The former administrator of Iloilo province who has accused Senate President Franklin Drilon of plunder said on Thursday he has no evidence to support his charge and that he got his information from “open sources” like Wikipedia and the “whispers” of unnamed architects in Iloilo.
Testifying before the Senate blue ribbon committee which is looking into the allegations that the Iloilo Convention Center was overpriced, Manuel Mejorada said he does not have hard evidence at present because he does not have subpoena powers to get the needed documents.
“But as an investigative journalist, there are paper trails that will bring us to the conclusion that there was somebody orchestrating all these,” Mejorada said.
Sen. Sonny Angara had asked Mejorada if he has enough evidence to prove that the ICC project is overpriced.
According to Mejorada, architects in Iloilo who knew about the supposed irregularities chose to “whisper” the information to him because influential people were involved.
Reading from a prepared statement, he cited several violations involving the ICC project, from the selection of the consultant that will design the building to the failure of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) to secure necessary construction permits.
Mejorada said the consultancy firm W.V. Coscolluela and Associates was hired without public bidding. WV Coscolluela designed the center.
He accused the DPWH Central Office Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) of violating the Procurement Act (Republic Act 9184) by adopting a negotiated mode in choosing a contractor after two public biddings failed.
He said Iloilo City has become the “bird’s nest of corruption” largely because those behind the anomalies enjoyed the mantle of protection from the Senate President.
He mentioned other questionable projects in Iloilo like the Pavia Housing Project, the Iloilo City Hall, Iloilo Diversion Road, Esplanade I and II, and the San Isidro Relocation Site land purchase; two flyovers under the President’s Bridge Program and the Hall of Justice.
Mejorada said irregularities in the government projects were unchecked because the Commission on Audit (COA) and Office of the Ombudsman failed to act quickly on the allegations.
In a sworn statement he submitted to the committee, Drilon denied Mejorada’s accusation and claimed that with his initiative, the Department of Tourism (DOT) was able to acquire through a nation a 17,371 square-meter prime property, worth at least P521 million, for the ICC site.
He said together with several prominent citizens of Iloilo, he met with the president of Megaworld Andrew Tan in 2012 to discuss the building of a convention center in the Megaworld complex. Tan supported the idea and donated a portion of the complex for the center.
Megaworld also donated the architectural and engineering design for the project prepared by W.V. Coscolluela and Associates, Drilon said.
The DOT then entered into an agreement with the DPWH naming DPWH as the lead agency for the ICC project. The DPWH prepared all the documentation and requirements for the bidding, award and implementation of the project.
“The accusations are extremely unfair to Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson, Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez, their staff, and the people of Iloilo. It is disheartening to witness relentless smear campaigns against a forthright project which aims to spur economic activities and generate jobs,” said Drilon.
Facing plunder charges with Drilon are Singson amd Jimenez.
Willing to step down
Singson vowed to resign if he was found to have profited from the ICC project.
“I didn’t accepted this post to enrich myself, steal, make my life enjoyable, or engage in politicking,” he said.
Singson said the ICC has a total floor area of 11,693 square meters and not 6,400 square meters as claimed by Mejorada. He said Mejorada’s computation that the project is overpriced by P400,000 is therefore inaccurate.
Jimenez also denied the ICC was overpriced and maintained that the project went through the proper process.