MANILA (2nd UPDATE) — Sen. Risa Hontiveros on Tuesday urged the Senate to investigate the Bases Conversion and Development Authority's (BCDA) P9.5-billion loan used for the construction of sports facilities for the 2019 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, prompting Sen. Pia Cayetano to cry foul.
Hontiveros sought to look into the loan after the Commission on Audit (COA) flagged BCDA's deal with Malaysian developer MTD Capital Berhad, saying that the joint venture agreement may have been "disadvantageous to the public."
"What is this supposed joint venture for when BCDA used public funds to pay for the amount that should have been shouldered by MTD?” Hontiveros said.
"Hindi natin puwede palampasin ito dahil nagastos ang P9.5 billion na magagamit sana ngayon panglaban sa COVID o kaya ay ayuda para sa Kabikulan matapos ang bagyong Rolly" she said.
(We should not let this pass because the P9.5 billion spent could have been used in our fight against COVID-19 or as aid for Bicolanos who were hit by Typhoon Rolly.)
Under a February 2018 agreement, the MTD was supposed to shoulder in advance the P8.5 billion needed to construct sports facilities in the New Clark City in Tarlac, while the BCDA would provide the land.
Hontiveros alleged that the MTD did not release funds as "the capital it was supposed to provide was funded by a P9.5-billion loan from government-owned Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP)."
The BCDA settled its P9.5 billion debt last year using taxpayers' money, she said.
"Given the billions that went to building the facilities used in the 2019 SEA Games, we must see to it that the transactions related to this project did not violate existing laws and policies, and were not prejudicial to the public," Hontiveros said.
But Cayetano, whose brother Taguig Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano spearheaded the SEA Games organizing committee, accused Hontiveros, a minority senator, of politicking at the expense of a "world-class" stadium that benefitted Filipino athletes.
"Does her honor know that they (athletes) cried when they saw the stadium? Does her honor know that they cried when they had the opportunity to run on the turf?" asked Cayetano, a former national athlete.
"I am embarrassed that we cannot even honor that. I am embarrassed that we choose to make a political issue out of a world-class facility," said the senator.
Cayetano lambasted Hontiveros for putting "malice" into the construction of facilities that enabled the country to host the 30th SEA Games, saying such remarks may discourage investors.
"Kaya tuloy wala nang mag-aabala na magpatayo ng matitino at kahanga-hangang infrastructure dito sa Pilipinas dahil magpatayo ka ng maganda, sasabihan kang may kalokohan ka," she said.
(That's why we can't build impressive infrastructure here because if you build one, you will be accused of wrongdoing.)
"So paano? Puro bulok na lang tayo para walang pumansin? Ganoon?" she said.
(So what now? We will make do with rotten facilities so they would just go unnoticed?)
But Hontiveros underscored that questioning possible irregularities in the construction of the SEA Games venue has nothing to do with Filipino athletes.
"It is not our honorable athletes who have poured their heart out... who are in question here at all," she said.
"I celebrate our athletes... Let us continue to support our athletes but also to honor them... let us consider clearing all these questions of corruptions once and for all," she said.
'NOT AN EXCUSE TO CUT CORNERS'
Cayetano also called out Hontiveros for not honoring the hard work of engineers, architects and construction workers who had to work "24/7" to finish the main venue of the 30th SEA Games.
"I have to stand up for BCDA, all the engineers, architects and construction workers that worked overtime. Alam niyo bang 24/7 nagtrabaho 'yun para maka deliver tayo sa Southeast Asian Games?" Cayetano said.
"Ngayon... binibigyan pa natin ng malisya," she said.
(Did you know they worked 24/7 so we could deliver for the SEA Games? Now we impute malice?)
Hontiveros said there should be no debate about the craftsmanship of the facilities in the New Clark City, reiterating that this, too, was not the main point of her proposed Senate investigation.
"Maganda naman ang mga facilities. Nobody is arguing against that," Hontiveros said.
"Maganda talaga 'yung facilities but should this be an excuse for cutting corners?" she said.
BUILD-TRANSFER, NOT JOINT VENTURE
The project should have been structured as a Build-Transfer arrangement, Hontiveros said, citing the COA's findings in 2019.
Hontiveros underscored that the COA noted that the arrangement "was prejudicial to the interests of the government because, among others, the project should have gone through the more stringent public bidding requirements."
"The public deserves answers to the many questions surrounding this project. I hope the Senate can get to the bottom of this issue at the soonest possible time," she said.
Cayetano said she is "sure" that there is a "logical reason" why BCDA chief executive officer Vince Dizon opted for a joint venture agreement.
"Hindi mag-aabala si Vince Dizon na mag-cut short ng corners para batikusin lang ng ganito," Cayetano, who has been invited several times to the opening of the venues in question, said.
(He won't bother to cut corners so that it would just be criticized like this.)
"Ginawa niya 'yun para patayuan ang bansa ng stadium na maipagmamalaki naman ng Pilipinas," she said.
(He did that so that the country could build a stadium that the Philippines could be proud of.)
"I sincerely regret na nagagamit ang floor natin para sirain ang napakagandang pangalan ng mga proyekto para bigyan ng kahalagahan ang ibang sektor ng ating bansa na normally, hindi napapansin," she said.
(I sincerely regret that the floor is being used to discredit a very good project to give importance to a sector that is normally neglected.)
But Dizon "is facing graft and corruption charges" before the Office of the Ombudsman, Hontiveros retorted.
"We take the floor to take people to account. No more, no less," she said.
The BCDA management earlier stressed that the development of the Philippine Sports City in Tarlac had been approved by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) to be undertaken in 2021 for the supposed 2023 hosting of the SEA games.
But the country's earlier hosting of the regional games in 2019 necessitated that BCDA explore all legal modes of developing the facilities that would pass rigorous certifications for the international sports meet.
BCDA: Billions spent for 2019 SEA Games facilities above board
The BCDA, in a statement hours after Hontiveros' called for a Senate probe, said there were no anomalies in the construction of sports facilities since the project was done legally and had government approval.
The “world-class” New Clark City sports facilities in Tarlac built for the SEA Games was based on the advice of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and was issued a favorable opinion by the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel (OGCC) in October 2018, BCDA said.
“The joint venture agreement between BCDA and MTD passed the scrutiny of applicable Philippine laws, rules and regulations,” the statement read.
“The ADB advised that a joint venture agreement for the said construction is the most advantageous arrangement for the government. This recommendation was also approved and confirmed by the OGCC,” it added.
The BCDA earlier emphasized that there was no undue advantage given to MTD and that the company only had advantage in terms of time and preparation, which is usual in cases of unsolicited proposals.
“Nevertheless, it did not have any undue advantage because the proposal still underwent both the required rigorous negotiation process, as can be seen in the dramatic reduction in the project cost and, equally important, the required Swiss Challenge or Competitive Challenge,” the BCDA told the COA team in October.
BCDA added they were fully aware of the modes of development of infrastructure projects available under Philippine laws but after a careful study and with the guidance of the ADB, it deemed that the JVA was best suited for the project.
Sen. Leila de Lima earlier filed a similar resolution urging the chamber to look into several issues surrounding the Philippines' hosting of the 30th SEA Games, including the Philippine Southeast Asian Games Organizational Committee's (PHISGOC) delayed submission of liquidation reports.