A hastily called meeting by the top officials of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) with ranking executives of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) late Tuesday marked President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration of his sweeping wish to have all government agencies probed for corruption.
What made BCDA president and CEO Vivencio “Vince” Dizon scramble to get that meeting with the NEDA was a complaint filed by the Citizen’s Crime Watch Association (CCWA), represented by its president Diego L. Magpantay before the Ombudsman on Monday, seeking to penalize Dizon and other BCDA executives for graft and malversation.
Also charged with Dizon were Isaac David, director of Malaysian firm MTD Capital Berhad — the BCDA’s partner in the construction of the 9,500-hectare New Clark City which served as the main hub of last year’s Southeast Asian Games which the country hosted; lawyer Elvira V. Estanislao, senior vice president for the BCDA’s legal services group; and lawyer Elpidio Vega of the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel (OGCC).
Several John and Jane Does were also slapped with the same charges depending on the outcome of the probe that may result from the case.
An unimpeachable Daily Tribune source claimed the meeting was hastily called as Dizon was said to have inquired about the probability of the cases’ merits.
The graft and malversation cases stemmed from the MTD’s unsolicited proposal to build the New Clark City for P8.5 billion, with the BCDA providing the project site on which the MTD project would build the SEA Games site.
The BCDA then committed to repay MTD P2.2 billion in five-year annual installments, totaling P11.1 billion. Their contract, according to the CCWA complaint, branded the P2.5 billion a “reasonable cost and return.”
Money used for the project was loaned by MTD from the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP). The Malaysian firm used Philippine money amounting to P9.5 billion to build the joint project solicited by the BCDA.
Their 67-page joint venture contract is not in the form of a build-and-transfer and, Magpantay said, should not guarantee the private corporation to earn profits.
Former Government Corporate Counsel Rudolf Jurado had earlier advised the BCDA that the project should undergo public bidding.
Jurado, however, was fired by President Rodrigo Duterte in May 2018 for favoring the franchise of the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone (Apeco), including provisions on allowing gambling operations which the Chief Executive sidestepped the function of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR).
He was replaced by Dizon’s co-accused Vega, who favored the MTD through a Swiss challenge. The contract included assurance of an equal sharing of profits raised by the New Clark City.
“BCDA not only reimbursed MTD the full amount of P8.5 billion, it also gave MTD an additional P2.490 billion resulting in MTD’s double profits. By giving MTD a 50 percent share of the profits, MTD would effectively receive profit for the third time,” the CCWA complaint stated.
Sources also claimed the BCDA entered into that contract with MTD eight months ahead of the GOCC’s approval.
Prior to Dizon’s meeting with the NEDA executives, another Daily Tribune source disclosed his meeting with yet another high-ranking government official who may have a say in the cases that he is now facing.
President Duterte’s order to have the entire bureaucracy investigated for corruption has led to the creation of a “mega task force” to be led by the Department of Justice (DoJ).
The move was welcomed by several lawmakers, with Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go saying: “The President is intent on fulfilling his promise of change. So that the people would be able to see changes before his term ends.”
The “mega task force” is actually the same group that probed the reported irregularities in the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth).
Several officials of the PhilHealth were meted with suspensions yesterday.
President Duterte, however, had exonerated Department of Health Secretary Francisco Duque from involvement in the PhilHealth anomalies. Duque is the PhilHealth’s Board Chairman.
The Daily Tribune source, however, questioned Dizon’s meetings with the “BCDA and another high-ranking official” as the BCDA was not among the identified agencies which were listed as most likely to be probed first.
In a related development, DoJ Secretary Menardo Guevarra said these agencies included are the PhilHealth, the “usual suspects” Bureau of Customs and Bureau of Internal Revenue, the Land Registration Authority and the Department of Public Works and Highways.
The Justice chief noted that the agency earlier formed a task force to probe PhilHealth over alleged corruption and its investigation into the insurer’s information technology and legal sector has yet to finish.
He added that the agency will form another task force composed of the same members to help look into state departments.
“I think within the term of the President we can present results to the public,” Guevarra said, adding that lawmakers and members of other government branches will be investigated if they are involved in criminals or corrupt acts with the executive department.
“If their involvement is incidental to the investigation of an executive agency, if they were part of a criminal act, we do not look at them as a member of Congress, judiciary or executive department,” he added.
“They’re all included because we look at the criminal act, the corrupt act. If there’s evidence of their involvement, direct or indirect, they are included.”
Guevarra also noted that the President’s pronouncements of trust do not exonerate government officials.
“I have always viewed that as an expression merely of trust in the person. That’s how much he trusts these people. It’s merely an expression of trust but it’s not an expression of exoneration,” Guevarra said.
“I don’t think simply because he has expressed trust in a certain person, he will neglect glaring evidence showing the person’s involvement,” he added.
The DoJ will also conduct lifestyle checks and make use of Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) in its investigations, Guevarra said.
“It’s not conclusive but it will help,” he added, citing the case of an Immigration security guard who had P10 million net worth.
The Ombudsman earlier restricted access to officials’ SALN, allowing their release only for official investigations, by court order, or upon authority from officials themselves.
with Elmer N. Manuel and Hananeel Bordey