Villar, guilty over road issue?

By Christine Avendaño
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATE) Senator Manny Villar is facing censure at the Senate after he was found guilty for allegedly engaging in improper and unethical conduct in connection with the C5 road extension project, according to a draft report by the Senate committee of the whole.

At the same time, the draft report, a copy of which was furnished to the Philippine Daily Inquire by an official of a political party, asked Villar to return to the public coffers the total amount of P6.22 billion that “he has or his companies have illegally gained or obtained as a result of unlawful acts and improper and unethical conduct.”

Villar’s involvement in the C5 project in Parañaque and Las Piñas, the report said, “made the Filipino suffer (a loss) in the total amount of P6.22 billion.’’

The money came from the cost for the realigned P4.28 billion for the extension project, the P1.8 billion spent for the original project but was wasted due to the realignment and the P141.1 million in allegedly overpriced right-of way-payments for Villar’s real estate.

The report recommended that Villar be censured for violating the provisions of the Constitution and the Code of Conduct of Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, and for engaging in improper and unethical conduct that damaged the integrity of the Senate.

The report said Villar violated Section 14, Article VI of the Constitution for intervening in the project of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) for his “pecuniary benefit’’

It noted that Villar had proposed that the extension project “pass through properties of his corporations, which in turn benefited from the use of such road, from the compensation for road right of way, and from the resultant economic development in and increased market value of the vicinity.’’

The report said the senator also violated the conflict-of- interest rule by not divesting himself of his interests in Adelfa Properties, Golden Haven Memorial Park and Azalea Real Estate Corp. (now Brittany Corp.) when it was apparent to him that these corporations had contract with the DPWH for right-of-way acquisition.

Villar was a substantial stockholder of Adelfa Properties, which owns Golden Haven Memorial Park and Azalea Real Estate Corp. and whose properties benefited from right-of-way payments from the diversion of the road project. The companies still have unpaid claims, the report added.

It said Villar violated Sec. 12, Article VI of the Constitution by failing to notify the Senate of a “potential conflict of interest’’ when he proposed an amendment to the 2008 national budget by appropriating P400 million . . . for a project that would benefit his corporations and which amount may be used to pay the claims of his corporations for unpaid road right-of-way compensation.’’

Other findings of the committee included:

* Villar was the proponent of the Las Pinas-Parañaque Link Road Project and the DPWH C5 road extension project which were made to pass through the properties of his corporations “following a curved, instead of a straight alignment.’’

• The alignment of the C5 segment of the Manila-Cavite Toll Expressway Project of the Toll Regulatory Board was changed to accommodate the two road projects.

• The properties of Villar’s corporations that were acquired for the Las Piñas-Parañaque link project and the C5 extension project were given zonal valuation for different areas (not the zonal valuation of the area where they were located), jacking up the compensation due them.

But while there was no evidence that Villar had directly participated in the overpricing of his properties, the report said, it was safe to assume that Villar knew about the overpricing.

The report said Villar must have known about it because his corporations stood to gain from the transactions with the government and because of his closeness to Anastacio Adriano Jr., an official of Adelfa Properties, who was directly involved in the transactions.

The committee also found out that Villar had allowed Adriano to propose an amendment to the 2008 national budget.

The report stated that Villar had pushed for the appropriation of P400 million for the C5 road project, when there was no specific program of work for the project and despite the fact that there was already an allocation for the same amount for the project.

The committee learned that the reason for such an amendment was to make available an appropriation for the payment of an outstanding right of way compensation claims of about P200 million.

“As admitted by Adriano, it was in the interest of the corporations of Senator Villar to be paid for such road right of way. This interest may be opposed to or affected by the faithful performance of official duty on the part of Senator Villar who has the power to appropriate public funds by proposing amendments to the national budget,’’ the report said, adding:

“As it happened, Senator Villar used that power to satisfy the interest of his corporations. He did not therefore only violate the conflict of interest rule, thus violating Section 9 in relation to Section 3 of RA 6713 but Senator Villar also became directly or indirectly interested financially in such contracts between his corporations and the DPWH, hence violating Section 14, Article VI of the Constitution.’’

Noting that Villar had proposed the C5 project when he was still a member of the House of Representatives, he “continued to fund’’ the project when he was already a senator, or chair of the finance committee or Senate president and “yet did not disclose his pecuniary interest as so required by the Constitution.”

The committee found the senator funded the two projects chargeable against “various infrastructure, including local projects –nationwide’’ or against the Priority Development Assistance Fund authorized by the national budget from 2001 to 2008.

The report said the committee “takes official notice’’ of Senate resolution no. 1472, which was filed on Nov. 16, 2009, by 12 senators, which intended to express the sense of the Senate to dismiss the complaint against Villar.

The resolution was signed by Villar, Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada, Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr., and Senators Alan Peter Cayetano, Pia Cayetano, Lito Lapid, Gregorio Honasan II, Joker Arroyo, Miriam Defensor Santiago, Ramon Revilla Jr., Loren Legarda, and Francis Pangilinan.

But Estrada had said he would withdraw his signature from the resolution because it was released before the committee report.

A source in the Senate confirmed on Sunday night that the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s copy of the draft report was authentic.

But in a radio interview on Sunday over dzBB, Senate President Juan Ponce-Enrile said 12 senators would have to sign the draft committee report for it to be brought to the plenary.

Villar was investigated by the committee in June 2009 on allegations that he was behind the double funding of the P200-million extension project in the 2008 national budget and the diversion of the road so as to benefit his real estate business.

The report was released before Congress took its holiday break last month so as to get the signature of senators. It needs the signature of the majority of senators or 12 for it to be reported out in the plenary.

Otherwise, Enrile said, there will be no report on the issue.

“But it will be part of the records of the Senate,’’ he told dzBB radio. “If someone wants a copy, he could make a formal request.’’

He shrugged off the Senate resolution that was filed in November last year that saw initially 12 senators saying that Villar was innocent of the charges filed against him by Sen. Ana Consuelo “Jamby’’ Madrigal .

The Senate president asked why senators signed the resolution when the committee report on the matter had not yet been released at that time.

Enrile had the committee report circulated for signature when Congress took its holiday break in December 2009.

Speaking for Villar, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano declined to discuss the content of the draft report as he stressed that Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile had instructed senators not to discuss the report to the media.

“Until the report is signed by majority of the senators, it’s nothing but a piece of paper,’’ Cayetano said in a phone interview.

He asked why the report was leaked to the media when he stressed it was not an official document.

But he said that generally, the release of the report for signature of the senators was questionable.

Cayetano said it came at a time “when the survey period is coming out.’’

“The report was released when the numbers of Sen. Benigno Aquino III and Sen. Villar are close together,’’ he said.

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