Barefaced Local Corruption

In its September 14, 2003 issue, the Philippine Star reported the following:

ASIA’S LARGEST CONVENTION CENTER TO BE BUILT IN SUBIC SUBIC BAY FREEPORT

The Subic International Hotel (SIH), the Freeport’s largest hotel, will invest P300 million for the construction of a world-class convention center which, when completed, is touted to be the largest in Asia.

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SIH President Alejandra Clemente said they are going to push through with these investment projects despite the lingering effects of the Asian economic crisis because they are confident in their ability and that of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) to promote the whole place as a world-class tourist destination.

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Clemente also said that the P300-million world-class convention center when completed is touted to be the biggest dome in Asia – bigger than the Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City. The center will be a key proponent in Subic’s bid to be an entertainment and cultural center for those who cannot afford to get to Manila to watch international shows and concerts or see art exhibits.

Also in Cebu, its governor announced the erection of a convention center where its design was the subject of a province-wide contest. The winning plan expressive of the aspirations of the Cebuanos, was won by a resident architect. At least, that province economized on the design. Not only that, the design was open to the eyes of the public who has the knowing glance whether the bill of materials is over priced or not.

In Quezon Province, however, it was never reported (as this matter was in fact bidded secretly) that its provincial government was already in the process of constructing not the biggest and the mostest convention center, but one touted to be the most expensive to boot. The Quezon Convention Center, which remains in completion to date has already cost the Province of Quezon, P300 million, and counting. Its painting alone has cost the province P15M! It has not been fitted yet with an air-conditioning system that makes it all the more qualified for the Guinness category of being the “largest oven” in the world. Many spectators have complained about its defective ventilation and whenever a spectacular event is held in that venue, many are shying away from it. A lot of barangay captains and municipal councilors have openly complained about the physical inconvenience the edifice has given them. Given a choice of venues for their events, they vote down the convention center and opt for other convenient places like the bishop’s theatre in Isabang or the Alcala Sports Center in Iyam, (Lucena City) which they consider more spacious and freshening than the expensive Quezon Convention Center. Now hear this. The QCC has a total sitting capacity of 10,000. Yet, the contractor-cum-designer failed to provide for a parking space at all!

Consider that the road network in the capitol site, including those immediately enclosing the QCC, was designed in the 1920s, when Manuel L. Quezon was the governor. Its roads were designed not for the modern vehicles that we know of today, but the caretelas and caruajes which were the mode of transport 80 years ago! Not only that. The Center’s restrooms (and sewers for human refuse) are inadequate to hold the bladders of 10,000 persons such that the nooks and crannies of the structure stinks of urine this early. How did the Department of Environment and Natural Resources allow the construction of a mammoth edifice absent an Environmental Clearance Certificate? Notwithstanding constructor’s admission of the missing ECC the Ombudsman unbelievably ignored such and even went on to dismiss the administrative complaint against the sitting governor and his treasurer who eventually retired.

It has been bruited about that the air-conditioning system shall cost the province another P70M. The provincial official’s money bag has been scouting who among the local suppliers fits the bill for negotiation, whatever that means.

Curiously, the construction of the convention center has been broken down in several phases, with each bidded phase costing about P20M per. Again curiously, only one contractor has consistently bagged the project! To think that the mobilization and scaffolding sections were never deleted from the bid papers despite completion of those phases and yet, were being included in the succeeding bid price to the tune of P2M per. The Provincial Engineer or the Chairman of the Provincial Bidding and Accreditation Committee should have ordered the deletion of the 10% mobilization in each bid price at each stage that would dramatically reduce the cost by P2M meaning more savings for the province. Imagine a savings of P2M per phase or a total of P30M as the project has been stretched to 15 phases. Where has all the money gone?

