SCTEx controversy bigger than C-5, says Villar ally

by Carmela Fonbuena, abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak

Posted at Jan 21 2010 12:54 AM | Updated as of Jan 21 2010 09:33 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The Aquino family should pay the government for the construction of the interchange in Hacienda Luisita, which is estimated to be worth around P170 million, an ally of Nacionalista Party (NP) standard-bearer Sen. Manuel Villar said.

At the continuation of the House oversight committee hearing Wednesday on alleged irregularities in the Subic Clark Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx), Cavite Rep. Jesus Crispin 'Boying' Remulla said the family of presidential survey frontrunner Benigno 'Noynoy' Aquino III should refund the government for the purchase of the allegedly overpriced right-of-way property for the SCTEx road project.

He claimed that regular government procedure mandates the landowner should give the property to the government at zero cost.

"Interchanges in private properties have to be paid for by the private property owners. He should donate the right-of-way. They [Aquinos] still have the industrial land," Remulla said.

Remulla also claimed that the SCTEx road controversy is "bigger" than the C-5 road extension project scandal against Villar.

"’Yong kay Villar, zonal value ang pinag-uusapan. Hindi overpriced. Dito may interchange pa. Ang laki ng kanilang pakinabang masyado," Remulla said.

No overprice, no payment needed

Sought for comment by abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak, Aquino's spokesman, Edwin Lacierda said the interchange "need not be paid because the contractors designed the Luisita toll to be the end point."

In a text message, he said the interchange was "supposed to promote commerce between Subic and the Luisita industrial zone corridor."

Lacierda also said Remulla has not presented evidence that the right-of-way property was overpriced.

"He has been mouthing overprice without proof. Government officials have already testified to the non-overpricing. This is not C-5," Lacierda said.

He said Remulla should not "divert the issue."

During Wednesday's hearing, retired Brig. Gen. Robert Gervacio, the Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA) program manager for SCTEx’s operational and support services, cleared Aquino of any wrongdoing in the project.

"Everything is aboveboard. There was no contact between BCDA and Senator Aquino," Gervacio said in response to questions raised by Akbayan Rep. Ana Theresia “Risa” Hontiveros, a guest senatorial candidate of the Liberal Party.

Extraordinary transaction?

Philippine National Construction Corp. President Maria Teresa Defensor on Wednesday's hearing testified that the government does not ordinarily pay private landowners for right-of-way properties in government projects because the private landowner presumably benefits from the construction of a national road.

Defensor also testified that the Toll Regulatory Board, which processes applications for interchanges in major road projects, does not normally pay for the construction of interchanges in private lands.

She said there's a process where private landowners apply for the construction of an interchange and, if approved, shoulder the full cost of construction. This is also because the value of the land will presumably increase, and the landowner benefits from the rise in property values resulting from the infrastructure project.

"Ang suwerte naman nila masyado. The value of the industrial land is now P1,000 per hectare because of the interchange," Remulla said.

The cost of the interchange built inside the Hacienda Luisita complex was shouldered by the government and funded through a loan from the Japan Bank and International Corp. It is a flagship project of President Gloria Arroyo.

Just lucky?

However, Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA)-SCTEx project engineering chief retired general Eduardo Lena explained that the government paid for the construction of the interchange because it was part of the original plan for SCTEx.

The hearing failed to directly link Senator Aquino to the allegedly irregular transaction. The BCDA had negotiated with Senator Aquino's uncle, Pedro Cojuangco.

But Remulla said Senator Aquino should still be held accountable.

"It's the uncle. It's just one family you are dealing with. And he is a direct beneficiary. He cannot control his family. Patay malisya siya pag family ang involved. Pero nakinabang siya," he said.

Remulla added that it is also a taxpayers' issue because the people will shoulder the cost of the loan.

SCTEx controversy

The SCTex controversy began in November 2009 with Remulla's allegations that Senator Aquino's family benefited from the allegedly overpriced sale of the right-of-way property. The property was sold for P100 per hectare.

Remulla questioned it because the zonal value was only P8, he said.

The controversy has since branched out into several other allegations of irregularities such as:

  • -Senator Aquino's family allegedly failed to fairly distribute to the farmers their share in the sale of the right-of-way property;
  • -The contraction of the interchange inside the Hacienda Luisita was allegedly irregular;
  • -The Cojuangco family has allegedly not been paying government royalty fees for the quarrying activities inside Hacienda Luisita.

Remulla also revived calls for the Cojuangco family to distribute Hacienda Luisita to the farmers.

Remulla said there will be two to three more hearings on the controversy.