Senate probe to identify 'bridges-to-nowhere czar'

by Jojo Malig,

Posted at Sep 22 2012 11:27 PM | Updated as of Sep 23 2012 08:22 AM

MANILA, Philippines - A Senate Blue Ribbon committee investigation will identify the brains behind allegedly anomalous public works projects involving bridge contracts worth P111 billion, Senator Sergio Osmeña III said Saturday.

Osmeña, in an interview on radio dzMM, said the investigation will focus on the bridge projects that were made to falsely appear as government-to-government transactions that did not require bidding.

Osmeña said more than P111 billion were spend on the bridges.

He said aside from being useless, the bridges are also overpriced.

Osmeña showed photos of the bridges built in the middle of farmlands without any road connections, as well as on the edge of a forest.

He said some of the bridges were built on private land now fenced off by owners.

"Malalaman natin iyan. We will find out. May boss dito, may czar. Kahit wala siya sa gobyerno, siya ang nagtuturo," he said.

Osmeña accused now Kasangga partylist Rep. Teodoro Haresco of being directly involved in the projects that spanned the administrations of President Fidel V. Ramos, Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

"Iyung umpisa po niya sa Malacañang," he said, adding that Haresco served in the Ramos administration's Presidential Bridges program, and under the executive secretary.

He said Haresco continued his role under Estrada and Arroyo, while serving as special representative for promotions of British bridge-building firm Mabey & Johnson Ltd. for Asia.

"Iyung kay Ramos, ODA (Official Development Assistance) iyon. Iyung kay Erap, ODA iyon," he added. "Iyung Mabey Johnson, hindi na ODA, bola na iyon."

"When Gloria became president, hindi na ho ODA ito, wala nang grant, wala nang government-to-government relationship," Osmeña said.

Mabey & Johnson was convicted of bribing foreign politicians in 2009 by the UK's Serious Fraud Office. Last year, a UK judge also sent to prison 2 former executives of Mabey & Johnson for bribery in Iraq.

"Kinasuhan iyung Mabey Johnson sa UK, na-plead guilty iyung Mabey Johnson for foreign bribery kasi marami silang kontrata sa iba. Plea bargain po iyon," Osmeña said. "Iyung Pilipinas, kasama. Humingi ng tulong ang British government under Gloria, hindi naman sinasagot."

He added that Haresco allegedly had a falling-out with Mabey & Johnson over his commission for projects. "Nag-away din sila ni Haresco kasi hindi raw tama iyung pagbayad ng komisyon kay Haresco."

He said Haresco removed Mabey & Johnson as preferred contractor and brought in a new foreign company, wherein he also served as agent.

"We have a copy of the arrangements," Osmeña said.

Haresco refused to issue any statement on the matter when approached by ABS-CBN News at his office in the Batasan Pambansa. His chief of staff said Haresco chooses not to comment out of courtesy to the Senate.

Arroyo's camp on the other hand, denied any anomaly.

The former President's spokesperson, Len Bautista Horn, said the program spanned 4 administrations starting with Ramos.

She said all transactions were approved by various government agencies.

'Overpriced, useless' bridges

Osmeña, however, said there was no valid reason for the government to spend public funds on the expensive modular bridges that cost twice locally made concrete bridges.

"Kailangan natin ng tulay pero napakamahal, huwag naman," he said. "Mas mahal 2 times, about P560,000 per linear meter, while the local bridge is about P240,000."

He said the modular bridges are only bought if an area needs a bridge fast. "These are the kind of bridges na oorderin mo kung kailangan mo ng instant set up."

"Ang estimate ko, you don't need more than 50 modular bridges a year, iyung pag-replace ng existing bridge na na-wash out," the senator said. "Marami hong inorder, mga 2,000."

He said the so-called "instant bridges" took as long as six months to build because the country does not have experts to build them. "Ang problema ng DPWH, hindi naman nila kaya itayo ang isang tulay within 2 weeks, 3 weeks."

"Maski sa installation, walang bidding," he said.

"Pagkatapos, bakit ako mag-iinstall ng bridge wala namang kalye at sa likod ng bidge, gubat?" he asked. "Ang tuluyan, palayan, private land. Pang-kalabaw lang."

He said under normal government process, "ang DPWH, mag-susubmit (list of proposed projects) sa Presidente."

"The President has to approve," he said.

"Usually ang existing criteria, mayroon bang existing bridge na kailangang i-replace and iyung mga areas na kailangan magkaroon ng tulay, this is the right type of bridge," Osmeña said.

"Dito sa nakita natin, wala namang approach, bakit sila naglalagay ng tulay? In English, they call it a supply-driven contract. May nagsu-supply eh, bilhin na natin. Magandang under-the-table. Kahit di mo kailangan, bili ka rin ng bili, kasi kikita ka."