Borrow from a private bank, Suarez advised
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc () - September 2, 2009 - 12:00am

Suarez insists that his P1-billion DBP application is financially sane and economically useful. If so, critics ask, then why doesn’t he borrow elsewhere? Why risk the reputation of DBP and Gloria Arroyo on a seeming behest loan?

Two Saturdays ago Press Sec. Cerge Remonde gave a statement over government radio that must be marked for future reference. Malacañang, he said, will not intercede for Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez’s P1-billion loan request from the state-owned DBP. Perhaps it was pure coincidence, not pre-emptive. On the day before Remonde’s broadcast, Gloria Arroyo had golfed with a top exec of the DBP, whose board members the President picks. With them at the Manila Golf fairway the whole morning was Mike Arroyo, pal of most DBP appointees. Going by Remonde’s assurance, the golfing trio hopefully did not discuss Suarez’s huge application.

The loan is contentious because of Suarez’s links. In the President’s frequent foreign junkets he is a regular fixture. And he brags about often treating the First Couple to meals. Last month in Washington’s chic Bobby Van’s Steakhouse he footed a $15,000-dinner bill on the Arroyos’ wedding anniversary. On such events, he says, he gets to sit beside and advise the highest official of the land on matters close to his heart.

The P1-billion loan happens to be one such item. Since 2007 Suarez has wanted to put up a power plant in his province, using coconut waste (husks, shells, dry leaves) as fuel. It was a plan that many supported at first. The plant would cost only a million dollars (P50 million), yet create many jobs, augment coconut farmers’ incomes, and provide 1-MW of electricity.

 A funny thing happened on the way to implementation. The modest 1-MW dream swelled to a 10-MW delusion. And instead of the $1 million- per-MW rule-of-thumb cost, the amount bloated to $22.7 (P1 billion). In June 2008 Suarez’s sister, three children and son-in-law established Coco Resources Corp. CRC signed a deal with Quezon Electric Cooperative to sell its forthcoming power. It then filed with DBP in December the papers for a $22.7-million loan. As fallback Suarez’s sister, private counsel and chief of staff formed another firm, Unisan Biogen Corp.

Had a group of Quezon lawyers not intervened, the loan would have been rushed by last week. The Sentro Gabay Legal ng Quezon cried that the P1 billion had all the makings of a behest loan. CRC and UBC lack capital and collateral to sponge up such huge amount. Yet the project is overstated: supposedly the plant output would be 11.5-MW, when experts forecast 2-MW at best. The erection cost of $2.27 million per MW is overpriced, given that elaborate plants today run up to only $1.5 million per MW. With such overprice, Quezonians would be left paying dearer electricity. Corporate layering masks the real crony-borrower. Reportedly last week the DBP board deferred the loan grant.

In an interview with The STAR Suarez disputed the behest label. The project is financially viable and economically beneficial, he insisted.

“If the project is so good, why doesn’t Suarez just borrow from private banks?” asks Atty. Sonny Pulgar of Sentro Gabay Legal. “Why risk the reputation of the DBP and President Arroyo? A lot of banks are begging for borrowers.”

Pulgar answers his own question: “Suarez was reported in 1999 to have reneged on a P2.5-million loan from Metrobank. That’s why his North Forbes mansion was foreclosed. That must be in his credit record.”

From press files, 1999 was action-filled for Suarez. As chairman of the House ways and means body, he had wanted Metrobank’s CEO probed for alleged tax fraud. But his two vice chairs denounced him as seeking reprisal for the foreclosure. He had also sought an investigation of a giant cigarette maker, but was again thwarted by wary committee members. Then-Subic Freeport head Dick Gordon accused him of brokering for a supplier of airport radars and runway lighting. And Malacañang was irked by reports that Suarez was name-dropping then-President Joseph Estrada in dealings. Complaints were filed with the House ethics committee. Saved by the bell, Congress recessed in May that year before hearings began.

Pulgar says Suarez used other people’s names for the DBP loan bid because the bank blacklisted him. “His Suarez Agro-Industrial Corp. has owed DBP P650,000 since 1992, as ruled by the Supreme Court,” he says.

Suarez reportedly has no known business in Quezon or elsewhere. He is well liked by constituents for his vaunted generosity. But his pork barrel remains unaccounted for in the past 18 years, Sentro Gabay Legal avers.

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The issue of Gloria Arroyo’s lavish dinners in the US just won’t die. Readers Jesse Cabanacan and Danny Valdueza ask the same question: Did Reps. Martin Romualdez and Danilo Suarez declare to RP Customs that they were bringing out cash in excess of $10,000, and to US Customs that they were bringing in such huge amounts? Show proof.

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“The warmth of truth protects you from the chill of lies.” Shafts of Light, Fr. Guido Arguelles, SJ

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