No solid proof of Yolanda ‘corruption’?

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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Rehabilitation Secretary Panfilo Lacson 'never mentioned' any suspect to the police, his deputy tells a Senate hearing; police also say nothing stood as solid evidence

WHERE'S PROOF? Rehabilitation Secretary Panfilo Lacson says a local politician colluded with contractors of Yolanda bunkhouses. File photo by Robert Viñas/Malacañang Photo Bureau

MANILA, Philippines – In front of reporters, Rehabilitation Secretary Panfilo Lacson claimed “at least one politician” is “colluding with contractors” to get kickbacks from bunkhouses for Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) survivors.

While he said the politician and the contractors “talked of 30-35% commissions,” Lacson declined to name the persons involved.

His undersecretary, Danilo Antonio, later told senators they transmitted “whatever findings we had” to the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) of the Philippine National Police (PNP).

The CIDG, however, said none of Lacson’s findings stood as solid evidence.

“He never mentioned any name to us,” said CIDG acting director Police Chief Supt Benjamin Magalong in a Senate hearing Thursday, February 6, when Sen Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr asked him about the alleged collusion.

“He just mentioned there is a probability that there exists a collusion,” Magalong told Marcos, chair of the Senate committee on public works.

Saying the PNP is still investigating this, Magalong also made an assurance about Lacson, a former police chief.

“I’ve been working with Secretary Lacson in the past, and I’m very much familiar with his management style. And he will never mention any of his findings until such time that the investigator will be able to come up with…,” he said, before Marcos interrupted him. 

The senator said, “So he did not turn over to you any information for you to investigate?”

“No sir,” Magalong replied. “But that is also part of our investigation.”

“So you are continuing to investigate the possibility,” Marcos said.

Magalong answered, “Yes.”

Marcos replied, “On what basis are you investigating? What are the leads that you are following?”

“Sir,” Magalong said in a mix of English and Filipino, “we have been talking with, we have been interviewing the contractors, finding out if there are pressures coming from certain personalities. Admittedly, Sir, until now, Sir, we still don’t have any evidence that would establish a collusion.”

Lacson got it from media?

Magalong’s statements pointed not only to the lack of evidence, but also to an inconsistency.

On Thursday, he said Lacson wrote the PNP chief, Alan Purisima, to investigate “alleged anomalies in the construction of bunkhouses for the victims of Super Typhoon Yolanda as reported by various media outlets.”

While in this letter dated January 8, Lacson cited the media as his source, reporters quoted him on the alleged collusion before he wrote the PNP.

On January 6, he said he has been “quietly investigating” this collusion since December 13, when he first visited Yolanda-hit communities.

Marcos asked Antonio, who represented Lacson during the hearing: “What caused him to come to that conclusion?”

“These were basically information that, I suppose, he gathered,” Antonio said.

Marcos replied, “What information is that?”

“It’s really the secretary himself who received that particular information so he’d be in a better in a position to really discuss this,” the undersecretary answered.

Senators to Lacson: Name names

The hearing came after two senators, Miriam Defensor Santiago and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr, challenged Lacson to name the politicians supposedly obstructing the government’s rehabilitation efforts.

Santiago and Revilla said this after Lacson, in fact, claimed on January 23 that at least 10 politicians have been hampering post-Yolanda rebuilding. On Dec 15, 2013, he also said “unscrupulous lower ranking officials” had begun to take advantage of the daunting task ahead.

Revilla said, “Pangalanan mo, huwag puro press release!” (Name them, don’t just issue press releases!)

Thursday’s hearing touched on other issues concerning shelters.

Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson, for one, said contractors who built substandard bunkhouses have begged the government to let them off the hook.

Marcos and Senate President Franklin Drilon also rebutted each other about the lack of assistance by the United Nations in building permanent shelters.

The government will build these shelters after Yolanda damaged at least 1.14 million houses across the country. –

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email