Arroyo execs pocket P15-B from bridge scamBy Matikas Santos
MANILA, Philippines – Government officials from the past administration took an estimated P10 billion to P15 billion in kickbacks from the P111-billion “President’s Bridges Program” that did not go through a bidding process, Senator Sergio Osmeña III said Monday after a hearing by the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee.
“They could have made a kickback of P10 billion to P15 billion easy. The figure will be more accurate in the future,” Osmeña told reporters after the hearing.
Osmeña, in a previous privilege speech, said that the administration of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had entered into 14 anomalous contracts, estimated to have cost P111,942,110,000, for the construction of bridges that were not fully utilized.
Senator Panfilo Lacson had described the program, which were made up of contracts that spanned over a period of eleven years, as “bridges to nowhere.”
Osmeña said that all the officials involved in the anomalous program such as “the secretaries, undersecretaries, associate secretaries, etc.” have put the government in a “grossly disadvantageous contract” and they should be charged with violations of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
Among those he cited were the then officials of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), National Economic Development Authority, Department of Justice and the Department of Finance (DOF).
“It would have been fine if it was just one contract, but when you have 14 contracts, there’s something wrong,” he said.
Under the Office of the President
Osmeña questioned why the projects were managed under the Office of the President when it was just an infrastructure project.
Present DPWH secretary Rogelio Singson said that at the time, the PBP was under the office of the president and was being implemented by the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).
“Why should the [office of the president] set up a different project office when there was already an office under the [DPWH]?” Osmeña said.
He also cited the significant difference in the costs of the projects allocated between the PBP office and regular DPWH bridges office.
Singson said that “projects under the PBP were initiated by the president, unlike the others which were initiated by the DPWH under the regular bridges program and all were on national roads.”
The project was transferred to the DPWH sometime in 2003 because it was not being implemented as fast, Singson said.
Osmeña said that Arroyo could be held liable for the programs. He said that they will conduct further hearings in order to “nail down all the loose ends [because] they have put the government at a big disadvantage by going into these contracts.”
When asked if Pampanga representative Arroyo will be called before the committee, he said he would want to but it was difficult given her health conditions.
Singson said that he has given specific instruction to stop using the PBP office, “since we do not report to the president [anymore] on this program.”
During the hearing, Osmeña showed pictures of one of the bridges in Banga, Aklan that only goes one-third of the way across a river. One end of the bridge goes directly down into the middle of the river.
In the summer, the bridge can be crossed and cars will have to go down to the dry river bed area and cross the remaining distance to get to the other side, Osmeña said.
But during the rainy season, the river fills up and leaves the remaining two-third of the way filled with mud.
“What happened? Did they run out of money?” Osmeña asked.
Singson said that the bridge in the picture was the 203-meter long Guadalupe Bridge. He said that DPWH had provided the construction materials to the Local Government Units (LGU) because it was their responsibility to conduct the actual construction.
He added that the construction materials, consisting of materials for modular steel bridges, from foreign contractor Mabey and Johnson were already provided to the LGU.
Mabey and Johnson conviction
Top officials of the British bridge-building firm Mabey and Johnson, along with director David Mabey, were previously convicted for paying kickbacks to officials of the regime of former Iraq president Saddam Hussein.
Mabey had been convicted to eight months for paying $420,000 to Iraqi officials. Other top officials include Managing director Charles Forsyth and Richard Gledhill.
They were convicted for the case of allegedly paying a 10 percent commission of the contact price of 13 steel bridges that were supplied to Iraq back in 2001.
The firm had also reportedly bribed officials from several countries such as Angola, Madagascar, Mozambique, Bangladesh, and Jamaica in exchange for bridge supply contracts.