By Czarina Nicole Ong
Graft complaints have been filed before the Office of the Ombudsman against several officials of the Philippine Tourism Authority (PTA), now known as Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA), in relation to the P300-million water supply and sewerage contract in Boracay Island.
The complaint was filed against former PTA general manager Mark Lapid, board members Rogelio Singson, Luwalhati Antonio, Ramon Jesus Paje, Carlos Honorio Estepa Jr., Vivian Otaza and Lucas Nunag, among many others.
Two former Tourism Secretaries Ramon Jimenez Jr. and Wanda Tulfo-Teo, together with former Foreign Affairs Secretary Jose Almendras, were also included in the complaint.
Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Roy Cimatu is also included, and so are Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Officer-in-Charge Eduardo Manahan Año and Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Secretary Mark A. Villar in their capacity as TIEZA board members.
According to the complaint filed by Rod Padilla and Roberto Gelito, both private residents of Boracay, the respondents violated Sections 3(e) and (g) of Republic Act 3019, also known as the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
The complainants stated that the PTA built the only existing and operating sewerage system in Boracay Island under a loan program from the Japan International Corporation Agency (JICA). This was then operated by the Boracay Waterworks and Sewerage System (BWSS).
On April 21, 2009, the PTA through Lapid and the Manila Water Company Inc. (MWIC) entered a joint-venture agreement for the development, financing, design, engineering, construction, upgrade, testing, commissioning, operation, management and maintenance of the BWSS facilities and operation and maintenance of drainage facilities.
They agreed to establish a Philippine corporation with an authorized capital stock of P300 million, divided into three million shares with a value of P100 per share.
The PTA and MWCI then incorporated BIWC, which allowed the latter to have sole rights to manage, operate, maintain, repair and refurbish the facilities and operate and maintain the sewerage system once completed.
The complainants said the JV agreement violated Article 12 Section 11 of the 1987 Constitution, which prohibits exclusivity of franchise or authorizations in the operation of public utilities.
“PTA, then represented by herein respondents Lapid and PTA Board Members and Officers, demonstrated a clear bias and gave undue advantage to MWCI from the processing of the unsolicited proposal, during the negotiations of the terms and conditions of the JV Agreement and Concession Agreement, up to the execution of the said agreements,” the complaint read.
The complainants said the respondents intentionally and haphazardly approved the Notice of Award to MWCI even though the latter did not comply with the procedural provisions of the JV guidelines.
As a result, the respondents “maliciously agreed upon terms and conditions which are outright irregular and questionable relating to the payment of Concession Fees and the rate of return,” the complaint stated.
Under Section 6.3.1 of the Concession Agreement, BIWC is required to pay concession fees to the PTA. However, it will be treated as “expenditures” of BIWC. This means that whatever BIWC pays to PTA, it will soon be recovered by BIWC from the consumers in their water bills.
“In sum…the said Joint Venture Agreement entered into by the parties, through the respondents, is grossly disadvantageous to the government or to the PTA,” the complaint stressed.
Former PTA officers Teresita Verde, Lydia Cosuco, Atty. Edgar Bocar, Atty. Joy Bulauitan, and Engr. Miguelita Mariano are also facing the complaint. Likewise, TIEZA board members Marco Bautista, Pocholo J.D. Paragas, Epimaco Densing III, Atty. Analizah Teh, Atty. Karen Olivia Jimeno, Atty. Anthony Fernandez, actor and Tourism Promotions Board COO Cesar Montano, Datu Abul, Khayr Alonto, Elizaldy Co, Roberto Teo, Roy Martin, Maria Vida Stoifl, and Catherine Turvill.
Virgilio Rivera Jr., group director for regulation and corporate development of MWIC and one of the incorporators of BIWC, as well as BIWC incorporators Luis Juan Oreta, and Frank Beaumont round up the list of respondents.