Tempers flare at Senate probe into Iloilo building
MANILA, Philippines – Tempers flared briefly at the first Senate hearing on the alleged overpriced Iloilo Convention Center (ICC) when Senator Nancy Binay asked questions to resource persons that obviously alluded to Senate President Franklin Drilon.
Binay asked resource speakers to explain how the funding for the project was sourced at the hearing of the Senate blue ribbon commitee on Thursday, November 13.
She was told that the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) provided the original funding of P200 million, and was later augmented by the Department of Public Works and Highways with P300 million more from its 2013 budget to allow the first phase of the project to proceed, while the remaining P200 million was funded from the DPWH's 2014 budget.
"Was this endorsed by a legislator?" asked Binay, obviously referring to Drilon, who is being accused of causing the overprice of the project.
Drilon, who was sitting with the resource speakers, chuckled and then butted in. "Why doesn't my colleague ask me what my role in funding is? Let's not beat around the bush," he said.
Senate blue ribbon chairman Senator Teofisto Guingona III was quick to intervene. "Okay, okay, Mr Senate President, let's put to order. Sandali lang (Wait)."
When Drilon interjected again to make an explanation, Guingona called for a one minute suspension.
DAP or PDAF?
The hearing resumed with cooler heads. Binay fielded questions directly to Drilon.
Binay: Did you request funding for this project?
Drilon: Yes, I requested funding for this project. How it was sourced in the GAA is something I have no control over because the (DBM) Department of Budget and Management and the Office of the President would determine which portion of the budget can accommodate the request. Yes, I am proud to say that I requested for funding for this project. But I did not participate in any manner in the bidding, in the choice of contrator, in supplying the materials for this project. Yes, I did request for funding.
Binay: Ang source po nito ay hindi from your PDAF (The source is not from your PDAF)?
Drilon: I requested for funding from my PDAF. I do not know if my PDAF was the one used or some other item in the GAA, some savings somewhere.
Responding to Binay's questions, Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson explained that the DPWH only received the Special Allotment Release Order (SARO) and was not aware that Drilon had requested funds for the project.
Drilon later explained that he made the request to the Office of the President through the Department of Budget and Management. Binay asked for a copy of the letter request.
Drilon said: "What is the materiality of the question? The issue here is the overprice. There has been no proof presented. The pricing of the building was detailed. The source of the funding is the GAA and the corporate funds of TIEZA. I made a request for funding. I do not hide that."
When Binay continued to ask if the funds were also sourced from the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), Drilon said that while this may be the case, the bottom line is that the funds were properly used.
"It could have come from DAP. What is important is that time there was DAP, there was a presumption of legality. It has not been declared unconstitutional at that point. In this particular case, what is important is meron bang ninakaw na pera dito? DAP man o pork barrel man. May ebidensya ba? Tatlong oras na tayo nagmi-meeting dito wala pa ako naririnig kung paano ninakaw ang pera dito. Puro concusion galing sa Wikipedia. E 'yan naman po. I just want to put it in context," said Drilon.
(What is important is were any funds stolen? Whether it be DAP or pork barrel. Is there any evidence? We've been meeting for 3 hours but I've not heard how money was stolen here, just conclusions sourced from Wikipedia. So that's that I just want to put it in context.)
Drilon was referring to the statement that his accuser, former Iloilo official Manuel Mejorada, made at the hearing – that he had based his overprice allegation from various published sources, including Wikipedia.
Speaking before the Senate panel at the start of the hearing, Drilon denied that the ICC is overpriced. In fact, he said the government saved at least P521 million because he got Megaworld to donate the 1.74-hectare prime lot where the ICC is built.
The probe into the Iloilo building takes place in the middle of a Senate inquiry into another alleged overpriced government project – the Makati City Hall II Parking Building – which has led to various corruption allegations against the Binays.
In as much as the Binay camp had accused the ruling LP of instigating the Senate probe into the Makati building to destroy Binay's chances in 2016, the LP is also accusing the Binay camp of masterminding the allegations against Drilon.
At the start of the hearing, Binay also sparred briefly with one of her father's staunchest critics, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, when he began comparing the Iloilo and Makati projects.
When Trillanes referred to the Makati project as "Makati parking building," Binay interrupted to correct him, saying that the building should be called the "Makati City Building.
"For the record, can I just clarify Senator Trillanes that it's not the Makati parking building. It's the Makati City Building."
Trillanes responded: "Mr Chairman, we also have a basis to call it 'Makati Parking Building' because in all the bidding documents; it is stated there as so. But let's not fight over the case. For as long as overpriced siya (it is overpriced)."
The exchange between Trillanes and Binay prompted Guingona to intervene and say, "Let's stick to the issues here. Let's not get diverted. Tuesday pa daw hearing nila (The hearing on the Makati building is on Tuesday, still)."
Trillanes is among those leading the Senate blue ribbon subcommittee probe into the Makati building. The Binay camp maintained that it was not a simple parking building but a "world class" infrastructure project. – Rappler.com