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Absent witnesses in extortion attempt probe irk legislators

/ 06:06 AM February 26, 2014

Pampanga Rep. Oscar Rodriguez: Warning. congress.gov.ph

MANILA, Philippines—Members of the House committee on good government and public accountability saw red after key witnesses in their probe of the $30-million alleged extortion attempt in the purchase of new trains for Metro Rail Transit Line 3 failed to show up on Tuesday.

Pampanga Rep. Oscar Rodriguez, the committee chair, warned that the panel would be forced to issue subpoenas to compel Czech Ambassador to the Philippines Josef Rychtar, Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio A. Abaya, MRT 3 general manager Al S. Vitangcol III and MRT Corp. chair Thomas de Leon to appear if they snub the next hearing.

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Rodriguez said he would consult with the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on whether Rychtar, who revealed an alleged attempt to extort $30 million from the Inekon Group to allow it to supply the MRT trains, could be forced to attend the hearing.

Leyte Rep. Andres Salvacion Jr. said the House of Representatives should be as strict as the Senate in penalizing uncooperative resource persons.

“Unlike the Senate, the House has yet to send somebody to a detention cell for not attending a hearing or lying. We (House members) are very humane, we just smile, we don’t have sincerity in putting them in detention,” said Salvacion.

Akbayan party-list Rep. Walden Bello said the committee should pursue the investigation as “there are strong allegations of wrongdoing in a government transaction with a strong bearing on the public welfare.”

“It is unfortunate the principal actors belittled the authority of the House and chose not to show up. They should realize there’s no way this issue will go away,” said Bello in a text message.

The House probe was triggered by separate resolutions filed by Representatives Tobias Tiangco of Navotas and Neri Javier Colmenares and Carlos Isagani Zarate of Bayan Muna seeking the real score on the alleged extortion attempt.

The Czech railway firm ended up being blacklisted, while the supply contract for 48 light rail vehicles was awarded to China’s Dalian Locomotive and Rolling Stock Co.

Colmenares said: “We should definitely proceed because aside from the fact that we want to know the whole truth, we also want to know if it would have been more advantageous to the Filipino commuters. If there is an overprice, then it translates to fare hikes to the detriment of the people.”

Rodriguez, however, has been reluctant to proceed with the investigation, saying it was based merely on newspaper reports and the matter was already being investigated by the Department of Justice and National Bureau of Investigation.

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The case has hounded the Aquino administration after the names of presidential sister Maria Elena “Ballsy” Aquino-Cruz and her husband, Eldon Cruz, came up in connection with an alleged extortion attempt.

Colmenares had earlier said he would invite the presidential sister to a hearing should her name crop up in the investigation.

But Rodriguez was adamant there was no compelling reason for the Cruz couple to be invited to the hearing.

“From the beginning, the ambassador, through his affidavit, personal statement and signed letters, has absolved her and has been apologetic about dragging her into the scandal. He said there was no iota of evidence to link her to the scandal,” he said.

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TAGS: Congress, extortion attempt, House probe, Oscar Rodriguez
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