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As I See It

Public funds being misappropriated for Terminal 3

/ 03:33 AM April 06, 2011

WHAT IS happening to P-Noy’s “matuwid na daan”? It is becoming crooked, very crooked.

Just one example: retired Gen. Jose Angel A. Honrado, general manager of the Manila International Airport Authority, has transferred the entire budget approved by Congress for the Panglao-Bohol airport to the unfinished Naia Terminal 3 without any authorization from Congress. That’s misappropriation of public funds. The budget for the Panglao airport is P1.5 billion.

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Honrado’s reason is that the money would be used to finish Naia 3. But the Philippine government does not yet own the terminal. Why should he spend so much money for something the government does not own?

Fraport, the German partner of Piatco that built Naia Terminal 3 at its own expense, has filed a suit with an international court based in Washington D.C. for ownership of the terminal. What if it wins the case? We would have poured money into something that somebody else owns.

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And why should Honrado sacrifice the Panglao-Bohol airport, violating the law in the process, just so he would have the funds to finish Naia 3?

Perhaps a look back at what happened in the past will provide us a clue.

Naia 3 was constructed through negotiated contracts to favored contractors through the Japanese contractor Takenaka who built the purportedly unsafe terminal structure. The courts found the contracts graft-ridden and the Philippine government forcibly took it away from Fraport-Piatco. That was the reason the builders went to international courts for arbitration. They lost the first round in Singapore. The second round is in Washington D.C.

Now Honrado wants to award the contract to finish the terminal to those same contractors, without any public bidding as the law requires. Why, in heaven’s name, should the completion of Naia 3 be given again to the discredited contractors? In other words, what the past administration and its cabal of contractors failed to achieve, the retired general seems bent on achieving, this time without the façade and formalities of a public competitive bidding.

Let’s go back to the bidding for the Panglao-Bohol airport. Just before the 2010 elections, the Arroyo administration forced through a midnight contract for the construction of a new airport on Panglao. Several scandal-tainted contractors colluded to rig the Feb. 11, 2010 bidding in connivance with corrupt MIAA officials.

The MIAA ignored the tremendously advantageous lowest bid by the most qualified bidder, which would save the government almost P600 million, and attempted to award the contract to an ineligible contractor identified with GMA at an atrocious price. If not for the vigilance of the media and the resistance of the lowest bidder, the scam would have succeeded and the project funds lost, much of it going to the pockets of corrupt officials and contractors.

Now comes the report that the lowest bidder, who foiled the rigging and thus helped preserve the project funds, is being given the runaround by the new MIAA officials. The results of the bidding were set aside and the funds diverted to the infamous Naia 3.

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Of course, Honrado will say that he wants to complete Naia 3 so that it would be put to full use. But that should not be done by violating the law to make shortcuts and awarding the contract to favored and scandal-tainted contractors. He should get a separate budget for Naia 3 and not take away the budget for Panglao airport.

Panglao airport is just as vital as Naia 3. It would provide a boost to tourism. President Aquino opened our skies to foreign carriers to boost tourism, even sacrificing the viability of our own carriers, but now Honrado would sabotage all that by pulling the rug out from under the Panglao airport.

Does Tourism Secretary Alberto Lim and National Economic and Development Authority know that the budget for Panglao airport, a priority medium-term tourism infrastructure project of the Department of Tourism and the Department of Transportation and Communications, has been illegally diverted to fund questionable repairs and maintenance contracts for the controversial Naia 3? This illegal diversion of funds sets back the government’s medium-term economic program.

When the President’s men, either out of zeal or high regard of themselves, or simply because of their closeness to him, disregard the law, lose their sense of justice and run roughshod over the rights of those who abide by the rules, they drag him down with them and quickly erode trust in the new administration.

* * *

Willie Revillame is at it again. He is a perfect example of what too much money does to people. The wealth has made him think he is God’s gift to the world.

What Willie should realize is that his program, “Willing Willie” (and “Wowowee” before that), is popular not because of him (in fact, in spite of him) but because of the huge prizes that are being given away to the dirt poor contestants, courtesy of the sponsors, not of Willie. Poor people line up for hours, sometimes days, just to be able to get a chance to participate in the various contests and win what to them are fabulous prizes. The program’s rating rises, but the program hosts and producers cruelly exploit the poverty of their participants to extract profit for themselves.

As the Inquirer editorial said, “Probably some TV hosts don’t realize it, but they are being doubly cruel in dangling money and promoting mendicancy among the poor. Who does not remember the stampede at the former Revillame show in which 74 people, including children, were killed because they wanted to be included in the show that gave away prizes that to them were great fortunes?”

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