Binay critic: Makati nursing school overpriced, 'rigged'
MANILA, Philippines – After questioning the joint venture in the nursing school of the University of Makati (UMak), critics of Vice President Jejomar Binay now claim that the construction of the building was overpriced and rigged.
Lawyer Renato Bondal opened the 20th Senate hearing on corruption allegations against the Vice President by claiming that the UMak College of Nursing building was overpriced by P579.4 million ($12.97 million).
Bondal said that the building's construction was tainted with “red flags,” copying the term used by former Commission on Audit Chairperson Grace Pulido-Tan, who previously testified on the Makati City Hall parking building II. The nursing building was constructed in 2007, when Binay was still Makati mayor.
The political rival of the Binays said that it only took a week to complete the bidding and awarding of the contract for the nursing building.
Bondal said the public bidding was on March 21, 2007; the notice of post-qualification followed on March 23; the bids and awards evaluation on March 26; the notice of award on March 27; and the contract came on March 28.
“In the span of just 7 days from the bidding date, this was completed. It was so fast. It's like the Makati parking building where [the Ombudsmam] proved that there was a notice of publication but the newspapers gave a publisher's affidavit that no such bidding invitations were actually published,” Bondal said on Monday, May 11.
Bondal said that Hilmarc's Construction Corporation again bagged the project, as in other Makati construction work.
Senators asked the Commission on Audit (COA) to look into the allegations of Bondal.
The supposedly overpriced nursing building is the latest allegation against Binay, who faces a slew of corruption charges in the Senate inquiry that has lasted 8 months. It is the longest in the history of the Senate blue ribbon committee. (READ: Joker to Senate: End Binay hearings, revisit rules)
The Ombudsman found basis to indict Binay and his son, Makati Mayor Jejomar Erwin “Junjun” Binay Jr, with graft over the Makati parking building, first tackled in the Senate. The panel said that father and son Binay are liable for criminal and administrative charges for the “illegal procurement and payment for the design and construction” of the parking building.
Dummy claims 'unfair'
Besides the alleged overpricing of the nursing building, the hearing again discussed Bondal's allegation that Binay supposedly earned from the 2003 joint venture between the UMak College of Nursing and the Systems Technology Institute (STI).
Bondal said last week that Binay has a 1% nominal share in the Philippine Healthcare Educators Incorporated (PHEI), a company created under the joint venture agreement to collect tuition and other payments from the college. He also claimed that doctor Jack Arroyo, a nephew of former Senator Joker Arroyo, was a dummy of Binay who got 20% in the joint venture.
The younger Arroyo wrote the Senate on Monday decrying the charges, and asked to be excused from the hearing.
Arroyo argued that Bondal's statement that he should not have been part of the nursing joint venture because he is an ophthalmologist was flawed.
“Proceeding from the fallacious reasoning of Bondal, if Mr Bondal, a lawyer, were to invest in a massage parlor, then he should be immediately condemned all because a massage parlor is unrelated to his law profession,” Arroyo said.
The doctor added that he did not transfer any earnings to Binay. “I am an original incorporator of the [PHEI]…. My shares in the company are intact. There has been no transfer whatsoever to anyone. My investment is secure and continues to be profitable.”
For the first time, UMak president Tomas Lopez appeared in the hearing to reiterate his defense of the joint venture. He and STI President Monico Jacob denied that the agreement was illegal.
Lopez said Arroyo has a 20% stake in the joint venture because he was then president of the American Eye Clinic, an eye center that was suffering from a lack of nurses.
Jacob also addressed Bondal's claims that the STI partnership was unnecessary because the institution is not a nursing school.
“We were classified as a computer school. But we are no longer just in IT. We have diversified into mass communications, tourism, computer engineering, accounting. In 2003, we were already involved in health care. We have a partnership with the 7th Day Adventist of Maryland and we were bringing in nurses to the US,” Jacob said.
Fierce Binay critic Senator Antonio Trillanes IV was unconvinced.
“STI has no competence because they are into computers. You are building a nursing school. I believe appropriate charges should be clear to you: conflict of interest, so on and so forth. No matter how you look at it, the people of Makati were disadvantaged, and there was even no bidding,” he said.
Trillanes and Senator Aquilino Pimentel III still want to know how the idea of a joint venture came about, saying only Arroyo can answer many of their questions.
Trillanes asked that a subpoena be issued for Arroyo to appear in the next hearing. “If he is not a dummy, he should volunteer to be with us. But if he comes here, he will also make up stories.”
Lopez's multiple posts
Pimentel focused on conflict of interest surrounding the many posts Lopez holds in agencies related to Binay.
The senator said: “In this hearing alone, Tomas Lopez has 3 capacities: president of UMak, president of PHEI, and a member of the Pag-IBIG [Fund] Board. Kaya pa ba?” (Can you handle more?)
Pimentel pointed out that Lopez is also director of Agrifortuna Incorporated, the company that supposedly owns the alleged vast Hacienda Binay estate in Rosario, Batangas. The Binays reportedly sold their shares to businessman Laureano Gregorio, who now controls Agrifortuna.
Lopez admitted being a director of Agrifortuna, but said he never met and could not recall who are the firm's owners.
This prompted Pimentel to retort: “Thank you for your participation but your memory is not as sharp as before.”
Trillanes chimed in: “Selective.” – Rappler.com