After ‘dud’ of a testimony, Pimentel rethinks Drilon probe
MANILA, Philippines—After the testimony of the main witness turned out to be a “dud,” Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III has expressed reservations about the blue ribbon committee’s conducting a second hearing on the P700-million Iloilo Convention Center (ICC) overpricing allegations.
Pimentel said he would suggest that the committee forego a second hearing, but committee chair Sen. Teofisto Guingona III has decided to hear former Iloilo Rep. Augusto Syjuco’s testimony.
Pimentel said in the case of other witnesses like Syjuco, the committee can just accept their submissions in writing.
“We don’t have to hear out every complaint…. you don’t give them airtime,” he said.
Otherwise, personalities would take advantage of this and air accusations before the media, “believing that they are also immune from suit because it is a legislative proceeding,” said Pimentel, following an inspection of the also allegedly overpriced P1.3-billion Makati Science High School yesterday. (See related story on Page A4.)
Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV said he was leaving it to Guingona to decide whether or not to call Syjuco as the next resource person.
“It’s the call of the chairman. If he believes based on his judgment that his appearance is warranted, I’ll abide by his decision,” Trillanes said.
Syjuco, who filed a separate plunder complaint against Drilon over the ICC, has requested that he be allowed to testify. Guingona ruled last Thursday that the committee would hear him after the testimony of Manuel Mejorada, the former Iloilo provincial administrator who appeared at the hearing last Thursday to testify on his allegations that the ICC was overpriced, but admitted that he used Wikipedia and “whispers” of local architects to back these up.
Mejorada also admitted that he had no evidence of a conspiracy among Senate President Franklin Drilon, Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson and Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez, the respondents in the plunder complaint that he had filed with the Ombudsman.
Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, who sought an inquiry into the deals between Hilmarc’s Construction Corp. and local government units, including the ICC, called Mejorada’s testimony a dud.
She said Mejorada should be held in contempt or at least be warned against issuing similar testimony, or risk being cited in contempt.
Mejorada had alleged that the ICC was a “high-level” conspiracy engineered by Drilon “to build an avenue for corruption.”
He claimed that the convention center was funded from Drilon’s allocations under the Priority Development Assistance Fund and Malacañang’s savings impounding mechanism, the Disbursement Acceleration Program.
Drilon has dismissed the charges as malicious and ridiculous.
Ploy that backfired
Leaders of the ruling Liberal Party (LP) on Saturday said the ICC overpricing investigation was a ploy of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) to deflect attention away from the corruption allegations against Vice President Jejomar Binay that had “completely backfired.”
In a statement, Caloocan Rep. Edgardo Erice, LP chair for political affairs, and Iloilo City Rep. Jerry Treñas, deputy chair of the LP’s Visayas bloc, said the probe into the ICC also showed the contrast between Binay’s and Drilon’s actions in response to the accusations against each of them.
“UNA’s attempt to use a fraud like Mejorada to manipulate public attention away from Binay’s continued evasion of the charges against him has completely failed,” the LP leaders said.
“All that it showed is how really shameful is Binay’s continued evasion of the Senate probe, when he can emulate Drilon by attending the probe as a resource person and gamely answering all questions,” Erice said.
Erice also criticized what he described as the “mediocrity” of the questions raised by Binay’s daughter, Sen. Nancy Binay, during the Senate hearing, calling it an “undeniable manifestation of why Filipinos should not vote on mere popularity and affinity.”
He also denounced Mejorada for “wantonly wasting the Senate’s time by producing not a single evidence for his many allegations.”
“By accusing some of the most reputable officials in the land in the Senate without a single evidence, he just showed the nation what Ilonggos have long known—that this guy is a hack who will say anything for a price,” he said.
Treñas said the former Iloilo official must produce concrete evidence before dragging the province’s name into his accusations.
“Mejorada, in his attempt to peddle fabrications, has tagged Iloilo City in all sorts of vile and malicious controversies, and yet is empty-handed when asked for material evidence,” he said.
“Mejorada and his political backers ought to be ashamed of dragging our hometown and its people, just so they could further their own selfish motives,” Treñas said.
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