No evidence backing corruption list, tagged lawmakers say
House appropriations committee chairman Eric Yap said the bicameral conference committee has finalized their report on the final version of the 2021 General Appropriations Bill, which will be approved in a meeting this morning.
AFP/Ted Aljibe

No evidence backing corruption list, tagged lawmakers say

Xave Gregorio (Philstar.com) - December 29, 2020 - 1:11pm

MANILA, Philippines — Lawmakers in the list of Congress members who are supposedly involved in corruption said that there is no evidence to back up their inclusion in the list prepared by the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) which was finally read out by President Rodrigo Duterte Monday night after months of hesitation.

The lawmakers accused of corruption leaned heavily on the pronouncement of Duterte that “there is no hard evidence” to back up the corruption list and his advice to the public to not take the list as gospel truth.

“What our dear president said is clear, that what he read out is not a pronouncement that those in the list are guilty,” said Rep. Eric Yap (ACT-CIS party-list), who is among the 10 lawmakers who were accused of corruption based on the investigation of the PACC.

Infrastructure think-tank Infrawatch PH said Duterte’s revelation couched with caveats may ultimately diminish the integrity of his administration’s anti-corruption effort, especially if the accusations are proven to be false.

“This may be no more than a witch hunt for specific personalities rather than systemically plugging opportunities for corruption in infrastructure projects,” Infrawatch PH convenor Terry Ridon said.

He also warned that the naming of those supposedly involved in corruption without proper vetting could be used as a tool against political enemies.

Axe to grind

Yap, along with others who were accused, blamed politics for their inclusion in the list of supposedly corrupt lawmakers.

Yap, who serves as legislative caretaker of Benguet, said that local politicians there are out to tarnish his character as they expect him to run for a seat in the province.

The neophyte lawmaker who heads the powerful House appropriations committee allegedly rigged a bidding through an agent, used his influence in choosing a district engineer so he can control the awarding of projects in his district, and tried to have a case dropped against a district engineer by calling up PACC commissioner Greco Belgica.

He denied all these allegations, saying that he had never once been involved in a bidding process and that he only called Belgica to verify if the district engineer has pending cases as she was asking for his endorsement.

Yap said Belgica has an axe to grind against him as he pointed out that these corruption allegations against lawmakers only surfaced after the latter faced a graft complaint before the Office of the Ombudsman for allegedly whitewashing a probe on officials of Duty Free Philippines Corp. supposedly involved in allowing private firms to smuggle imported goods.

He said that he will file a resolution seeking an investigation into the Duty Free mess Belgica is involved in.

“I want to show him how to investigate,” Yap said in Filipino. “I will show Greco Belgica how to be fair in an investigation.”

Politics as usual?

Rep. Josephine Ramirez-Sato (Occidental Mindoro), also claimed that Belgica is a known ally and partymate of an incumbent official in her province who intends to run against her in the 2022 elections.

“The report made by Commissioner Belgica which impinges on my credentials as a public servant is clearly calculated to sow intrigues and disruption in the local politics of Occidental Mindoro,” Ramirez-Sato said in a statement.

Ramirez-Sato is accused of having ghost projects in her district, aided by a district engineer who supposedly serves as her bagman. Duterte said that Public Works Secretary Mark Villar had tried to move the district engineer elsewhere, but this was blocked by Ramirez-Sato.

Rep. Alfred Vargas (Quezon City) and Rep. Paul Ruiz Daza (Northern Samar) also cried politics in their denials of involvement in corruption.

“I will not allow my political detractors, who misinformed PACC, to tarnish my name and reputation with wild accusations bereft of the truth,” said Vargas, who allegedly demands a P1-million fee in addition to a 10-12% commission before a project can be awarded to a contractor.

Daza said that he believes that former officials and contractors whom his office exposed for abandoning projects retaliated by sending “malicious and unfounded” complaints to the PACC.

The PACC report said that he determines all winning bidders in his district and receives a 20-25% kickback from contractors.

Denials, explanations

Rep. Geraldine Roman (Bataan) said she was shocked to hear her name included in the list.

“Public service has never been a money-making venture for me or my family whose good name is highly esteemed in Bataan,” said Roman, who is said to ask for a 10% kickback for all Department of Public Works and Highways projects in her district.

Deputy Speaker Henry Oaminal (Misamis Occidental) also denied involvement in corruption, saying that he has long divested from HSO Construction Corporation, which he said does not have any construction projects in all government agencies in his province.

Rep. Alyssa Sheena Tan (Isabela) also denied that she owns or has shares in a construction company, as alleged in the PACC report read out by Duterte.

For her part, Rep. Angelina Tan (Quezon) said that any issue regarding the construction and implementation of infrastructure projects is the responsibility of the DPWH, as she pointed out that the pandemic and the onslaught of typhoons delayed the construction of the P800-million Gumaca Bypass Road which she spearheaded.

Tan was tagged in the PACC report over an allegedly anomalous national road project in her province.

Former Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat, who was accused of receiving kickbacks from construction projects in his province, also denied the allegation, which he said is a diversionary tactic to distract people from the vaccination of some military personnel for the coronavirus.

“If I had accepted kickbacks when I was a congressman, I would not need to help sell pinunnog (blood sausage), honey and coffee of Cordilleran producers,” Baguilat said on Twitter.

All the incumbent lawmakers included in the PACC list, while denying that they are involved in any wrongdoing, said that they will cooperate with any investigation on them.

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