Lacson Claims, 10 people link Mike A in WB scam report

MANILA, Philippines—Ten people have implicated President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s husband Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo, politicians and public works officials in the purported collusion and rigging of government projects funded by the World Bank, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said Wednesday.

Without naming the informants, Lacson said he had a copy of “excerpts” of the World Bank report of over 100 pages, and that it had “incriminating details” and was “substantial enough to make conclusions.”

“Offhand, there are at least 10 witnesses who implicated not only the First Gentleman, not only a former senator, but [also] other congressmen and other politicians and public works officials,” he told reporters.

Lacson said the World Bank report named the ex-senator, fixers at the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), and some politicians.

He said the 10 people included Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Filipino contractors, as well as a former government official.

Rigged bidding

Lacson showed some of the pages of the World Bank report where the names of Mike Arroyo and some politicians were mentioned.

A Filipino contractor told a World Bank investigator of the roles played by those involved in the purported rigged bidding of the government projects.

Portions of the report read: “[The Filipino contractor] said Mr. Miranda and Mr. [Boy] Belleza both actively work to manipulate bidding. [The contractor] said Mr. [Ed] de Luna is ‘behind’ Mr. Miranda, and the husband of Philippine President Gloria Arroyo, First Gentleman Mike Arroyo, is ‘behind’ Mr. De Luna.

“[The Filipino contractor] said Mr. De Luna takes an active role in arranging collusive bid schemes on behalf of contractors and politicians. [The contractor] said Sen. Robert Barbers (now deceased) was active in using his influence to further the collusive bid schemes.”

The contractor said then Public Works Secretary Florante Soriquez “exercises a very large influence on the schemes and ensures their success.”

The same source said “the colluders’ meetings take place in different places, which change frequently.” These meetings used to happen at Diamond Hotel in Manila but “also now occur elsewhere.”

The contractor “understands the total payoff to equal between 15-20 percent of the total value of the contract,” and that “all payments are made in cash, and that his company’s books do not reflect any of these payments in any event because the books are faked to avoid taxes,” the report said.

On the phone, Barbers’ sons angrily denied the allegation against their father.

Said Surigao del Norte Gov. Ace Barbers: “That’s a slanderous and libelous statement... May I ask the World Bank to name this contractor and categorically state that Senator Barbers used his influence. I will definitely deny that for the reason that there was never an opportunity or time for my father to use his influence in getting contracts. His good track record will speak for that.”

Said former Philippine Tourism Authority general manager Robert Dean Barbers: “My family and I are outraged. My father has been dead for three years and they should not involve him in politics. My father had many friends but that doesn’t prove ... that he was into this. People [came] to him to befriend him and some [used] his name in influence-peddling.”

Primary facilitators

Another page of the World Bank report quoted a former government official “who expressed concern over collusion in the bidding processes for road projects” and identified the following as “the primary arrangers or facilitators of the collusion:”

“Contractor Eduardo de Luna who was ‘masterminding’ bids, is close to Mr. Arroyo and is a go-between of Mr. Arroyo on foreign-assisted projects.”

“DPWH staff member ‘Boy’ Belleza whom [the official] described as a long-time arranger dating back to the Marcos regime. [The official] said Mr. Belleza had been barred for a time from the DPWH offices.”

The same official “named multiple congressmen and senators who had taken bribes, including former Senator Barbers.”

The same source said the DPWH members who had taken bribes included “Soriquez (who is close to Mr. Arroyo and Mr. De Luna) and Project Director Lope Adriano.”

Adjusting prices

Another page of the World Bank report quoted another Filipino contractor who reported an incident in August 2006 concerning a project that was being fixed by De Luna:

“They are busy in raising the project ABC and forced other contractors to give to China Geo in 1.4B, China Road in 1.6A, and China Wuyi in 1.6B, they use the name of the First Gentleman and local politicians like Congressman Paras in (Negros) and Congressman Pichay (in Surigao). If the contractors don’t want to coordinate with them, they will blacklist you, or they will disqualify you always.”

Lacson’s interpretation of this page was that the arrangement was for the awards and bidding committee to adjust the bidding price higher than 10-15 percent of the original agency estimate, and the contractor gave a breakdown of how the adjusted higher price would be shared.

