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MANILA, Philippines – Senate President Franklin Drilon said on Thursday, November 13, that the government did not lose money over the Iloilo International Convention Center (ICC) but actually “gained” P521 million ($11.6 million*) from it.
Drilon, who was the first to take the floor at the Senate Blue Ribbon committee probe into the alleged overpriced ICC, maintained that the ICC project was not overpriced so he could get kickbacks. His “initiative” saved the government P521 million since the 1.74-hectare ICC lot was donated by Megaworld to the government.
“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 DOT acquired for free through a donation, a 17,371 square-meter prime property, worth at least 521 million pesos, for the ICC site,” he said.
Drilon said he welcomes the probe so the country can be better informed about details of the project, the subject of a plunder complaint filed against him before the Office of the Ombudsman.
Drilon narrated how local hotel industry representatives met with him in 2012 to discuss the low occupancy of Iloilo hotels in Iloilo. It was then that a new business and economic center was planned, he said, to stimulate economic growth in Western Visayas. This was where Megaworld came in.
“I had a meeting with Andrew Tan, president of Megaworld, to discuss the possibility of having a convention center in the Megaword complex. Mr Tan expressed support for the construction of a Convention Center and committed that Megaworld was willing to donate an area in their complex with a proposed design for the project,” Drilon said.
Drilon said the donor under the Deed of Donation required that the lot be exclusively used for the construction of the ICC.
Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez later supported Drilon’s statement, saying the lot donation “came at the right time and the right place.”
“Iloilo province and the city is one of the primary development areas identified in the National Tourism Development Plan and Iloilo is the home of some of our most captivating cultural and national attractions. It came at the rigth time because the growing touism industy in the country called for newer and better facilities to host important global and regional conference and exhibitions,” he said.
Jimenez also noted that the ICC will be the venue of the “coveted” Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Senior Ministers’ Meeting in 2015, which is expected to bolster Iloilo’s bid to he “one of the magnets of for conventions” in the world.
Drilon lambasted his accuser, former Iloilo provincial administrator Manuel Mejorada, who had filed the plunder complaint against him, Jimenez, Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson, and other public officials and private individuals. He said Mejorada has no evidence against him.
Outside the Senate probe, former Iloilo Representative Augusto Syjuco Jr raised other allegations against Drilon including his supposed failure to declare in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) a mansion in Forbes Park. Drilon and Syjuco are political foes in Iloilo.
Syjuco appeared at the Session Hall before the probe started but was not allowed on the floor. Guingona later ruled that he will be allowed to join the probe but only after Mejorada is finished presenting his allegations.
Drilon’s chief of staff, Renato Bantug Jr, said Syjuco’s is peddling “recycled lies” that have been “debunked.”
“If Syjuco can definitely prove that Senator Drilon owns a mansion in Forbes Park, he can have it,” said Bantug.
Drilon’s camp turned the table around Syjuco, who is facing graft charges before the Office of the Ombudsman.
““Syjuco, who is out on bail, having been the subject of various graft cases filed by the Office of the Ombudsman in the Sandiganbayan, should instead face and answer the serious charges against him in connection with anomalous transactions and overpricing of equipment during his stint at TESDA,” Bantug said.
*$1 = P44.9