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2nd hearing on Iloilo ‘overpricing’ urged

ILOILO CITY, Philippines—Refusing to admit that his testimony in the Senate on Thursday was a dud, Manuel Mejorada, the complainant in the plunder case against Senate President Franklin Drilon, on Sunday said the blue ribbon committee should call a second hearing to hear further testimony and receive evidence.

“Terminating the Senate investigation on the alleged overpricing of the Iloilo Convention Center (ICC) is tantamount to betrayal of public trust,”Mejorada said in a statement e-mailed to the Inquirer.

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The Senate blue ribbon committee is considering not calling a second hearing after Mejorada admitted under oath on Thursday that he had no evidence to prove that the P700-million ICC, a pet project of Drilon, was overpriced.

Former Iloilo Rep. Augusto Syjuco, a political opponent of Drilon, is supposed to be the next witness but Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV warned on Sunday that Syjuco might turn the investigation into a “political circus.”

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“If he wants, he [can] submit his affidavit or sworn statement to the blue ribbon committee and we will look at [it] and assess [it],” Trillanes said in an interview on dzBB radio.

Do homework first

Sen. Sonny Angara is also not keen on a second hearing, saying on Sunday that resource persons should first do their homework before appearing in the Senate to give testimony.

“We do not want a repeat of Mr. Mejorada’s testimony where he could not present a single evidence to substantiate his allegation,” Angara said in a statement.

“Well established is a citizen’s freedom of speech but anybody who goes before the committee should have done their homework as much as possible and come with supported testimony,” he said.

Angara said he was supporting Sen. Sergio Osmeña III’s proposal that the blue ribbon committee first vet the affidavits of resource persons before they are allowed to give testimony at the ICC inquiry.

Osmeña earlier said he wanted resource persons to first submit affidavits with documentary proof “to at least establish some basis that what they are saying is true.”

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Angara said the proposed system would ensure that “the committee’s time would not be wasted” and that witnesses could not use the committee as a venue “for personal attacks or vendettas unsupported by evidence that has real probative value.”

‘I have proof’

But Mejorada, who filed a complaint for plunder in the Office of the Ombudsman against Drilon and other officials over the ICC, denied that he failed to present evidence during Thursday’s opening hearing.

“Far from the claim of [Drilon] and his party mates that I failed to present evidence to back up my allegations, I have proof and this was strengthened by the testimonies of (Public Works) Secretary Rogelio Singson and (Tourism) Secretary Ramon Jimenez in last Thursday’s hearing,” Mejorada said.

He claimed that the testimony of Drilon, Singson and Jimenez on the cost of the building showed that the overprice ranged from at least P74 million to P95 million.

Mejorada said the overprice range could be derived from pegging the total floor area of the ICC at 8,932 square meters, as indicated in the invitation to bid for the project, and not the 11,693 sqm that Singson insisted on in his testimony.

“It would be tragic if the Liberal Party (LP) buried the truth by simply shutting the door to a deeper inquiry. It will have abdicated its mandate for oversight, accountability and good governance,” Mejorada said.

‘Baseless, malicious’

Drilon has dismissed the allegations of Mejorada, his former media consultant, as “baseless and malicious.”

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, an ally of Drilon, earlier said he would suggest that the next hearing be canceled, after Mejorada told the blue ribbon committee that his complaint against Drilon was based on “whispers” about irregularity in the construction of the ICC and that he used Wikipedia in determining the true cost of the building.

LP officials also said continuing the investigation was a “real waste of time and money.”

But Mejorada said the statements by Drilon’s allies were issued “in the face of emerging evidence, validating my assertions that the bidding and implementation of the Iloilo Convention Center was marred by irregularities, such as rigging of the bid and overpricing.”

The ICC is being built on a 1.7-hectare lot valued at P200 million and donated by Megaworld Corp. The lot is part of the company’s 54-ha property at the former Iloilo airport in Mandurriao district that is being developed as a business park.

Funding for ICC

The project is partly funded from the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) which, Drilon said, provided P300 million.

He said funds also came from the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority, or Tieza (P200 million), the Department of Public Works and Highways or DPWH (P200 million), and his allocation from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), but he was not sure how much from this source went to the ICC.

Thursday’s hearing, however, did not dig deep into the funding of the project. The Supreme Court struck down the PDAF last year as unconstitutional after the disclosure of the alleged embezzlement of P10 billion from the pork barrel program by lawmakers in connivance with businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles.

The Supreme Court also declared the DAP unconstitutional on July 1. Intended to be an economic stimulus fund, the DAP was put together by Budget Secretary Florencio Abad from the savings of various departments without approval from the House of Representatives.

Poor questioning

Sen. Nancy Binay, daughter of the Vice President and the sole opposition legislator on the committee, asked Drilon about the funding for the ICC but failed to follow up hard after the Senate President gave her information about funds coming from the DAP, Tieza, DPWH and the PDAF.

The ICC is intended to be the venue of several meetings of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders’ Meeting next year.

Thursday’s opening hearing on Mejorada’s allegation of overpricing in its construction lacked the fireworks that come with the hearings into charges of corruption and ill-gotten wealth against Vice President Jejomar Binay being conducted by a Senate blue ribbon subcommittee headed by Pimentel.

Originally posted:  9:21 PM | Sunday, November 16th, 2014

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TAGS: affidavits, Antonio Trillanes IV, Augusto Syjuco, congressional hearing, Department of Public Works and Highways, Department of Tourism, Disbursement Acceleration Program, Franklin Drilon, Government contracts, Iloilo Convention Center, legislative hearing, Manuel Mejorada, Nancy Binay, News, overpricing, Philippine Congress, Priority Development Assistance Fund, Ramon Jimenez, resource persons, Rogelio Singson, Senate, Senate blue ribbon committee, Sergio Osmeña, Sonny Angara, Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority, witnesses
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