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Saturday, November 15, 2014

Senator Drilon Accuser Carried No Proof of Ilo-ilo Building Overpricing

Lawyer Manuel Mejorada confessed before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee yesterday that he had no documentary proof pinning Senate President Franklin Drilon as the “unseen hand” in the alleged overpricing of the Iloilo Convention Center (ICC).
Mejorada, an ex-Iloilo provincial administrator and former ally of Drilon, came up with the admission as he was questioned by Senator Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara during the panel inquiry.
Angara directly asked the resource person what was Drilon’s involvement in the supposed overpricing of the ICC, which would be used for the scheduled Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings in the country in 2015.
“May paper trail po tayo (There is a paper trail),” answered Mejorada, who proudly referred to himself as an “investigative journalist” several times in front of the senators and implicated Cabinet secretaries.
Funding for the project reportedly came from Drilon using the lawmaker’s Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or “pork barrel” in 2012 when it was still legal.
The builder of the still unfinished ICC – Hilmarc’s Construction Corp. – was also the contractor of the Makati City Hall Building II, which is similarly being investigated by the Senate for its alleged overpricing.
Mejorada filed plunder charges against Drilon, Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr. and Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson last month regarding the “anomalous” Iloilo project.
Pressing on with his line of questioning, Angara this time sought evidence of collusion from Mejorada.
“Your theory is that there was conspiracy. So what is your evidence that there was collusion to overprice the ICC and to earn from it?” the senator asked.
“Mr. Chairman as the Senate President said, I have to admit right now there is no evidence because I have no subpoena powers. But as I’ve said, as an investigative journalist, there are paper trails that will lead to the conclusion that there was somebody orchestrating all this,” Mejorada said.
According to him, the “hastened” processing of the documents and the violation to the procurement law in connection with the negotiated procurement participated in by Hilmarc’s “leaves opportunities, big opportunities for corruption.”
“I assert that value engineering in a negotiated procurement is illegal,” Mejorada said earlier in the panel hearing, noting that the ICC contractor erred in that regard.
But Jimenez deemed the award of the first phase of the ICC by the DPWH was regular. The DOT owns the ICC at Mandurriao, Iloilo City having been donated to it by Andrew Tan, president of Megaworld Property Inc., in 2012. 

People somewhat scratched their heads when the former Iloilo provincial official admitted that he lifted information from Wikipedia, an open-source online encyclopedia, to strengthen his claims of corruption.
“Mr. Chairman I am an investigative journalist and I have to rely on published records, what is available in publications and especially in online sources your honor,” Mejorada said during a separate interpellation by Senator Antonio Trillanes IV.
“Nakalagay rin po sa Wikipedia based on published sources eh 6,400 square meters. Iyan po ang ginamit ko sa pag-compute and at P679 million to complete Phase 1 and 2, eh aabot po sa P106,226 per square meter po (It’s also indicated on Wikipedia based on published sources that the ICC has a floor area of 6,400 square meters. That’s what I used to compute and at P679 million to complete Phase 1 and 2, the cost will reach P106,226 per square meter),” he explained.
Mejorada said that the industry standard is only P30,000 per square meter.
“Because of the figures involved here, most of the architects in Iloilo are afraid to speak out although they whisper to me. The P30,000 is what my friends in the industry tell me,” he added.
But Singson, who was invited to the hearing along with Jimenez, said that the floor area of the ICC is over 11,000 square meters.
Singson also vowed to resign if anyone can prove that he received even P1 from the construction of the ICC estimated to cost P705 million when completed.
Trillanes, for his part, said he’d rather have more definitive details on the alleged overpricing than what Mejorada was bringing to the table. “I’d like to believe you but I’d rather you give us documents… to convince the committee and the public.”
“In the case of the Makati parking building, there was an appraiser, an industry recognized and acknowledged expert who assessed the value,” Trillanes stressed.
Jimenez said that information on Wikipedia, which can be edited from time to time, should not be used in a professional forum.
“If one million people say that apples are square, then apples will be square on Wikipedia tomorrow,” the secretary told the panel.
Sounding off on the matter, Senator Sergio “Serge” Osmeña III said: “I used Wikipedia too because it’s so convenient. But I wouldn’t swear by it.”
During the hearing Singson revealed that funding for the project came from the DPWH budgets in 2013 and 2014.
Drilon said that the P300-million DPWH funding could have come from his pork barrel (Priority Development Assistance Project) allocation or from the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) released by Malacañang after he requested financial support from President Aquino.
Jimenez said the DOT also gave a P200-million funding for the project because it is a tourism drawer. 

Malacañamg said the construction of the ICC was “aboveboard,” especially since it was supervised by two Cabinet members known for integrity and professionalism.
“We have never doubted that the bidding for the Iloilo Convention Center was done according to the process,” Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said in a media interview at the Palace.
“We are confident that Secretary  Singson and Secretary Jimenez were able to explain in full and are prepared to continue to explain whenever it is required on the mechanics of the bidding process of the Iloilo Convention Center,” he added.
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