Arroyo asks Osmeña: Why single me out?-A A +A
Tuesday, September 18, 2012
MANILA (Updated 3:10 p.m.) -- Former President and now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo slammed on Tuesday Senator Sergio Osmeña III for singling her out in the alleged anomalous billion-peso bridge program.
Osmeña called for an investigation on the alleged overpricing of materials needed to undertake the construction of steel bridges during the time of the former leader.
In a statement, Arroyo's spokesperson Elena Bautista-Horn said that the President's Bridge Program spans four administrations, including the present Aquino government.
Osmeña earlier accused the former President of orchestrating a "serial plunder" that allowed her and her cohorts to overprice by tens of billions the P111-billion bridge program.
The P111 billion is the total amount of 14 bridge contracts that were supposedly misrepresented as having been funded through Official Development Assistance (ODA) concessional financing from such countries like the United Kingdom and France.
"We won't even bother to speculate on the motive and timing of the latest accusations of Senator Serge Osmeña. The President's Bridge Program spans four administrations," Arroyo's spokesperson said.
"It is not only the former President that Senator Osmeña is accusing but also the other former Presidents and the current one. He is also accusing UK and France and hundreds of honest government employees involved in the project," the statement read.
Horn said Osmeña should first check the records in the appropriate government agencies before he accuses Arroyo to be the "grandmother of all scams."
Pegged at P111 billion, Osmeña said on Monday that Arroyo and key officials from at least five government agencies had formulated a "highly complex scheme" that pushed the costs of the 14 bridges way beyond their market prices.
"Mrs. Arroyo must explain to the Filipino people these very anomalous series of contracts that they forged with foreign companies. She and her cohorts could be held liable for plunder because this involves P111 billion in people's money," he added.
Plunder involves the misuse of state funds worth P50 million and above and is punishable by life imprisonment. Former President Joseph Estrada was convicted of the same crime in September 2007 but was pardoned a month later by Arroyo.
Osmeña said the overpricing was categorized under "local expenses," averaging 16 to 21 percent of the total project cost. That translated to some P20 billion, which the senator said is more than enough to construct thousands of classrooms.
"Such a fee is big considering that each steel bridge is estimated by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) -- and I think they were underestimating it -- to cost around P560,000 per linear meter. But our concrete bridge costs only P240,000 per linear meter," he said.
Had the previous government only opted for the concrete bridges, the cost will only be around P50 billion or more than half below the original price.
"It would interest our people to know that the government builds its skyways, flyovers and overpasses using pre-stressed concrete. Moreover, these steel bridges are now rusting in various depots all over the country," he said, adding protecting these bridges from rust would entail additional cost for government.
Osmeña also alleged that the projects did not pass through public bidding since Arroyo reasoned out that these were funded by ODA from the UK and France.
He said Arroyo even issued two Executive Orders that skirted provisions of the Government Procurement Act and other laws, which mandate public bidding even for ODA-funded projects.
A representative of Arroyo's husband, Jose Miguel, dismissed the senator's fresh tirades against the incumbent Pampanga lawmaker. In a statement, lawyer Ferdinand Topacio asked Osmeña to just file cases in court.
Osmeña's request may soon be tackled by the Senate blue ribbon committee chaired by Senator Teofisto Guingona III, a member of the ruling Liberal Party.
Senate Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano, also an Arroyo critic, welcomed the investigation but he said it would have been better if an institutional mechanism like the Truth Commission is in place.
"If there is an institutional mechanism out there that will do the investigating satisfactorily then there is no need for us to do this other than in aid of legislation," he said.
However, President Benigno Aquino III in 2010 failed to gain the nod of the High Court justices on the Commission that seeks to investigate the supposed sins of the Arroyo government. (Kathrina Alvarez/Virgil Lopez/ Sunnex)