WE find it ironic that in this supposed era of Daang Matuwid, anomalous transactions and questionable deals hatched by PNoy appointees and officials keep cropping up with alarming regularity.
Remember the $30-million extortion attempt on Czech railway firm Inekon Group by Metro Rail Transit (MRT) officials? Inekon’s top executive even submitted an affidavit to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) detailing how MRT general manager Al Vitangcol 3rd and his cohorts tried to shake them down.
The NBI reportedly recommended the filing of attempted extortion charges against Vitangcol but Justice Secretary Leila de Lima refused to release the findings, saying she first needed to seek PNoy’s clearance. Why she needed PNoy’s pre-approval, we don’t know but this NBI report has not been released by De Lima until now.
During the congressional investigation on the extort try, it was also revealed that Vitangcol awarded the MRT maintenance contract to a thinly-capitalized company partly owned by his uncle-in-law, PH Trams.
Last month, the Ombudsman ordered the filing of graft charges against Vitangcol and PH Trams officials, thus confirming that the transaction entered into by this notorious PNoy appointee was anomalous and corrupt. Surprisingly, Transportation Secretary and Liberal Party (LP) president Jun Abaya was not indicted by the Ombudsman despite having the final say on the PH Trams award.
There is also the highly questionable P1.2-billion purchase of 21 refurbished UH-1D military helicopters involving Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin. The whistleblower, Rhodora Alvarez, accused Gazmin of “tailor-fitting” the supply contract to favor the supplier, Rice Aircraft Services Inc. (RASI).
Alvarez claimed Gazmin approved amendments to the contracts even after it was awarded, in violation of procurement laws. In an affidavit submitted to the congressional committee investigating the chopper deal, Alvarez also claimed Gazmin was promised a 7 percent “commission” in exchange for awarding the supply contract to RASI.
A few months ago, another whistleblower exposed the corruption in many of the country’s provincial jails. Valenzuela Jail Officer Angelina Bautista said top officials of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) in the PNoy administration pocketed millions of pesos budgeted for the meal allowance of detainees and prisoners through a “double budget” scheme.
Bautista said senior BJMP officials entered into a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with local government units (LGU) whereby the latter would fund the expenses for inmates’ meal allowance. But despite the LGU’s shouldering the costs of said food allowance, the BJMP still released the prisoners’ meal allowance of P50 per person per day, which ultimately ended up in the pockets of top jail officials.
Considering that there are 462 jail facilities under the BJMP with around 84, 691 inmates, we’re talking about a staggering P127 million every month (or P1.5 billion per year) in public funds that are being pocketed by corrupt BJMP officials. No wonder from 2012 to 2014 alone, Bautista claimed some BJMP officials were able to steal as much as P20 million every year from the Bataan District Jail alone.
And just last week, a Philippine Daily Inquirer report of another scandal in the offing – which we dubbed as the “Libya Ferryscam” – caught our eye.
According to the Inquirer article, officials from Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) hired an “old, slow and bedbug-infested” passenger vessel named “FB Bridge” to ferry 766 stranded OFWs from Libya to Malta in August 2014 for $1.8 million despite being offered a faster ship for a much lesser price.
Malta businessman Kevin Attard reportedly said that Virtu Ferries Ltd. – a Maltese-based operator of a fleet of high-speed passenger catamarans used by the U.S. and Australian governments and well-known aid groups – offered to rent out its vessel, HSC San Gwann, for the price of “Lumpsum Euros 345,000” (or approximately $490,000).
Attard also told the media that while he was negotiating with Virtu Ferries for a discount, he was informed that Rome Consul-General Leila Lora-Santos had already made other arrangements. He later learned that OWWA Officer Cynthia Lamdan eventually flew to Malta to sign the contract with Alex Polidano, the purported Maltese broker of FB Bridge.
“There is no mention in Polidano’s professional profile of his affiliation or connection with ‘Ocean Marine Services Ltd.,’ the company he claimed to represent in the $1.8 million Philippine government rental contract he signed. It is also suspicious that the bedbug-infested passenger ship ‘F/B Bridge’ cannot be located on Google,” the article said.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and OWWA Administrator Rebecca Calzado should both explain why they chose to sign up with Polidano when they could have gotten Virtu Ferries’ high-speed catamaran for one-fourth the price. And why didn’t they canvass the price of other vessels before sealing the deal with Ocean Marine Services Limited?
While we would like to view Del Rosario and Calzado’s dubious judgment as an accidental faux pas, our sources told us this isn’t the first time DFA and OWWA officials overpriced the rental cost of these evacuation vessels.
We will discuss that other “fishy” deal in a future column.