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Opinion

Something fishy at the DOJ, NBI and Ombudsman

THE CORNER ORACLE - Andrew J. Masigan - The Philippine Star

The Department of Justice, National Bureau of Investigation and the Ombudsman owe the public an explanation.

It will be recalled that in November 2014, the Megawide-GMR consortium won the privatization bid for the landside operations of Cebu Mactan International Airport (MCIA). Almost overnight, the facilities of the once decrepit airport were upgraded and operations improved tremendously. By 2018, the new world-class terminal became operational.

MCIA has since become a source of pride for the Filipino. Aside from doubling annual passenger and tourist traffic to Cebu in just four years, MCIA brought honor to the country by way of global awards. In 2019, it won the much coveted World Architecture Award, besting the famous Jewel Airport Terminal of Singapore. That same year, it won two grand medals from the Hong Kong and American Institutes of Architects, respectively.

MCIA was recognized as the best in airport marketing by RoutesAsia. It was also named Asia Pacific’s medium-sized airport of the year by the CAPA Center of Aviation.

Besting competitors from Singapore, Hong Kong, America and the Middle East is a rare occurrence for Filipino enterprises. The Megawide-GMR consortium proved that Filipino management can stand head and shoulders with the world’s best.

But in typical Filipino crab mentality, there are certain parties who wish to bring down the Megawide-GMR consortium. On Sept. 3, 2020, a certain Atty. Larry Iguidez Jr. filed a case against the consortium before the Office of the Ombudsman alleging that the company is managed by foreigners. This puts it in violation of the Anti-Dummy Law, the Anti-Graft Law and the Corrupt Practices Act. A copy of the complaint was filed with the NBI.

I checked the ownership structure of the consortium from the files of the Securities and Exchange Commission and found the ownership structure to be as follows: Megawide Construction Corporation, a Filipino entity, owns 60 percent. GMR Infrastructure, a Singaporean entity, owns 38 percent. GMR Infrastructure Limited, an Indian entity, owns 2 percent. The composition of the board of directors reflects the same ownership structure. It’s clear that the consortium is majority owned and controlled by Filipinos.

Upon further examination, I discovered that Atty. Iguidez’s allegations were based on the presence of foreigners in awards ceremonies, media briefings and social media posts. It is a flimsy basis as social events are hardly indicative of management control.

On Nov. 16, 2020, the NBI issued subpoenas against the members of the consortium and instructed them to appear before the Anti-Fraud Division. The counsels of the consortium appeared but mystifyingly, were not provided a copy of the complaint. Still, the members of the consortium were given six days to file their position papers.

On the same day that the consortium was supposed to file their position papers, the NBI’s Anti-Fraud Division released their final report recommending the prosecution of the respondents. They did this even without considering the merits of the position papers. The NBI, in effect, pre-judged the case and deprived the consortium of the opportunity to defend themselves. The NBI’s report was transmitted to the DOJ for investigation.

After a 10-month exchange of affidavits, the DOJ published a press release on Oct. 15, 2021 stating that it had issued a resolution finding probable cause to file a criminal case against the members of the consortium. It published its decision even before providing the consortium with a copy of the same.

Back to the Ombudsman – it should be noted that the members of the consortium were not provided a copy of the complaint nor did they receive any communication from the Ombudsman relating to the complaint. In short, the consortium had no idea that a complaint was even filed. Hence, one can imagine the shock on the part of the consortium when they received a joint resolution last Nov. 05, 2021 stating that a special panel of investigators found probable cause to file criminal charges against them.

The series of events raises red flags and questions that the NBI, DOJ and Ombudsman must answer.

First, the complain of Atty. Iguidez came from out of the blue. Nothing had changed in the ownership structure of the Megawide-GMR Consortium since it was granted the franchise in 2014. If the ownership structure passed the scrutiny of the PPP Center and the courts back then, why is it is being questioned now?

Second, upon checking the background of Atty. Iguidez, I found that he is a private lawyer of a modest law firm based in Quezon City. He has no known ties or interest to the aviation industry, nor is he connected to a legal advocacy group. Could Atty. Iguidez be a front for powerful players who wish to grab the franchise from the consortium?

Third, why did the NBI’s Anti-Fraud Division withhold a copy of the complaint from the consortium when it is the latter’s right to be furnished one? More suspiciously, why did the NBI write the final report recommending the prosecution of the respondents even before they considered the merits of the consortium’s position papers? Isn’t this a violation of due process? Could the NBI be carrying out orders from personalities in higher office?

Fourth, why did the DOJ pre-empt the case by publishing a press release saying that it found probable cause to file a criminal case against the members of the consortium even before providing the latter with a copy of the resolution? Again, isn’t this a bridge of due process? Why the haste to prosecute the respondents? Are vested interests trying to complete a sinister scheme before the end of this administration?

Fifth, why did the Office of the Ombudsman withhold the copy of the complaint filed by Atty. Iguidez from the consortium? Did the Ombudsman intentionally do it to deprive the consortium of their right to defend themselves? Were they afraid that the evidence provided by Atty. Iguidez could be easily debunked?

This incident should alarm civil society for many reasons. It appears powerful personalities are using the justice system to bully and harass the consortium who is dutifully carrying out its part in a government franchise. This will again spook investors from participating in future government tenders. Further, it appears that the NBI, DOJ and the Office of the Ombudsman, under this administration, can randomly bypass due process. This puts to question the credibility of our justice system. There’s a stinking fish somewhere. We need answers.

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Email: andrew_rs6@yahoo.com. Follow him on Facebook @Andrew J. Masigan and Twitter @aj_masigan

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