Blue ribbon schedules Drilon probe

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SENATE President Franklin Drilon will be the first sitting Senate President to be placed under investigation once the Senate blue ribbon committee begins its probe of the allegedly overpriced P700-million Iloilo Convention Center (ICC) project.

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Sen. Teofisto Guingona 3rd, committee chairman, on Monday said the committee will hold an inquiry into the ICC controversy and other issues related to it.

The move  takes off from Senate Resolution 906 filed by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago calling for an investigation, in aid of legislation, of  allegedly anomalous transactions involving Hillmarc’s Construction Corp. and certain local government units.

In filing the resolution, Santiago cited among others the two-story ICC, which cost P747 million.

She said she wants to know why Hillmarc’s was able to clinch no fewer than 20 infrastructure projects in some cities and provinces, including Iloilo province and Makati City (Metro Manila).

“The blue ribbon committee shall commence the investigation as soon as initial preparations have been completed,” Guingona said.

Although the inquiry will focus on the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), the agency that handled the project, Drilon will also be investigated since a portion of the fund used in the construction of the project came from his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).

The Senate President admitted that the P100 million allotted to him under the DAP in 2012 went to the construction of the ICC.

“The funds were used for the construction of the Iloilo Convention Center in order to boost of the Iloilo Convention Center in order to boost Iloilo’s chances of hosting the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation ministerial meetings in 2015,” Drilon said in a statement in July.

He also admitted allocating P200 million from his PDAF for the construction of ICC. The allocation was made before the Supreme Court (SC) declared PDAF or the pork barrel fund unconstitutional.

The Senate President said he is not against the Senate investigation as he expressed confidence that the DPWH will be able to defend the project.

He gave assurances that he will never use his position “to block or prevent the holding of a Senate blue ribbon committee inquiry into the matter.”

“I had no involvement in any way in the bidding process for the project. I was nowhere near that process to intervene, let alone nominate anyone to be the contractor of the project,” Drilon said.

Detained Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada earlier challenged Guingona to investigate the allegations against Drilon since he and Vice President Jejomar Binay are facing similar charges.

“If it (blue ribbon) is really non-partisan and independent and does not look at political colors, it will launch an inquiry into the matter without delay,” Estrada said.

Several senators also raised no objection to the proposal to investigate the ICC controversy,

Sen. Francis Escudero said the blue ribbon committee must show the same eagerness in probing the ICC issue, just like its enthusiasm in investigating the allegedly overpriced Makati City Hall Building 2.

There are other former Senate presidents who were subjected to probe by the chamber but the investigations were made after their term as Senate chief ended.

Former senator Manuel Villar was investigated by the Senate Committee of the Whole in connection with the Circumferential Road 5 (C-5) extension controversy in 2009.
Based on the findings of the committee, Villar, the Nacionalista Party’s (NP) standard bearer in the 2010 elections, used his influence on the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) so that the C-5 Road Extension would pass through his real estate property.

The committee report, however, was not voted upon by the chamber.

Last year, the blue ribbon committee also led the investigation of the multibillion-peso pork barrel scam involving Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Ramon Revilla Jr. and Estrada.

The committee also came up with a partial report recommending the filing of plunder charges against the three lawmakers.

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