Osmeña links GMA to ‘grandmother of all scams’

By Ira Pedrasa, ABS-CBNnews.com

Posted at Sep 17 2012 06:34 PM | Updated as of Sep 18 2012 04:46 AM

‘President's Bridge scam bigger than NBN, North Rail cases’

Horn: Bridge Program not just GMA's

Arroyo lawyer: We challenge Osmeña to go to court

MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) - Former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo devised a scheme to overprice by tens of billions the P111-billion President’s Bridge Program, Senator Serge Osmeña alleged on Monday.

In a statement, the senator said the other cases such as the National Broadband Network-ZTE and North Rail deals pale in comparison to this so-called “serial plunder.”

He said, “these P111 billion serial scams are 8 times the [NBN] ZTE contract and 5 times the North Rail contract.”

He called the 14 bridge contracts as the “grandmother of all scams.”

He said the Filipino people would have saved around P61 billion were it not for the scheme.

Osmeña has already asked the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee to probe the bridge contracts, which were supposedly misrepresented as having been funded via the Official Development Assistance (ODA).

Not just a GMA program: Horn

In a text message, Elena Bautista Horn, Mrs. Arroyo's spokesperson, said: "We won't even bother to speculate on the motive and timing of the latest accusations of Sen. Serge Osmeña. The President's Bridge Program spans four administrations."

She added that the Bridge program was undertaken not just during the Arroyo administration but with 3 other previous ones, so the accusation also affects previous presidents as well as the governments of Britain and France.

"Tandaan po natin na dumaan sa masusing proseso ang lahat ng kontratang ito. Kaya di lamang ang dating pangulo ang pinaparatangan ni Sen. Osmeña, kundi ang mga nakaraan at kasalukuyang pangulo, ang mga ibang gobyerno gaya ng Britanya at Pransia, pati ang daan-daang mga tapat at marangal na kawani na nagaral ng mga proyekto," she said.

She urged those interested about the program to check the documents with the implementing agencies.

"Kung may mga katanungan po sila, maaari po ninyong matingnan ang mga papeles sa mga iba't ibang ahensya na humawak ng programa."

'One man's crazy opinion'

For his part, lawyer Ferdinand Topacio challenged Osmeña to file the case before the proper court rather than at the committee, “which is highly politicized.”

“He’s shooting his mouth off. If he really has the evidence, then he should file it in court…It’s just a privilege speech, it’s one man’s crazy opinion,” he told ABS-CBNnews.com

He said the timing of Osmeña is suspect. Bringing the case before the Blue Ribbon Committee will only push senators to grandstand ahead of the 2013 polls.

Topacio said he does not know if the former president has already been apprised on the matter. He said, however, he has already discussed the issue with Arroyo’s husband, the former First Gentleman Mike Arroyo.

Steel bridges

Osmeña said Arroyo and other officials formulated a complex scheme that would push the costs of the bridges beyond fair market prices.

These were disguised as “local expenses,” which averaged 16% to 21% of the total project cost amounting to around P20 billion, he alleged.

"Such a fee is big considering that each steel bridge is estimated by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH)--and I think they were underestimating it--to cost around P560,000 per linear meter. But our concrete bridge costs only P240,000 per linear meter," Osmeña said.

He asked why the Arroyo administration had to buy the more expensive steel bridges when the stable ones, such as the Sykway, are made of concrete.

“The Filipino people would have spent only P50 billion instead of P111 billion if we had hired Filipino producers to build the same length of concrete bridges,” he said.

He noted the steel bridges are now “rusting” in various parts of the country.

By justifying the projects as ODA-funded, these did not go through public bidding, he added.

"Mrs. Arroyo must explain to the Filipino people these very anomalous series of contracts that they forged with foreign companies. She and her cohorts could be held liable for plunder because this involves P111 billion in people's money," he added. -- with a report from RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News