By BEN R. ROSARIO
The House of Representatives yesterday cleared three Filipino-owned construction firms from accusations of collusion in cornering multi-million peso infrastructure contracts bidded out by the World Bank.
The House Committee on Public Works, chaired by Southern Leyte Rep. Roger Mercado, concluded its probe into the controversy amid suspicion among opposition solons that the investigation merely provided a smokescreen for anomalies in biddings being conducted by the Department of Public Works and Highways.
Opposition Rep. Teodoro Casino of Bayan Muna said Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s accusation of a House coverup of erring Filipino contractors was not sufficiently addressed by the committee.
Another opposition congressman cited a complaint aired by the China- based Guandong Engineering Inc. against E.C. De Luna Construction Co. and key DPWH officials of allegedly unfairly disqualifying the Chinese group from a P2.3 billion project in Samar in 2006.
“In 2006, collusion was alleged between De Luna and DPWH officials,” said the opposition solon who requested anonymity.
The E. C. De Luna Construction Co. has been indefinitely disqualified from participating in WB projects after it was tagged as “ringleader” in an alleged conspiracy with five other Filipino and Chinese contractors to corner juicy public works contracts funded by the bank.
During yesterday’s hearing, DPWH Undersecretary Manuel Bonoan denied that De Luna and the two other Filipino contractors, Cavite Ideal International Construction and Development Corp. and CM Pancho Inc., have ever been involved in bidding irregularities in government projects.
Casino expressed disappointment that the House Committee on Public Works terminated its inquiry on the supposed collusion between the WB- blacklisted contractors, saying the probe proved nothing.
“Right from the start of the hearing, we were not hopeful the World Bank would be attending the hearing,” Casino said.
“But as were informed that the World Bank had furnished copies of its confidential report to the Department of Finance and the Ombudsman, I had requested that representatives from the two agencies be invited. However, the committee failed to invite them and terminated the inquiry without giving the members of the committee the chance to ask them regarding the WB report,” Casino said.
The opposition solon said the House committee on good government or on oversight may be asked to revive the investigation.
In an interview after the hearing, committee chair Mercado said the documents submitted by the WB did not provide concrete evidence that the firms were guilty of irregularities.
“There’s no collusion. We do not have the evidence to support the criminal act of collusion. Under our rules, we have to present real evidence that is factual and we need witnesses to support these allegations. Unless those are acquired, we cannot prosecute,” said Mercado.
He justified the termination of the probe after only two hearings because he believed the committee has “properly ventilated the issue,” adding that the panel will issue its report soon.
“The DPWH is playing blind on this issue because the contractors involved are close to politicians,” Casino said, adding that First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo was alleged to have met several times with one of the blacklisted firm’s owners, Eduardo de Luna, in 2002.
Enrile discounts Lacson’s allegations on FG’s role in projects
By MARIO B. CASAYURAN
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile yesterday said the allegation of Sen. Panfilo M. Lacson linking First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo to the reported rigging of biddings for World Bank-funded road contracts is ‘’hearsay, for the moment.’’
He said the basis of Lacson’s allegations linking the First Gentleman were notations on the presidential spouse’s 2002 appointments book but these could not be considered solid evidence yet.
Enrile said that there is a need for Lacson to produce a witness linking Mr. Arroyo to the bid-rigging anomaly to substantiate his claim of bribery.
Lacson said the First Gentleman and Eduardo de Luna, owner of one of three Filipino companies blacklisted by the WB in connection with the alleged bid rigging, met 20 times based on the appointments book given to him on the sly by Dodong Mahusay, a witness in the earlier ‘’Jose Pidal’’ expose of Lacson.
One location where the First Gentleman and de Luna allegedly met was the LTA building in Makati City owned by the Arroyo family, Lacson said.
The senator alleged that during one of the meetings, de Luna carried P70 million in cash but the money fell off a carton, causing the cash to spill out at a ‘’wrong’’ floor at the LTA building.
Administration Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, chairperson of the Senate economic affairs committee that conducted a hearing last Tuesday on the road project scandal, shared Enrile’s view that the P70 million ‘’up front’’ money to link Mr. Arroyo to the questionable road project was hearsay.
‘’It has no probative value as of the moment,’’ Santiago, a former University of the Philippines law professor, said. She said she is giving Lacson time to produce a witness ‘’then we will submit a report to the plenary session.’’
Lacson had alleged that the money represented five percent of the more than P1 billion WB-funded project as upfront’ commission for the eventual awarding of the road contract.
‘’Wala pa naman ebidensya na the money was for the First Gentleman. It was denied by de Luna. We will see in the due course what will happen,’’ Enrile said.
Asked whether it was possible to ask the First Gentleman to appear in the next public hearing of the Santiago committee, Enrile said Lacson must first present his witness before the Senate calls Mr. Arroyo to appear.
On Malacanang’s observation that the Senate was quick to link the First Gentleman to the P70 million bribery, Enrile said that he respects the position of Malacanang.
‘’Let the committees do their work. But I would like to caution them to finalize investigation according to the original purpose and finish without expanding too widely,’’ Enrile said. ‘’The main thrust of the investigation is the problem of the World Bank.
“The chairperson of the committee made this point even as Senator Lacson raised his point. I’m not against investigation about any person by the Senate, even if the person being investigated is the husband of the President. But I think we’ll have to be circumspect in the handling of the investigation so that it will not go into any direction, not necessarily expanding from what it originally was,’’ he added.
Santiago reiterated yesterday her call that Public Works Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane be removed from the Cabinet for stonewalling the WB findings. Santiago was peeved by Ebdane’s testimony that the DPWH allowed the three local construction firms blacklisted by the WB to bid for other government projects.
Santiago likewise said Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez should be impeached for her inaction on the WB recommendations submitted to the Philippine government way back in late 2007.
Sen. Loren Legarda also stood on the Senate floor yesterday to refute the claim of Sen. Joker Arroyo that the Senate did not act on three Senate resolutions filed in November 2007 seeking a public hearing, in aid of legislation, on the controversial bidding of WB-funded projects.
Legarda, then chairperson of the Senate economic affairs committee, maintained that she conducted two public hearings but deferred further action after sending to the National Economic Development Authority the Senate resolutions for comment. The NEDA reply is still being awaited, she said.
Also yesterday, opposition Sen. Panfilo Lacson said he has forgiven First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo for the personal assaults on his character and reputation in the past.
However, implicating President Arroyo’s husband in the World Bank’s accusation of rigged bidding on WB-funded road projects is another matter, Lacson said, saying that the controversy is once again about corruption.
“But as I indicated yesterday tanggapin niya man o hindi, pinapatawad ko na siya sa kanyang kasalanan na ginawa sa akin dahil masakit ang ginawa niya sa akin….only because of his health condition na wala na akong galit sa kanya,” Lacson said.
Lacson accused Mr. Arroyo of interfering in government transactions particularly in road projects.
“Kaya ang dare ko sa Malacanang, sa mga nagde-defend kay FG (Mike Arroyo), I-deny nila entries. Madali naman makita kailan birthday ni PGMA (President Arroyo’s initial). Kailan ang birthday ng individuals na kailangan pumunta siya. Kailan siya nag-golf. Kailan punta Hawaii, kailan punta Japan?” Lacson said.
“These entries are easily verifiable. So kung sinasabi nilang di authentic o validated, that’s their own opinion. Unfortunately for them my own opinion is, that’s valid. That’s authentic. The entries will speak for themselves.” (with a report by Hannah Torregoza)(MB)