Sunday, December 11, 2005


GMA abolishes Drilon's airport commitee

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

IS MALACAÑANG exacting political revenge on the Tupas administration through the international airport project?
President Gloria Arroyo has intervened in the new Iloilo international airport project (Niadp) by ordering a review of all contracts and procedures of the P6.2-billion project.
Concerned with the worsening delay of the project, President Gloria Arroyo on December 2 issued a memorandum which abolished the Iloilo Airport Coordinating Committee composed of Senate President Franklin Drilon, Gov. Niel Tupas, Rep. Arthur Defensor, former Rep. Augusto Syjuco the municipal mayors of Cabatuan and Maasin towns and the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC).
Drilon and Tupas withdrew their support from the President in July for alleged election fraud in 2004 and other accusations of graft and corruption.
“Considering the need to catch up with serious and escalating delays in the construction of the new Iloilo international airport, and to resolve environmental and legal issues as well as issues on equity, legality and propriety, the Iloilo International Airport Coordinating Council is hereby abolished and its functions transferred to the Secretary of Transportation.
The primary task of the committee is to draft policies involving the construction of the airport and help the DOTC on concerns occurring at the local level.
The President also ordered DOTC Secretary Leandro Mendoza to provide overall policy guidelines and directions in the equitable, effective and timely implementation of the project and re-examination of all existing contracts and procedures.
Apparently, Ms. Arroyo got wind of the gaping delay of the project caused by weather problems and lack of filling materials for the embankment of the airport site.
The latest report by the Japan Airport Consultants (JAC) showed the project is 5.75 months behind its target completion in October 2006.
Earlier, Malacañang’s hand was also seen in the relief of Engineers Raphael Lavides and Vicente Andres as project manager and deputy project manager, respectively, of the Niadp.
But DOTC undersecretary Ricardo Tan said Lavides was actually promoted to the Project Management Office. “There is no politics here. It was a routine transfer.”
Last month, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources stopped the rock crushing plant from processing aggregate material for the airport site for violating the Philippine Mining Act.
Although Estancia gasoline dealer Melvin Requinto manages the plant, the facility is actually owned by the Montesclaros family, the balaye of Gov. Tupas.
But the Capitol said Malacañang’s intervention is politically motivated.
In fact, Provincial Administrator Manuel Mejorada downplayed the abolition of the airport committee saying it has been dormant since last year.
Mejorada said the only actual participation of the committee to the project is in the purchase of the airport site and the relocation area for communities affected by the project.
“It is clear that Malacañang’s act is politically motivated after Senator Drilon and Gov. Tupas withdrew their support from the President. This could actually delay the project even more,” Mejorada said.
Mejorada also slammed the cease and desist order against the rock crushing plant. “The contractor is having difficulties in looking for filling materials. With the crushing plant in the freezer, the project will suffer more setbacks.”
Mejorada added: “This flurry of events is all aimed at discrediting the governor and Senator Drilon who worked hard for this project. And there are even rumors that the administration will file charges against Gov. Tupas and have him suspended next year.”
House probe
At the House of Representatives yesterday, the committee on good government chaired by Rep. Defensor concluded its investigation into the airport project.
Despite the hype surrounding his appearance before the inquiry, former congressman and now Tesda chief Syjuco only reiterated his “Turil ni Niel” exposé three years ago.
Syjuco presented documents that allegedly linked Tupas to the operation of the rock crushing plant of his balaye including quarry and mineral permits, delivery receipts and contracts.
Syjuco also discussed how Tupas allegedly cornered the operation of the burrow pit area by giving quarry permits to contractors identified with the latter.
“These papers prove that Gov. Tupas violated the anti-graft and corrupt practices act by earning from the operation of the rock crushing plant and handing our permits to his favored contractors,” Syjuco said.
During the penultimate leg of the hearing, Rep. Ferjenel Biron (4th district, Iloilo) discovered that the Japanese airport contractor Taisei-Shimizu was actually doing business with the Montesclaros instead of Requinto.
Biron said it is highly irregular for Requinto, who applied for the permit for the crusher, has no business with Taisei.
Yesterday, Taisei officials showed their contract with Montesclaros and the delivery receipts in the name of Tupas’s balaye.
Ian Stewart of the JAC also confirmed before the committee that the airport project is suffering from a 50-percent slippage, contrary to the DOTC’s assessment of 18-percent delay.
Stewart said the main cause of the delay is not just the weather but also the quality and availability of filling materials.
DOTC Sec. Mendoza even told Iloilo congressman that he is planning to review the airport contract with the Taisei-Shimizu Joint Venture for possible rescission.
Defensor said their recommendations will focus on the burrow pit area, the slippage in the project and other environmental and social concerns.
“If there are grounds, we can file charges against those responsible for the irregularities we have discovered,” Defensor said.


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