacson cited information from an appointments book of Arroyo in 2002 which allegedly reflected the meetings that took place from March 1, 2002 to December.
Lacson said it was De Luna who delivered the P70 million “advance payment” to the “powerful person” holding office at LTA Bldg. on Perea street, Makati City last 2003.
Among other tenants, Mike Arroyo holds office in that building which is family-owned. The building is named after his mother, Lourdes Tuason Arroyo.
De Luna said he was not close to the First Gentleman but had met him several times.
He also denied dealing with the First Gentleman but admitted that he met with him in his office in Makati at least once.
De Luna dared Lacson to produce evidence.
Lacson said he is talking to witnesses to come out in the open, “but they are very much afraid to come out for obvious reasons.”
Ebdane said the construction firms could still participate in biddings on government projects that are not funded by the World Bank, citing DPWH rules on blacklisting of companies.
Santiago said: “That is an outlandish provision. It does not make any sense.”
Santiago asked Ebdane to change the guidelines and furnish the Senate copies within 30 days.(Malaya)