Scrutiny, however of the biddings of each phase reveals that the announced bids of the three active bidders never exceeded substantial differences, as the variation in costing was merely a few thousand pesos, hence, no savings for the province to speak of. That was the initial fabulous zarzuela shown even before the construction of the convention centre. Countless contractors and accountants in the know are incredulous as to how such a blatant system was allowed and abetted by the sitting governor that practically rendered the bidding and accreditation system enshrined in the Local Government Code a mockery. Using the statistical improbability principle, it is highly unlikely for three bidders to have consistently differed for the last 15 biddings in merely a few pesos and centavos.

Moreover, under Presidential Decree 1544, the provincial government or the local government unit for that matter is responsible for the bidding invitation process. Thus the expense thereof should be booked in the province for after all; publications of biddings are likewise bidded to minimize expenses. But not in Quezon Province, where the publication is taken care of by the anointed bidder. If one is really to trace this stage in the bidding process, the publication requirement is missing. They short-circuited the process.

One concerned citizen asked the Provincial Treasurer of the bidding documents, but the latter refused claiming that all requests must first be approved by the governor. The Provincial Auditor likewise denied the request for being voluminous and unwieldy allegedly. The concerned citizen brought a corruption case before the Ombudsman as early as July, 2001. The case was acted upon by former Ombudsman Aniano Desierto as worthy of fact finding investigation. To date however, the present Ombudsman failed to act on the complaint. The sitting governor and the contractor have been gloating that they have fixed the case already.

As an aside, one Quezon Mayor confided to this writer his experience with the Ombudsman. The people in that office don’t look at the thick complaint filed by complainants as pleadings; they are viewed as thick wads of money. The mayor laments that if only the complainants know that their complaint would be used as leverage for extortion in that office and spend millions of pesos in representation and gifts, he would rather have compromised with the complainant. Just think about this. Where in the world can one find hotshot respondents with oozing millions of pesos from SOPs and jueteng sources? Only in the Ombudsman! Millionaire mayors, congressmen, governors, directors, district engineers, police and DepEd superintendents, etc. One innocent call to these respondents by an investigator merits a furlough in Pegasus or in an expensive 5-star hotel. The sitting governor’s liaison or consultant in flagship projects can only be seen in stratospheric Makati hotels or in Ayala Alabang where the governor resides and spends six days a week there.

There was another expose by a disgruntled Board Member where he let into the open the bidding irregularities in the PBAC and sanctioned by the local provincial executive. P51M worth of projects was submitted to the Sangguniang Panlalawigan with an attached authority for the governor to sign the contracts. Yet, it would appear that the biddings were rigged and the bidding documents were prepared by only one person. This one is for the books. Where can you find bid documents where the disparity in quotations is only P50.00 or even approaching a few measly centavos or less than one per cent! And the total amount of the various projects is P51M in local funds. The favored contractors went on to construct buildings even before they were bidded, and only after completion did they worry about the supporting papers as exemplified by the DepEd buildings in Gumaca and Sariaya, Quezon.

Contractors can proceed with any given project without the Notice of Award or Notice to Proceed and yet the local chief executive ignores these wrongdoings treating such custom as the way it was and should always be, amen. Only in Quezon Province. We talk about deficits and shortfalls in tax collections but these local government units run their affairs as if the local funds are theirs for the taking. Corruption in that province has been too shameless. The governor’s handlers brag that they can’t be beaten in May, 2004 elections as nobody has the wherewithal to square off with the wheelchair bound executive.

This is the irony in Quezon. It’s familial politics that rules in the absence of an institutional political party. Who cares about anointment by the LAKAS or LDP or PMP? Because of local corruption, these local top honchos become too entrenched that it is no longer their fancy of being in the company of some national figures or bigshots (and being proclaimed as official candidates of so and so political party), but it’s the other way around. The local chiefs with their bulging pockets are having their siestas, waving off the national wannabes making a beeline at their door, “you need us, and we don’t need you!” This serves as a warning to national political leaders. If you think the local Osamas will scramble for your patronage, think again.

We hope our people will say “SCRAM” finally to those dregs masquerading as our local leaders.

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