Reader, here is the link to the rant of the President in Davao last week against Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales and Overall Deputy Ombudsman Melchor Arthur Carandang: https://pcoo.gov.ph/presidential_speech/speech-president-rodrigo-roa-duterte-installation-new-officers-induction-new-members-integrated-bar-philippines-ibp-davao-city-chapter/. Watch him, read the transcript. Then wonder about the man’s soundness.
I don’t know why he included Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno in this 46-minute “discussion” studded with around 50 censored and asterisked remarks. He then invited the two of them to resign with him—Morales for “selective justice” and corruption (forgetting that she just recently filed a case against P-Noy), and Sereno for corruption in the Piatco case. He asserted that she did not include in her statement of assets and liabilities her fees from the case.
He followed it this week with an “I will impeach them” (the two ladies) rant. Considering that Congress has found the impeachment charges against Sereno sufficient in substance, in spite of her excellent and evidence-supported answer to the charges, this column will deal with the charge that Mr. Duterte picked to demonstrate Sereno’s supposed corruption—the Piatco case.
I have written about the case involving Piatco (Philippine International Air Transport Co. Inc.) several times over the years. The earliest column on it was in 2002—yes, 15 years ago. And yes, Piatco, a build-operate-transfer project to build Naia 3, is practically synonymous with corruption at the highest levels of government. Name it, and it almost certainly was done: contracts with the government signed without going through the ICC (Investment Coordination Committee); additional contracts making the terms more onerous for the government, again signed without ICC approval; lack of required financial capacity on the part of Piatco. Also: German partner Fraport pretending that it had only 30 percent equity but in truth had put in almost 60 percent, deals with contractors amazingly overpriced, consultants enormously overpaid, etc., etc., resulting in huge cost overruns.
Incumbent Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez was involved from the beginning, because of his friendship with Cheng, pere, who controlled Piatco. It was this involvement that contributed to his leaving President Gloria Arroyo’s Cabinet. The Senate blue ribbon committee, then headed by Sen. Joker Arroyo (since deceased), opined that the Piatco deal was void. A group that Perfecto Yasay Jr. lawyered for opposed Alvarez’s confirmation as transportation secretary; it brought to light that a very lucrative (and overpriced) contract for excavation was awarded to Wintrack, a company of which Emelita Alvarez (Alvarez’s wife) was part-owner.
The Supreme Court ruled that the Piatco contract was void ab initio. And that’s when the fun began, because Piatco and Fraport brought their case to Washington (ICSID) and Singapore (ICC). This is where Sereno comes into the picture.
The Philippine government hired her (together with American lawyers) to defend it. The contract was for $80 an hour (a fraction of the fees of her American counterparts). And she worked for seven years as co-Philippine counsel (with Justice “Toy” Feliciano, since deceased). The upshot: The Philippines won in both courts, and in fact in one of them, legal fees worth $6 million were awarded, to be paid by Piatco (the government is still trying to collect).
Sereno’s fees amounted to P30 million—a drop in the bucket of $1 billion that the government saved. And since it was the government that paid her, it withheld about P8 million in taxes. The fees were paid over five years, not a lump sum. Sereno declared her income to the Bureau of Internal Revenue as she got it. How could her 2010 SALN (she was appointed associate justice of the Supreme Court) include her income earned between 2004 and 2009? What it includes are the assets she bought with it. She explains every penny. Moreover, how can she be accused of corruption when she wasn’t with the government before 2010?
This is what Du30 is accusing her of—“…corruption, wala sa SALN diyan ang Piatco na yan”—without reading her answer to Lorenzo Gadon (who has had a pending case for disbarment since 2016). And Congress has followed the President’s lead.
Raise happiness; lessen impunity