The page showed that Mike Arroyo took 5 percent; local politicians, 5 to 6 percent; and contractors, 3 percent.

The Senate has formally requested the World Bank to furnish it copies of the documents used as basis in blacklisting three Filipino construction firms.

The request was contained in a letter dated Feb. 2 to World Bank Director Bert Hofman by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, the chair of the Senate economic affairs committee.

Santiago inquired whether the World Bank would be willing to submit to her committee certain documents pertaining to the blacklisting of E.C. de Luna Construction Corp., Cavite Ideal International Construction and Development Corp. and CM Pancho Construction Inc.

She told Hofman that she had a copy of the World Bank report, which was furnished by the contractors during the committee hearing last week.

“I have acknowledged that under international law, the Philippine government has no power to subpoena the Bank officials, or Bank documents,” Santiago said, adding:

“However, I am hoping that the Bank itself will voluntarily waive its immunity, and give us documents that might lead to the identification of certain Filipino politicians or other public officials who may have facilitated the alleged collusion.

“For this same purpose, I have asked for NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) assistance. Should you be willing to give me copies of any pertinent documents, I will have to release them to the Senate media.”

Appeal


In an interview Wednesday, Santiago reiterated that no Philippine government agency could subpoena World Bank officials or documents.

“So I appealed to [Hofman], in the interest of Philippine public service and our anticorruption campaign, to voluntarily release the documents to the committee,” she said.

Santiago said that as much as possible, congressional hearings should abide by the Rules of Court.

“The Rules of Court prohibiting hearsay are mandatory in judicial courts. If a Senate committee endorses to the Ombudsman or to the prosecutors a criminal case based only on hearsay evidence, it will be thrown out,” she said.

Santiago was referring to an online news item alleging that a Japanese contractor, who had since left the country, implicated Mike Arroyo in corrupt practices.

She said the “Internet news item is hearsay and, therefore, has no probative value” at this point.

Different copies

Lacson said the Japanese contractor who had admitted meeting with Mike Arroyo and others was one Mr. Suzuka.

He also quoted the report where Mr. Suzuka met with Mike Arroyo and Barbers on at least one occasion.

Santiago said she had a copy of the World Bank final report, and that it did not mention the purported testimony against Ms Arroyo’s husband.

She said that under the hearsay rule, a witness could testify only to what he had perceived by his own senses.

“If the World Bank gives me the documents that incriminate the First Gentleman or any other public official, I will immediately set a hearing and invite them. If they don’t appear, I’ll take it a step farther and subpoena them,” she said.

Told that Santiago had a copy of the World Bank’s final report and that it did not mention the allegations against Mike Arroyo, Lacson said his copy was different from what Santiago was holding.

“Kung wala doon, mali ang kopya niya (If it’s not there, her copy is wrong). I’m sure about that,” Lacson said.

He said that while he had an incomplete report, he had read it and it clearly contained the allegations against Mike Arroyo, the ex-senator and others: “Binasa ko; kulang ang nasa akin na WB report pero malinaw doon ang pag-implicate kay FG, sa ex-senator and other politicians.”

Confusing


Contacted on the phone, Mike Arroyo’s lawyer Ruy Rondain said the appearance of Lacson’s documents had made things “confusing.”

“I’m hearing different reports. There were some senators (Santiago and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile) saying they saw the World Bank report and that the First Gentleman was not mentioned, and a senator is now saying he is,” Rondain said.

“But even if Mr. Arroyo is named, the Japanese contractor is nameless and faceless, and as Senators Enrile and Santiago said, it’s hearsay.”

Told that Lacson had identified the Japanese contractor as a Mr. Suzuka, Rondain said: “So who is he?”

Corruption

The three construction firms were blacklisted for purported corrupt and fraudulent practices in connection with Phase 1 of the National Road Improvement Project financed by the World Bank.

The total project cost amounted to $305.41 million, with the World Bank shouldering $150 million by way of a loan. The balance of $155.42 million was to be shouldered by the government as its counterpart fund.

The bank has withheld funding for the project, although the DPWH proceeded with two of the 10 contract packages under the NRIMP-1 using local funds. (inquirer.net)

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