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Palace Hands Off on FG Testimony in Road Mess

Malacañang will not press First Gentleman Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo to testify before the Senate inquiry scheduled on February 12 on the bid rigging and bribery allegations on a World Bank (WB)-funded road project, President Arroyo’s deputy spokesman Anthony Golez yesterday said.

The First Gentleman would have his own legal advisers, Golez said, adding that the Palace is not in the position to advise the First Gentleman. “We consider Mr. Arroyo private person and can protect himself against this accusation,” he said.

The Palace statement was in contrast to the demand of Press Secretary Cerge Remonde the other day that the First Gentleman should be entitled to a due process amid “a well-orchestrated effort to besmirch his reputation.”

Remonde even volunteered that the purported documents (that implicated Mr. Arroyo in the bid-rigging syndicate) may be nothing but the baseless allegations submitted to the WB and not the WB report itself.

Golez also questioned if the WB report indeed exists. “Before we ask whether it was true that the WB has refused the Office of Senator Santiago to furnish a copy of the report, we have first to ask the most important question of whether there is really a WB report and which one is the real copy because there might be none at all,” Golez said.

Golez added the accusations thrown against Mr. Arroyo could be likened to mudslinging and that such accusations should hold ground in the proper court.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson divulged documents Wednesday containing allegations that Mr. Arroyo was behind the syndicate in the rigging of bids that led to the WB blacklisting of three local construction firms, contractor Eduardo de Luna, who was Mr. Arroyo’s alleged pointman in the syndicate, and three giant Chinese firms.

Also named in the documents were the late former Sen. Robert Barbers and former Congressmen Prospero Pichay and Jerome Paras.

Surigao del Norte Gov. Robert Ace Barbers, meanwhile, expressed dismay over the alleged World Bank report that refers to his father as the senator who “exerted his influence to further the collusive bid schemes” of contractors involved in anomalous practices in undertaking the international financial institution’s projects.

“It is very sad that my father who has been gone for more than three years now is being dragged into this mess. Remember that he was out of politics after the 2004 elections. If the report indeed exists, how can we, remaining members of the family clear the name of our father if we cannot test the veracity of the allegations,” Barbers said.

Barbers stressed that if the World Bank will not make the report public, at least “they should have the decency to furnish us copies and allow us to pose queries on the allegations levelled against our father who cannot anymore defend himself.”

“This is most unfair,” Barbers said.

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. also said he will file a bill seeking to permanently ban contractors blacklisted by international agencies from local projects.

Pimentel presented the proposal in the wake of revelations in congressional hearings that contractors that have been debarred by the World Bank from its road projects due to collusive and fraudulent practices are still being allowed by the government not only to continue public works projects already awarded to them but also to bid for new projects.

“The corrupt incidents should not be allowed to recur in any manner or form so that we do not perpetuate corruption in the country,” he said,

Senate Bill No. 3036 prohibits corporations, construction firms, partnerships, associations, legal entities or individuals officially banned by international funding agencies like the World Bank for engaging in bribery, corruption or rigging of public bidding or any act that taints those transactions from participating in any public bidding for constructions contracts or agreements of any kind with the government.

The bill also provides that existing contracts of these erring contractors with the government, that are officially declared by international funding agencies to be impaired by anomalies, irregularities or corruption of any kind, shall be rescinded by the government.

Lacson also earlier identified Mr. Arroyo as a recipient of an alleged P70-million bribe to favor a local contractor in a government project under WB funding.

The Senate hearing on the WB findings of collusion in the bidding for the projects will resume Thursday after Senator Miriam Santiago cancelled her plans to take an indefinite leave due to health reasons.

Santiago said she would summon Mr. Arroyo to appear before the Senate hearing.

Santiago earlier expressed disappointment over the failure of WB officials, who she branded as arrogant, to attend the inquiries. She later asked the WB to furnish a copy of the report on the investigations it made on the bid rigging allegations.

Last Friday, Cabinet Secretary Sylvestre Bello III said Malacañang will seek a copy of the World Bank (WB) report submitted to the Office of the Ombudsman way back in late 2007.

Bello said obtaining an authentic copy of the report is necessary to discover the evidence that will shed light on the bid rigging and bribery allegations on government officials and the First Gentleman.

“We cannot act on these allegations officially unless the evidences are authenticated, authorized and subscribed by the witnesses,” Bello said.

Bello said an investigation cannot be done based on news reports, not even reports coming from the Department of Justice (DoJ), Ombudsman, and from the Senate and the Congress.

“You can only start an investigation based on legal basis with documents authenticated and authorized and subscribed by any possible witness,” he said.

The Palace even indicated that it was unsure on the availability of WB report submitted to the Ombudsman even if the WB itself said that it provided copies of the report in November 2007.

“If it is true that the WB Report was submmitted to the Ombudsman, then the Ombudsman is the best source of finding the allegations,” Bello said.

He pointed out that the Palace will request Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierez “to expose the WB report, if there is any report and also it is about time to look into the veracity of this WB Report.”

Remonde said it is to everybody’s interest to seek the truth, the root cause and effect.

“We have to see the World Bank Report and let us not discount the fact that with the nearing election, it is popular that they are riding on the popularity of the issue so that they will be in the news. We have to see the chaff from the grain,” he said.

Barbers said the World Bank report subjected his deceased father and the other accused to the “bar of public opinion by somebody who doesn’t want to be known.”

“Even in our Bill of Rights which we copied from the Americans, the same people who dominate the World Bank, the accused is given the right to cross-examine the witnesses against him,” he stressed.

But this right, Barbers said, was not even accorded to them as the World Bank failed to give them a chance to defend themselves.

To avoid further controversies, Barbers suggested that the World Bank and other similar entities, which have projects in the Philippines , to pick their own contractors to undertake the projects they bankroll.

“I am sure that the Filipino people will welcome this suggestion as it will end corruption, in their projects at least,” Barbers said.

It provides that in case of violations by the construction firms, the president, chief executive officer, manager, administrator, directors or any officer in charge of the management and administration of the business shall suffer the penalty of imprisonment of not less than six years and one day, but not more than l0 years and a fine of not less than Pl million but not more than P5 million at the discretion of the court. Likewise, they shall be held civilly and criminally liable under other applicable laws.

In the case of government officials are found to have violated the provisions of this Act, they shall suffer the penalty of imprisonment of not less than six years and one day, but not more than l2 years and a fine of not less than P500,000 nor more than P2 million at the discretion of the court.

In addition, the public officers involved shall also suffer the penalty of perpetual and absolute disqualification from public office. This is without prejudice to other civil, criminal and administrative cases that may be filed against the public officers concerned.

“The government must be vigilant in defending the integrity and reliability of public transactions and should hold wrongdoers accountable under the law,” Pimentel stressed. (tribune)

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