MANILA (Mabuhay) – Senate President Franklin Drilon insisted Thursday the Iloilo Convention Center was not overpriced as alleged by his former staff. He welcomed the conduct of the Senate investigation on the matter as an opportunity for the public to hear both sides.
“In defense of my name, my honor and my family, I specifically and categorically deny the baseless, speculative, and wild allegations of Mr. (Manuel) Mejorada. I did not commit any wrongdoing in the construction of the Iloilo Convention Center,” Drilon said in his speech at the start of the hearing of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee.
Drilon said he will inhibit from the probe but will make himself available to answer questions.
“Considering the allegations against me, although malicious and patently baseless, it is to the interest of truth that I inhibit from this investigation. I will not ask any question, I will not participate in the crafting of the report. I will, however, make myself available to answer questions,” he said.
He said he will submit to the committee his four-page sworn statement detailing his knowledge of the project.
“I vehemently deny the accusation that I caused the ICC Project to be overpriced. The ICC Project is not overpriced. On the contrary, because of my initiative, the government, through the Department of Tourism, acquired for free through a donation, a 17,371-square-meter prime property worth at least P521 million for the ICC site,” Drilon added.
The property was donated by Megaworld Corporation, Drilon said in a previous interview.
Drilon on Thursday also said that throughout his career as a public servant, he was never charged in any court for graft and corrupt practices.
In his 27 years in public service, he has spearheaded numerous big-ticket infrastructure projects that benefited the country, the senator claimed.
“Despite the amounts involved in the construction of these projects, I have never been called by the Ombudsman to respond to any allegation of corruption. Moreover, I have never been charged in any court with the commission of malversation of public funds or any act amounting to graft and corruption,” he said.
Unfair to DOT, DPWH
Among the projects Drilon spearheaded were hundreds of courtrooms in the Halls of Justice across the country, which were constructed when he was the Justice secretary; 1,600 classrooms built at half the cost of similar structures in partnership with the Federation of Filipino Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc.; and the P6.5-billion Iloilo International Airport.
Drilon said the accusations were unfair to Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson, Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez, their staff, and the people of Iloilo.
“It is disheartening to witness relentless smear campaigns against a forthright project which aims to spur economic activities and generate jobs,” he said.
“It is lamentable to see vile attempts to discredit the good names of Secretaries Singson and Jimenez, who like myself, have nothing else to leave behind as legacy except our reputation,” he added.
Drilon, Singson and Jimenez were charged with plunder before the Ombudsman in connection with the alleged overpricing. The complainant was former Iloilo Provincial Administrator Manuel Mejorada, a former ally of the Senate President.
Drilon reiterated he had nothing to do with the bidding of the project, because the Department of Public Works and Highway (DPWH) and Department of Tourism (DOT) implemented the project.
“To set the record straight, I had nothing to do with the bidding for the Project. I did not participate in the constitution of the Bids and Awards Committee. I did not interfere with any part of the bidding process, nor did I nominate or appoint the winning bidder,” he said.
He did not recommend any supplier or laborer in the construction of the Project, the senator added.
“The preparation or conduct of the bidding, its award, or its implementation was wholly undertaken by DPWH and DOT,” Drilon said. (MNS)